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Georgia’s top youth volunteers of 2020 selected for Prudential Spirit of Community Awards

The Prudential Spirit of Community Awards honors Atlanta and Jonesboro students with $1,000, medallions and trip to nation’s capital

Finalists also named in Suwanee, Johns Creek, Kennesaw, Marietta and Atlanta

ATLANTA, Ga. – Neha Devineni, 17, of Atlanta and Hailey Bankhead, 12, of Jonesboro today were named Georgia’s top two youth volunteers of 2020 by The Prudential Spirit of Community Awards, a nationwide program honoring young people for outstanding acts of volunteerism. As State Honorees, Neha and Hailey 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 2020.

The Prudential Spirit of Community Awards, now in its 25th year, is conducted by Prudential Financial in partnership with the National Association of Secondary School Principals (NASSP).

These are Georgia’s top youth volunteers of 2020:

High School State Honoree: Neha Devineni

Nominated by Riverwood International Charter School

Neha, a senior at Riverwood International Charter School, founded a nonprofit organization in 2017 that now encompasses more than 100 young people in several states and overseas who are working to improve the lives of children in need, particularly in the areas of nutrition, sanitation and education. On a trip to India, Neha saw unimaginable poverty. “What I witnessed was heartbreaking,” she said. “Children younger than me were going to work in fields and factories and living in makeshift tents on the sides of the street.” She returned home determined to help youth living in poverty and began by traveling around Georgia to assess the needs of children there. Two things stood out: the number of children living in poverty, and the lack of effort being made to improve their lives.

Envisioning an organization run by young people for young people, Neha founded ASA (for “Aspire, Serve, Achieve”). She spoke at schools and local events to challenge students to get involved and organized events for students to talk about poverty-related issues such as nutrition, sanitation and education. Gradually, students from other communities in Georgia, Michigan, Texas and as far away as India applied to open chapters and launch their own projects. One local project that Neha likes to highlight was her group’s efforts to pay for the funeral expenses of a classmate’s mother, and to start an education fund so the classmate could attend school in Atlanta. Another was an initiative to raise funds to buy a car and provide money for food and other expenses for a teenager who was trying to keep her young siblings from being sent to foster homes.

Middle Level State Honoree: Hailey Bankhead

Nominated by Mundy’s Mill Middle School

Hailey, a sixth-grader at Mundy’s Mill Middle School, is a cancer survivor who is working to ease the burden of other young cancer patients by providing hundreds of activity bags, organizing arts and crafts activities at two hospitals every month, and buying gift cards and meals for patients’ families. When Hailey was 5 years old, she was diagnosed with Stage IV Wilm’s cancer, a rare kidney tumor. Despite months of painful treatments, Hailey fought back. “I am in remission and on a mission,” she said. “I fight to make hospital stays for kids like me more tolerable, less lonely, less fearful, and to give hope where hope is lost.”

To accomplish her objective, Hailey works with The Hailey Bankhead Foundation, started by her mother, to raise money. She assists with an annual 5K walk/run, solicits support from local businesses, and plays an active role in planning and managing a gala fundraiser called “A Night Under the Stars.” With some of the proceeds, Hailey has created 450 custom-designed “Hailey’s Hope Bags” containing games, books, puzzles, cosmetics and other items designed to entertain and cheer up hospitalized kids. She also has purchased 2,800 arts and crafts kits for the activity sessions that she and fellow volunteers hold for kids at two Atlanta hospitals each month. In addition, Hailey buys gift cards for families struggling with the high costs of transportation and living expenses while their children receive treatment. “I strive to do what I can to make things a little less scary for kids battling adult-size diseases,” said Hailey.

Distinguished Finalists

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

These are Georgia’s Distinguished Finalists for 2020:

Siddhaant Gupta, 17, of Suwanee, Georgia, a junior at Lambert High School, started and runs “ViveCricket,” a nonprofit organization dedicated to teaching elementary and middle school students how to play cricket; the organization also raises money to sponsor schools in rural and underserved areas in India through a partnership with The ALIG Society. Siddhaant has taught more than 100 children in his community how to play his favorite sport and is currently working to expand his program.

Siya Kalra, 17, of Johns Creek, Georgia, a member of Girl Scouts of Greater Atlanta and a junior at The Westminster Schools, runs “Help a Child Smile,” which provides oral hygiene education and supplies to children in low-income areas in Georgia and Dehli, India; in total, she has distributed dental hygiene kits to more than 6,000 children. Siya was inspired to start this project by her grandmother, a pediatrician who treated patients in the slums of India and who died from oral cancer in 2015.

Destiny Kluck, 16, of Kennesaw, Georgia, a junior at Kennesaw Mountain High School, started “Foster for Love, Adopt for Life,” through which she has volunteered hundreds of hours towards initiatives to benefit children in the foster system; along with spreading awareness in her community, she assembled birthday packages and Easter baskets and helped lead “Princess For a Day” events. Destiny, who was adopted from China, also helped raise more than $5,000 to buy Christmas gifts for foster children.

Dipen Mehta, 17, of Marietta, Georgia, a senior at Walton High School, founded “Coding for Community,” which provides STEM-related workshops and tutoring programs in senior centers, rehabilitation communities and underserved schools; he also helped translate and digitize health surveys to improve access to healthcare for Rohingya refugees in Bangladesh. “Coding for Community” holds regular technology drives and has collected and donated $7,500 of technology to underserved communities.

Skye Walker, 18, of Atlanta, Georgia, a member of YMCA of Metro Atlanta and a senior at North Atlanta High School, started and runs “H2O Life,” which has provided free water safety training and swimming lessons to more than 230 African American children in her community; she also secured sponsorships to help four volunteers earn their lifeguard certification. Skye was inspired to start this program after learning about the high incidence of accidental drowning among African American youth.

Kennedy Walls, 18, of Johns Creek, Georgia, a senior at Marist School, started and runs “Aid the Journey,” a nonprofit through which she has assembled and delivered more than 100 first aid and feminine hygiene kits to refugee populations living in nearby Clarkston; along with donating supplies herself, she raised money through fundraisers at her high school. The kits include everything from flashlights, bandages, wound care supplies and antiseptic to diapers and feminine hygiene products.

“In our 25th year of honoring young volunteers, we are as inspired as ever by the work students are doing to address the needs of a changing world,” said Charles Lowrey, chairman and CEO of Prudential Financial, Inc. “We hope that their resolve, their initiative and their perspectives on society’s challenges move others to consider how they can make a difference, too.”

“Middle level and high school students are doing remarkable things to shape the future of their communities through volunteer service. They inspire all students and schools to drive learning with real-world challenges,” said JoAnn Bartoletti, executive director of NASSP. “Congratulations to each of the 2020 honorees – it’s an honor to celebrate your commitment to creating positive change.”

About The Prudential Spirit of Community Awards

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 Points of Light Global Network members, 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 4, 10 of the State Honorees – five middle level and five high school students – will be named America’s top youth volunteers of 2020. These National Honorees will receive additional $5,000 scholarships, gold medallions, crystal trophies and $5,000 grants from Prudential for nonprofit charitable organizations of their choice.

Since the program began in 1995, more than 130,000 young volunteers have been honored at the local, state and national level. The program also is conducted by Prudential subsidiaries in Japan, South Korea, Taiwan, Ireland, India, China and Brazil. In addition to granting its own awards, The Prudential Spirit of Community Awards program also distributes President’s Volunteer Service Awards to qualifying Local Honorees.

For information on all of this year’s Prudential Spirit of Community State Honorees and Distinguished Finalists, visit http://spirit.prudential.com or www.nassp.org/spirit.

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