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
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 (www.perfectpitchhrd.com) 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
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,"
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."
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,"
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!"