Two Indiana Youth Honored for Volunteerism at National Award Ceremony in Washington, D.C.
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Academy Award-winning actress Hilary Swank pays tribute to Carmel and Schererville students
WASHINGTON, D.C. – Indiana’s top two youth volunteers of 2016, Kamna Gupta, 18, of Carmel and Esha Mishra, 14, of Schererville, were honored in the nation’s capital last night for their outstanding volunteer service during the 21st annual presentation of The Prudential Spirit of Community Awards. Kamna and Esha – along with 100 other top youth volunteers from across the country – each received $1,000 awards and personal congratulations from Academy Award-winning actress Hilary Swank at an award ceremony and gala dinner reception held at the Smithsonian’s National Museum of Natural History.
The Prudential Spirit of Community Awards program, sponsored by Prudential Financial in partnership with the National Association of Secondary School Principals (NASSP), named Kamna and Esha Indiana’s top high school and middle level youth volunteers in February. In addition to their cash awards, they each received an engraved silver medallion and an all-expense-paid trip with a parent to Washington, D.C., for four days of recognition events.
Kamna, a member of the Girl Scouts of Central Indiana and a senior at Carmel High School, has collected and distributed more than 2,500 pounds of gently used shoes to people in third-world countries through “Soles for Souls,” the nonprofit organization she founded in 2013 after a trip to India. It was there that Kamna encountered a beggar who was wearing sandals he had fashioned from two empty water bottles and hay. “To aid him, I gave him sandals purchased from a store, upon which he rejoiced,” said Kamna. The experience got her thinking. She and most people she knew thought nothing of tossing out a pair of perfectly good shoes simply because they were out of style. Yet, she had no doubt that there were millions of people all over the world, who, like the man in India, couldn’t afford to own even one pair of shoes. She came home determined to change that.
After some research, she discovered Shoe Box Recycling, a company that sends boxes of donated shoes abroad. It agreed to handle the shoes Kamna collected. She approached the executive board at her temple and received permission to conduct a shoe drive there. It was slow going at first, Kamna said, as she struggled to fill even a couple of boxes with acceptable shoes. So she stepped up her efforts to publicize her project by developing a website and designing fliers and cards to remind people to bring shoes. She also persuaded corporations and civic organizations to hold shoe drives. She recruited more than 40 volunteers and trained them to lead shoe drives at school and to canvass neighborhoods for donations. After expanding Soles for Souls to nearly a dozen organizations, Kamna estimates her efforts have helped put shoes on the feet of more than 15,000 needy people in 15 countries.
Esha, an eighth-grader at Forest Ridge Academy, organized a collection drive at her school that yielded thousands of school supplies for poverty-stricken children in Nepal. Esha visited the central Asian country last spring with her family, and was stunned to see the poverty there. “The kids barely had anything!” she said. Two weeks after Esha returned home, a major earthquake devastated Nepal. “I thought, if these kids had so little before the earthquake, they must be in even worse conditions now,” she said. “I knew I had to do something.”
Esha brainstormed ideas with her family, and created a plan to collect school supplies in her school community for kids in Nepal. After obtaining the support of her principal, she set up a collection table at her school and began visiting classrooms to make PowerPoint presentations about her campaign. Before long, Esha had collected thousands of items, including pencils, pens, books, crayons, paints, notebooks and markers. The supplies were packaged and shipped to a thousand-student elementary school in Nepal. Esha said she is determined to send shipments to the school every year. “By providing this school with supplies, the children will have the tools they need to get a better education,” she said.
“By using their time and talents to better their communities, these young people have achieved great things – and become examples for us all,” said John Strangfeld, chairman and CEO of Prudential Financial, Inc. “Congratulations to an exemplary group of honorees.”
“These students have demonstrated a truly remarkable level of leadership and commitment in the course of their volunteer service, and it’s an honor to celebrate their accomplishments,” said Michael Allison, president of NASSP. “We commend each and every one of them for a job well done.”
Youth volunteers in grades 5-12 were invited to apply for 2016 Prudential Spirit of Community Awards last fall through schools, Girl Scout councils, county 4-H organizations, American Red Cross chapters, YMCAs and affiliates of the HandsOn Network. More than 29,000 middle level and high school students nationwide participated in this year’s program.
The Prudential Spirit of Community Awards program was created in 1995 to identify and recognize young people for outstanding volunteer service – and, in so doing, inspire others to volunteer, too. In the past 21 years, the program has honored more than 115,000 young volunteers at the local, state and national level.
The National Association of Secondary School Principals (NASSP) is the leading organization of and voice for middle level and high school principals, assistant principals, and school leaders from across the United States. The association connects and engages school leaders through advocacy, research, education, and student programs. NASSP advocates on behalf of all school leaders to ensure the success of each student and strengthens school leadership practices through the design and delivery of high quality professional learning experiences. Reflecting its long-standing commitment to student leadership development, NASSP administers the National Honor Society, National Junior Honor Society, National Elementary Honor Society, and National Association of Student Councils. For more information about NASSP, located in Reston, VA, visit www.nassp.org
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