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Prudential Spirit awards honor Kentucky youth volunteers; NKY’s Annemarie Fuerst is a top winner

Allison Tu, 17, of Louisville and Annemarie Fuerst, 14, of Covington have been named Kentucky’s top two youth volunteers of 2019 by The Prudential Spirit of Community Awards, a nationwide program honoring young people for outstanding acts of volunteerism.

As State Honorees, Allison and Annemarie each will receive $1,000, an engraved silver medallion and an all-expense-paid trip in early May 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 2019.

The Prudential Spirit of Community Awards, now in its 24th year, is conducted by Prudential Financial in partnership with the National Association of Secondary School Principals (NASSP).

These are Kentucky’s top youth volunteers of 2019:

High School State Honoree: Allison Tu
Nominated by duPont Manual High School

Allison, a senior at duPont Manual High School, launched a youth-driven initiative to raise awareness of student mental health issues and find ways to combat the alarmingly high rates of depression, anxiety and suicide among young people in Kentucky.  When she was in middle school, Allison didn’t have to look hard to see classmates struggling with sadness and stress, many who turned to substance abuse. “But none were getting help,” she said. “After two students I knew took their own lives, I’d had enough of watching my friends and peers suffer alone.”

Allison began posting ideas on her bedroom walls, and then consulted with a broad range of teachers, advisors and peers to devise a multiphase plan to improve mental health programs and services for young people in her state. Next, she formed an organization called “StAMINA” (Student Alliance for Mental Health Innovation and Action); sought support from student leaders throughout Kentucky as well as key adults in government, healthcare and education; and obtained more than $100,000 in grants to fund her new initiative.

One of StAMINA’s first steps was to assemble rural and urban focus groups to gain student and parent perspectives on mental health needs. Allison’s group also has sponsored three youth summits to discuss pertinent issues and train youth advocates, and a “Youth Mental Health Ideathon” at which 50 students, parents and mental health professionals brainstormed program ideas. Three ideas from that event are now being developed: a podcast, adult-youth conversation cards and a mental health app. In addition, Allison has spoken about her organization at conferences around the country, and is now lobbying her state legislature on behalf of a bill that would increase the number of mental health professionals in schools.

Middle Level State Honoree: Annemarie Fuerst
Nominated by Girl Scouts of Kentucky’s Wilderness Road

Annemarie Fuerst of Covington is an eighth-grade homeschooler. She worked with her Girl Scout troop 1404 to restore a dilapidated arts and crafts barn at a scout camp.

“We loved camping there and decided we wanted to return to it at least once a year,” said Annemarie of Camp Cardinal, a Girl Scout camp two hours from her home. She and her peers wanted to do something for the camp, so they talked to its caretakers about ways they could help. When Annemarie heard that the arts and crafts barn was in dire need of repair, she wanted to pitch in.

“I love many kinds of art,” she said. “So this was a good match for me.”

To begin the project, Annemarie and her fellow scouts set a list of goals, then prepared a PowerPoint slideshow to present their ideas to scout officials and troop leaders. After they obtained approval, the girls got their first look inside the barn in November 2017.

“It was quite a mess,” said Annemarie. The building was covered with graffiti and filled with old mattresses and a broken kiln. The art tables were covered with paint, marker ink and glitter, and the chairs were rusted and had been chewed by rodents. The team moved items to storage, organized supplies, built a shelf and scrubbed. After Annemarie asked her neighbors to donate paint and painting supplies, she and the others went back and covered the graffiti with fresh paint. Then she set out to restore the tables so that future scouts would be able to create their art on a clean surface.

“The difference from before and after was amazing!” Annemarie said. An added benefit was that during the project, the girls uncovered paintings that Girl Scouts from as far back as the 1960s had created. They displayed the artwork in hopes that “they inspire current scouts,” she said.

Distinguished Finalists

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

These are Kentucky’s Distinguished Finalists for 2019:

Richard Knupp, 18, of Russell, a senior at Russell High School, offers free math tutoring to help other students complete their homework, prepare for tests or simply understand the material. Inspired by his father, who is a teacher, Richard has spent the past five years creating, promoting and growing this service, which has helped countless students improve their grades, their study skills and their self-confidence.

Eleanor Liu, 18, of Lexington, a senior at Paul Laurence Dunbar High School, has spearheaded “Broadcasting Environmental Endangerment (BEE),” a comprehensive effort to reverse the critical decline of the bee population in her home state of Kentucky. Her efforts have included an interactive elementary school curriculum, social media outreach and a pollinator garden at her high school.

Jennifer Mays, 17, of Wingo, a senior at Northside Baptist Christian School, has spent more than 500 hours over the past four years volunteering to read with, teach, encourage and perform administrative duties supporting nearly 300 third-grade children. By sharing these tasks, she has freed teachers to concentrate more closely on their students’ learning, helped the children to thrive and reignited her own passion for education.

Lillian Meekin, 17, of Lexington, a senior at Lexington Catholic High School, launched a farm-to-table school lunch program that has delivered a menu of fresh, nutritious foods, an engaging environment and economic support for both the school and local farmers. She collaborated with parents, students, administrators, farmers, government officials and donors on the project, which recently expanded to offer healthful meals for children in need at the Conquest Boys and Girls Club.

“These young volunteers learned and demonstrated that they can make meaningful contributions to individuals and communities through their service,” said Prudential CEO Charles Lowrey. “It’s an honor to recognize their great work, and we hope that shining a spotlight on their service inspires others to consider how they might make a difference.”

“Each of these honorees is proof that students have the energy, creativity and unique perspectives to create positive change,” said JoAnn Bartoletti, executive director of NASSP. “We commend each of the 2019 honorees for their outstanding volunteer service, and for the invaluable example they’ve set for their peers.”

The Prudential Spirit of Community Awards represents the United States’ largest youth recognition program based solely on volunteer service. All public and private middle level and high schools in the country, as well as all Girl Scout councils, county 4-H organizations, American Red Cross chapters, YMCAs and affiliates of Points of Light’s HandsOn Network, were eligible to select a student or member for a local Prudential Spirit of Community Award. These Local Honorees were then reviewed by an independent judging panel, which selected State Honorees and Distinguished Finalists based on criteria including personal initiative, effort, impact and personal growth.

While in Washington, D.C., the 102 State Honorees – one middle level and one high school student from each state and the District of Columbia – will tour the capital’s landmarks, meet top youth volunteers from other parts of the world, attend a gala awards ceremony at the Smithsonian’s National Museum of Natural History, and visit their congressional representatives on Capitol Hill. On May 6, 10 of the State Honorees – five middle level and five high school students – will be named America’s top youth volunteers of 2019. These National Honorees will receive additional $5,000 awards, gold medallions, crystal trophies and $5,000 grants from The Prudential Foundation for nonprofit charitable organizations of their choice.

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