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8 Maryland students selected for Prudential Spirit Awards

Zachary Brown, 16, of Edgewater, Md., and Madison Strempek, 13, of Crofton, Md., were named Maryland’s top two youth volunteers of 2018 by The Prudential Spirit of Community Awards, a nationwide program honoring young people for outstanding acts of volunteerism.

Six other youths from across the state were selected as finalists.

news.2As State Honorees, Zachary and Madison each will receive $1,000, an engraved silver medallion and an all-expense-paid trip in late April to Washington, D.C., where they will join the top two honorees from each of the other states and the District of Columbia for four days of national recognition events. During the trip, 10 students will be named America’s top youth volunteers of 2018.

The Prudential Spirit of Community Awards, now in its 23rd year, is conducted by Prudential Financial in partnership with the National Association of Secondary School Principals (NASSP).

These are Maryland’s top youth volunteers of 2018:

High School State Honoree: Zachary Brown Nominated by South River High School in Edgewater

Zachary, a junior at South River High School, organized a local and nationwide 5K walk that has raised more than $100,000 over the past five years to help develop a treatment for cavernous angiomas, an abnormal cluster of blood vessels in the brain or spine. Zach discovered that he had a cavernous angioma in his brainstem after suffering two strokes at age 10, which affected the left side of his body and the right side of his face. “It would have been easy to walk away angry and defeated,” he said, “but instead we decided to do something about it.”

While learning to walk again through physical therapy, Zach came up with the idea of a 5K walk to help fund angioma research. Working with his mother, Zach picked a location, designed T-shirts, invited friends and classmates to help, recruited business sponsors, and publicized the event on social media. While 150-300 people have participated in the walk locally each year, Zach also promotes a “virtual” walk throughout the U.S. that is open to all. In addition to raising a huge amount of money for the Angioma Alliance, Zach is an active volunteer with Special Olympics, helping kids with disabilities enjoy tennis, lacrosse and track and field sports.

Middle Level State Honoree: Madison Strempek Nominated by Crofton Middle School in Gambrills

Madison, a seventh-grader at Crofton Middle School, wrote and self-published a 46-page book, “Everyone Makes Mistakes,” to reassure and comfort children, like her, who have an incarcerated parent. She also speaks at events about the challenges these children face, and the need for criminal justice reform. Madison’s father went to jail when she was 10 years old. “I was really sad,” she said. She and her mother looked for books that could help her deal with her sorrow, “but there were no books for kids by kids about having your parent going to jail. So I decided to write my own.”

Over three months, Madison struggled to put down on paper what she had gone through. “It’s scary to share your personal problems with the world,” she said. “I had to share my deepest, darkest secrets.” Her book helps children in her situation feel less embarrassed and alone, and “tells kids they are allowed to love their parents, mistakes and all,” she said. After it was published, Madison reached out to organizations that support children of incarcerated parents, and began getting requests to speak at conferences and charity dinners. She has been invited to the White House to discuss her ideas, and was the keynote speaker at an international conference in New Zealand. Her book has now been read by kids in 30 countries and is being translated into Korean for a book launch in 2018.

Distinguished Finalists

The program judges also recognized six other Maryland students as Distinguished Finalists for their impressive community service activities. Each will receive an engraved bronze medallion.

These are Maryland’s Distinguished Finalists for 2018:

Neyla Kuhn, 16, of Bel Air, Md., a junior at Bel Air High School, has volunteered for four years with the Fort Howard Haunted Dungeons attraction benefiting a community recreation council, and recently became the youngest-ever volunteer to build her own section. Inspired by a leadership seminar to take a more active role in the community, Neyla created a Wizard of Oz-themed trail for the attraction, helping to raise money for kids in need to participate in sports programs.

Natasha Panduwawala, 17, of Cordova, Md., a junior at Easton High School, collected more than 200 walkers, wheelchairs and other orthopedic aids, then traveled to Sri Lanka to donate the equipment to people and institutions in need. Natasha set up a website, raised awareness of her mission through a media interview and public outreach, coordinated and funded shipping for the equipment, then partnered with a Sri Lanka Lion’s Club to distribute the orthopedic aids.

Naomi Seid, 18, of Bethesda, Md., a senior at Walter Johnson High School, has served more than 500 hours with the Student Conservation Association, traveling to several states to assist with trail maintenance at state and national parks. Naomi started with a local program and later traveled to parks in Wyoming, Massachusetts and Georgia, where she worked with small teams of other high schoolers for eight hours a day, six days a week to keep park trails well-maintained and ready for visitors.

Robert Wachen, 15, of Potomac, Md., a sophomore at Winston Churchill High School, co-founded an initiative two years ago that has mobilized more than 300 volunteers to donate 1,500 birthday cakes to area charities, helping kids and senior citizens in need feel special on their birthdays. Robert manages volunteer recruitment, fundraising and web presence for the operation, which has grown to become the nation’s largest regional chapter of the nonprofit Birthday Cakes 4 Free.

Caroline Walworth, 18, of Stevensville, Md., a senior at Indian Creek School, has spent her past two summers leading a camp for tweens and teenagers in Romania, designing and implementing activities for 120 kids to promote creativity, leadership and team-building. Caroline’s “Transylvania Leadership Camp” also served the remote mountain village where it was based, leading campers on routine hikes to visit with local senior citizens and provide them with clothes and other essentials.

Kyle Zhu, 18, of Silver Spring, Md., nominated by YMCA of Metropolitan Washington and a senior at Richard Montgomery High School, founded “BranchOut Tutors,” a peer mentoring program that has provided academic support and friendship to refugees, kids in the court system and other at-risk students in Montgomery County and in China, Finland and Trinidad and Tobago. Kyle, who started his program four years ago after tutoring at an alternative education center, has partnered with organizations in the U.S. and abroad to bring his vision to life.

“Prudential is proud to recognize these remarkable young people for using their energy, creativity and compassion to bring meaningful change to their communities,” said Prudential Chairman and CEO John Strangfeld. “We hope their stories inspire others to consider how they can do the same.”

“These middle level and high school students have not only improved the lives of the people and communities they’ve served – they also set an important example for their peers,” said JoAnn Bartoletti, executive director of NASSP. “These honorees prove that you’re never too young to make a difference.”

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