NEWARK, N.J., May 3, 2021 /PRNewswire/ -- Katie Chai, 18, of Charlotte, and Michael Chen, 13, of Raleigh, were named as two of America's top 10 youth volunteers of 2021 on Sunday evening by The Prudential Spirit of Community Awards during the program's 26th annual, and second fully virtual, national recognition celebration. Selected from a field of more than 21,000 youth volunteers from across the country, Katie and Michael have each earned the title of National Honoree; they will each receive a scholarship of $5,000, an engraved gold medallion, a crystal trophy for their schools, and a $5,000 grant from The Prudential Foundation for a nonprofit organization of their choice.
The Prudential Spirit of Community Awards, sponsored by Prudential Financial in partnership with the National Association of Secondary School Principals (NASSP), honors students in grades 5-12 for making meaningful contributions to their communities through volunteer service.
Katie, a senior at Charlotte Latin School, helped start a grassroots effort to address the shortage of personal protective equipment (PPE) in her city by using 3D printers and laser cutters to make more than 100,000 face shields, which were ultimately distributed to health care workers across North Carolina and in 12 other states. As the daughter of two doctors, Katie was really worried about her parents' safety when the COVID-19 pandemic struck in March of 2020. "Our quarantine dinner conversations mainly revolved around our communal and nationwide shortage of PPE," she said. But one night her father showed her an article about engineers in Italy who were 3D printing parts for their respirators. Having taken engineering classes at school, Katie wondered whether face shields could be made with her school's 3D printer.
She immediately called her engineering teacher, who agreed to help. Within three days, they had printed and laser-cut their first face shield in the school's engineering lab. Five days later, they delivered 40 shields to a local hospital. To ramp up production, Katie sought donations through GoFundMe and media interviews, drove around town to buy supplies, and began assembling shields with her family every night. As word of her project spread, more than 400 volunteers offered to help with the assemblies, and other high schools, universities, businesses and local engineers began producing shields with their own 3D printers. In a little over a month, Katie's initiative raised more than $114,000 and delivered more than 106,000 face shields to protect healthcare workers.
Michael, a seventh-grader at Triangle Math and Science Academy, has made more than 580 mask "buckles" with his 3D printer to lessen the discomfort that wearing face masks for extended periods can cause behind the ears. In March of 2020, Michael and his family had many conversations about COVID-19. "My mother showed us images of healthcare workers with sores on their faces left by the masks they needed to wear for long hours," Michael said. "But what wasn't visible were the sore marks behind the ears. This can be very painful for the mask-wearer." He wondered if there was a way he could use the 3D printer he had purchased earlier to solve that problem. Could he make something that could keep the mask's elastic ties from touching the area behind the ears and still keep the mask on tight?
After some research, Michael discovered mask buckles, a piece of plastic worn on the back of the head that allows a mask wearer to anchor the ear elastic strings there instead of behind the ears. With a design that would fit different head sizes and hairstyles, Michael began making his buckles for healthcare workers in his community and for a cardiologist friend who was working on the frontlines in New York. As news of his project spread, he began getting requests for mask buckles from other area hospitals and physicians. The most difficult part, Michael said, was filling a request for 250 buckles just as his printer broke down. Luckily, he had two neighbors who offered to use their own 3D printers to help fill the order, often printing all through the night, he said.
"After 26 years of honoring young volunteers, we know that students across America do great things in service to their communities, and we're especially inspired by this year's honorees for doing so in the face of unprecedented challenges," said Charles Lowrey, Prudential's chairman and CEO. "Prudential is proud to shine a spotlight on these remarkable young people and their stories of service."
"These young volunteers are great examples of the resilience and commitment to social progress that so many students demonstrated over the past year," said Ronn Nozoe, chief executive officer, NASSP. "NASSP congratulates these students on a well-deserved honor, and thanks them for providing us all with role models for turning adversity into action."
These are the other National Honorees:
- Ruby Kate Chitsey, 13, of Harrison, Arkansas, who has raised more than $300,000 to grant wishes for over 8,000 nursing home residents across the country who cannot afford day-to-day expenses such as pet food, haircuts or clothes that fit properly.
- Cash Daniels, 11, of Chattanooga, Tennessee, who has organized cleanup outings that have removed more than 11,000 pounds of trash from the Tennessee River, recycled over 1,000 pounds of aluminum cans to raise money for river conservation, and installed fishing-line recycling receptacles along the river.
- Orion Jean, 10, of Fort Worth, Texas, who has collected more than 600 toys for kids at a children's hospital, and provided more than 40,000 meals for people in need, after winning a national speech contest in which he encouraged people to "Race to Kindness."
- Thomas Kim, 17, of McLean, Virginia, who has piloted more than 20 flights to deliver over 70,000 personal protective equipment (PPE) items and ventilator supplies to rural hospitals in four states since the COVID-19 pandemic began.
- Suraj Kulkarni, 18, of Corvallis, Oregon, who created a website where young people of diverse backgrounds can share their experiences, perspectives and culture with one another, along with online conferences that have involved young people from more than 13 countries.
- Gitanjali Rao, 15, of Lone Tree, Colorado, who has reached more than 30,000 students around the world, encouraging younger generations to think creatively about confronting the world's big challenges by leading online workshops where she shares the unique problem-solving methodology she created.
- Samantha Vance, 12, of Fort Wayne, Indiana, who launched an initiative to provide "buddy benches" for shy, lonely or bullied kids at more than 150 schools across the country.
- Ellie Zimmerman, 18, of Purchase, New York, who is the founder and CEO of an organization that has recruited thousands of high school students across the country to provide technology assistance to more than 180 nonprofit organizations, as well as to teachers, parents and students struggling with remote learning.
National Honorees were announced Sunday, culminating a three-day weekend of events celebrating Spirit of Community's 102 State Honorees – the top middle level and high school volunteer of 2021 from each state and the District of Columbia. In addition to remarks from guest speaker Priyanka Chopra Jonas, the State Honorees connected with each other through small-group project-sharing sessions and learned about service and advocacy from accomplished Spirit of Community alumni. They were also congratulated by special guests including Lowrey from Prudential and Nozoe from NASSP.
To read the names and stories of this year's State Honorees, visit http://spirit.prudential.com.
About Prudential Financial
Prudential Financial, Inc. (NYSE: PRU), a financial wellness leader and premier active global investment manager, has operations in the United States, Asia, Europe and Latin America. Prudential's diverse and talented employees help to make lives better by creating financial opportunity for more people. Prudential's iconic Rock symbol has stood for strength, stability, expertise and innovation for more than a century. For more information, please visit http://news.prudential.com.
The National Association of Secondary School Principals (NASSP) is the leading organization of and voice for principals and other school leaders across the United States. NASSP seeks to transform education through school leadership, recognizing that the fulfillment of each student's potential relies on great leaders in every school committed to the success of each student. 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 Student Council. Learn more at http://nassp.org.
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