Tuesday, May 4, 2010

Two Georgia Youth Honored for Volunteerism at National Award Ceremony in Washington, D.C.

(BUSINESS WIRE)--Two Georgia students, Mackenzie Bearup, 16, of Alpharetta and Andrew Vassil, 14, of Woodstock, were honored in the nation’s capital last night for their outstanding volunteer work during the presentation of The 2010 Prudential Spirit of Community Awards. The two young people – along with 100 other top youth volunteers from across the country – received $1,000 awards as well as personal congratulations from former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and Olympic snowboarding champion Seth Wescott at the 15th annual award ceremony and gala dinner reception, held at the Smithsonian’s National Museum of Natural History.

“The only way I could get my mind off the pain was to escape into a great book”

Mackenzie and Andrew were named the top high school and middle level youth volunteers in Georgia last February. In addition to their cash awards, they received engraved silver medallions and an all-expense-paid trip with their parents to Washington, D.C., for this week’s recognition events.

“The Prudential Spirit of Community honorees give us great hope for the future,” said Dr. Rice. “Their compassion and commitment are already making a real difference in so many lives, and I have no doubt that their leadership will continue to positively impact the world for many years to come.”

Mackenzie, a home-schooled eleventh-grader, has collected more than 30,000 children’s books over the past three years to establish libraries or reading rooms for 27 homeless shelters in four states. Mackenzie was diagnosed with a painful neurological condition several years ago and spent many months in bed. “The only way I could get my mind off the pain was to escape into a great book,” she explained. When her doctor told her about a homeless shelter in need of a children’s library, Mackenzie decided to help. “I thought about how reading helped me get my mind off my pain and hoped it would do the same for these children.”

Mackenzie gathered books she no longer needed and asked friends and neighbors if they had books to donate. Then she dropped fliers in mailboxes throughout her subdivision, and began distributing them at garage sales. When a local newspaper published a story on Mackenzie’s efforts, donations began to pour in. With help from her family, Mackenzie sorted, boxed, and delivered 10,000 books to the shelter. Soon other shelters learned of her work and asked her to help them as well. Now, Mackenzie goes to garage sales every Friday and Saturday to look for donations, contacts homeless shelters to ask if they need books, and uses pet- and babysitting earnings to help pay for expenses. To date, she has donated more than 30,000 books to homeless shelters in Georgia, Kentucky, Illinois, and Missouri, and recently set up a nonprofit organization, Sheltering Books Inc., to expand nationwide. “I have learned that, in spite of my pain, I can feel better by helping others,” said Mackenzie.

Andrew, an eighth-grader at Queen of Angels Catholic School in Roswell, has been raising money and giving speeches for the past six years to support childhood cancer research and patient care, in appreciation for the treatment he received at age 6 for an inoperable brain tumor. “The hospital I went to, St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital in Memphis, Tennessee, saved my life,” said Andrew. “I feel I owe something to St. Jude.” He shares his story on behalf of the hospital at golf tournaments, schools, country club dinners, auctions, radio station “phone-a-thons,” corporate events, major galas, and in television commercials. He also participates in the annual St. Jude Memphis Marathon on a team formed in his honor, which has raised more than $100,000 over the last three years.

Two years ago, Andrew expanded his fund-raising activities to benefit the Rally Foundation for Childhood Cancer Research as well. He spends hours writing and rehearsing speeches, tailoring his remarks to the ages and backgrounds of his audiences. With as many as five events per month, Andrew has spoken directly to thousands of people about the importance of cancer research. In addition, he spends time supporting and comforting other kids who have been diagnosed with cancer. “I know so many people who have been through the horrors of childhood cancer,” said Andrew. “I want to help find cures so other kids don’t have to experience what I did.”

“Mackenzie and Andrew are wonderful examples of young Americans who care about the world around them and have taken the initiative to improve that world,” said John R. Strangfeld, chairman and CEO of Prudential Financial, Inc. “We salute their effort, their achievements, and their spirit of community.”

More than 21,000 young people submitted applications for the 2010 awards program last fall through schools, Girl Scout councils, county 4-H organizations, American Red Cross chapters, YMCAs and affiliates of the Points of Light Institute’s HandsOn Network. The top middle level and high school applicants in each state were selected in February and flown to Washington this week with their parents for four days of special recognition events.

Conducted in partnership with the National Association of Secondary School Principals (NASSP), The Prudential Spirit of Community Awards were created 15 years ago by Prudential Financial to encourage youth volunteerism and to identify and reward young role models. Since then, the program has honored nearly 100,000 young volunteers at the local, state and national level.

“The young women and men in America’s schools are nothing short of amazing, and nowhere is this more evident than amongst this year’s award recipients,” said NASSP President Steven Pophal. “They possess a keen intellect, servant hearts, capable leadership skills, and are filled with energy and ambition. NASSP and Prudential are honored to recognize them.”

The Prudential Spirit of Community Awards are supported by the American Association of School Administrators, the National Middle School Association, the National School Boards Association, the Council of the Great City Schools, Girl Scouts of the USA, National 4-H Council, the American Red Cross, YMCA of the USA, the Points of Light Institute, and other national education and service organizations.

More information about The Prudential Spirit of Community Awards and this year’s honorees can be found at http://spirit.prudential.com or www.principals.org/spirit.

In existence since 1916, the National Association of Secondary School Principals (NASSP) is the preeminent organization of and national voice for middle level and high school principals, assistant principals, and aspiring school leaders from across the United States and more than 45 countries around the world. NASSP’s mission is to promote excellence in school leadership. The National Honor Society®, National Junior Honor Society®, National Elementary Honor Society™, and National Association of Student Councils® are all NASSP programs. For more information about NASSP, located in Reston, Va., visit www.principals.org or call 703-860-0200.

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