Prudential Spirit of Community Award Winners


Prudential Spirit of Community Award Winners

The Prudential Spirit of Community Awards were created in 1995 to recognize students in middle and high school grades who have demonstrated exemplary community service. These prestigious awards, sponsored by Prudential Financial in partnership with the National Association of Secondary School Principals (NASSP), are presented annually on the local, state, and national levels.

Two young Americans—one high school student and one middle-level student—in each of the 50 states and the District of Columbia were recently named state honorees in the 2006 Prudential Spirit of Community Awards program. These honorees will receive $1,000 awards, engraved silver medallions, and an all-expense-paid trip to Washington, D.C., in May 2006 for four days of recognition events.

The following honorees are Boy Scouts:

New Jersey State Honoree

Michael Pesci, 16, of Parsippany, New Jersey, a sophomore at DePaul Catholic High School in Wayne, organized an annual "home-run derby" that has raised more than $75,000 over the past four years for disabled and disadvantaged individuals. Michael's project began shortly after he volunteered to help out with a baseball game for special-needs kids. "Their attitude and passion to play baseball, even though they were handicapped, was very inspiring," he said. Searching for a way to support these young athletes, he decided to hold a home-run hitting contest similar to one at a baseball camp he'd attended.

After Michael and a friend developed an action plan, they formed a nonprofit corporation, figured out how their derby would work, and began publicizing the event through a Web site ( and speaking engagements. At the event, both kids and adults made donations for the opportunity to swing at seven pitches and win trophies for the longest hits. During the four years that the "Perfect Pitch" Home Run Derby has been held, Michael also has raised money by soliciting donations from corporations and holding raffles for sports memorabilia donated by former New York Yankees Don Larsen, Yogi Berra, and David Cone. The money raised so far has been used primarily to buy equipment for a local sports league for disabled kids, to finance trips for a Boy Scout troop of physically and mentally handicapped adults, and support sports programs for inner-city children.

Pennsylvania State Honoree

Alexander Brothers, 17, of Chadds Ford, Pennsylvania, a junior at Kennett High School in Kennett Square, conducted a bone marrow registration drive to educate his community about the need for unrelated marrow donors, and to increase the size and diversity of the National Marrow Donor Registry. As a regular volunteer at the Delaware Ronald McDonald House, Alexander often meets children who have life-threatening blood diseases but could be cured with a marrow transplant from an unrelated volunteer donor. The need is particularly great among minority populations, since they are underrepresented in the national registry, he said. "Because I live in an ethnically diverse community, I realized it was the perfect location to base a marrow donor registry drive."

After enlisting the help of Boy Scout leaders and the Hispanic and African American service clubs at his school, Alexander formed a volunteer steering committee. He then designed a logo, selected a date for the daylong drive, prepared a timeline, and assigned subcommittees to handle publicity, fund-raising, registration, operations, and hospitality. To get the word out, Alexander and his fellow volunteers contacted churches and social groups, posted fliers all over town, and set up an information hotline in Spanish and English. They also raised nearly $5,000 to pay for non-minority tissue typing by soliciting donations from local businesses and selling novelty items at community events. After nine months of planning and preparation, Alexander's drive succeeded in adding dozens of new names to the National Marrow Donor Registry and making people throughout his community aware of the importance of marrow donors. "The experience showed me how many good and caring people there are in my community and that they come from all ethnic backgrounds," said Alexander.

Virginia State Honoree

Jonathan Nussbaum, 18, of Annandale, Virginia, a senior at Thomas Jefferson High School for Science and Technology in Alexandria, raised nearly $50,000 for cancer research by organizing Northern Virginia's first youth-only Relay for Life, a fund-raising and cancer awareness event that benefits the American Cancer Society. Jonathan, whose mother survived a difficult fight with cancer, was an active Relay for Life volunteer for many years, and was consistently a top youth fund-raiser. But when a classmate lost her life to cancer two years ago, Jonathan knew he had to do something more. "I saw in the faces of my friends the same pain that cancer had inflicted upon my family," said Jonathan. "They were searching for a way to honor her and come to terms with her death."

Jonathan provided an answer. To produce his own Relay for Life, he recruited a core group of volunteers; enlisted his Boy Scout troop to provide additional support; met with school officials to arrange for parking, security, and the use of school facilities; and planned activities for the day of the event. In the end, the 300 students who participated in Jonathan's relay raised an amount almost double anyone's expectations. In addition, Jonathan created a handbook that the American Cancer Society can distribute to young people across the country who are interested in organizing a Relay for Life team. "Beyond all the dollars and cents, we raised awareness for cancer advocacy programs and educated our participants about cancer prevention," said Jonathan. "Most importantly, we honored our cancer survivors, letting them know that they would never be alone in their battle."

Distinguished Finalist

Paul Martin, 17, of Martinsville, Virginia, a senior at Magna Vista High School in Ridgeway, coordinated the operation of a tent kitchen to serve volunteers during search efforts for a missing child whose parents had been murdered. After that, Paul established an emergency response team within his Boy Scout troop to assist his community in future crises.

Alabama State Honoree

Louis Buckalew, 13, of Coden, Alabama, an eighth-grader at Clark School of Mathematics & Science in Chickasaw, has volunteered with several organizations over the past three years to clean up trash along the Gulf Coast shoreline and roadways near his home. Louis initially became involved through his Boy Scout troop, and with the encouragement of his parents, he is now strongly committed to environmental protection. "I find self-satisfaction knowing that I did something to improve or help my community's environment," he says.

Louis often has to "trudge through mud and swamp funk" to collect and bag trash, he said, and then he records data on his activity at home. In addition, Louis helps cook and serve meals to other volunteers while on cleanup outings. He's worked not only with the Boy Scouts, but also with the Coast Guard, the Mobile Bay National Estuary Program, and local government, and has recruited friends to join the effort. Louis now feels his involvement will inspire others. "It makes other people feel good to know that there are good people in this world who volunteer," he said.

Utah State Honoree

Bradley Jencks, 15, of South Jordan, Utah, a ninth-grader at South Jordan Middle School, honored and preserved the memory of those buried in an old cemetery by cleaning and restoring headstones, collecting information about more than 1,400 individual graves, and making the information available to the public through books and Web sites. When Bradley accompanied his parents to the Bingham City Cemetery to gather information about nine ancestors buried there, he saw gravestones that were broken, vandalized or faded beyond recognition, as well as gravesites with no information at all. "It made me feel bad that these people have been forgotten about," he said. He also saw the headstones of young men from many countries who had come to Utah long ago to work in copper mines, but were too poor to be sent home for burial. He realized that most of their living descendants would not be able to get information about them, and thought he could help.

After receiving permission to work on the eight-acre cemetery, Bradley asked local companies to donate new headstones and the supplies needed to clean up the graveyard, then recruited friends, family members, and Scout groups to pick up garbage, trim weeds, clean old headstones and install new ones. They spent 15 days gathering information from headstones, photographing unreadable stones, and mapping each grave using GPS technology. Bradley also placed fliers on gravesites asking for information, and spent Memorial Day weekend at the cemetery interviewing visitors. In all, more than 250 volunteers helped Bradley collect and compile all of the information, and his father created a computer database to organize it. The data was then printed in six 1,500-page books, and provided to the Utah State Historical Society and a free Internet genealogy Web site. "Because of this project, we were able to save and preserve cemetery records that would otherwise have been lost forever!" said Bradley.