Christopher Yao, 15, of Jericho and Raymond Mohler, 14, of Lynbrook today were named New York’s top two youth volunteers for 2012 by The Prudential Spirit of Community Awards, a nationwide program honoring young people for outstanding acts of volunteerism. Christopher was nominated by Jericho High School in Jericho, and Raymond was nominated by Lynbrook South Middle School in Lynbrook. The Prudential Spirit of Community Awards, now in its 17th year, is conducted by Prudential Financial in partnership with the National Association of Secondary School Principals (NASSP).
Christopher, a sophomore at Jericho High School, developed an annual “read-a-thon” that has paid for 60 cleft-lip surgeries in developing countries. He then created a nonprofit organization that has established a center for orphans in Kenya, provided educational materials to students around the world and helped other young people start their own charitable fundraising programs. Christopher was diagnosed with a jaw-bite problem in sixth grade, and as a result, discovered that others had much more difficult dental challenges than he did. “I know how it feels to go through tough situations, and wanted to help others with conditions that were much worse than mine,” he said.
So in 2007, Christopher began going to schools and libraries each year to encourage kids to find donors who would sponsor them in a “read-a-thon” and raise money to fund cleft surgeries for children around the world through the Smile Train organization. Last October, Christopher’s initiative paid for its 60th operation and also sponsors student trips overseas to witness Smile Train’s work. Seeing the power of how young people can change lives, Christopher founded a nonprofit organization, “Kids Change the World,” which has partnered with other sponsors and citizens in Kenya to establish an education and care center for children affected by post-election violence. Christopher’s organization also provides free educational videos and other materials to students through a website, and offers support for young people who want to launch their own charitable initiatives in their communities.
Raymond, an eighth-grader at Lynbrook South Middle School, created a foundation to help alleviate the pain, fear and anxiety felt by young hospital patients by providing toys and other gifts, arranging celebrity visits and assembling mobile entertainment centers. When Raymond spent time in the hospital with a rare hip disease at age 4, he said he felt “tremendous fear and anxiety,” but ended up feeling grateful that he did not have a life-threatening illness like other young patients he met. “I felt bad for the children I left behind who were not coming home for the holidays,” he said. “I felt I had to do something to take their minds off the pain that they were in.”
He donated his Christmas toys to the kids in the hospital, and then asked neighbors, friends and relatives for donations so that he could deliver more to pediatric wards. Soon after, Raymond, who was born on Christmas Eve, formed the Little St. Nick Foundation, and with help from his parents and volunteers, organizes a variety of other activities to brighten the days of hospitalized children. He recruits sports stars to sign autographs and take pictures with the kids, packs gift bags for children in emergency rooms, and builds TV and DVD units that can be wheeled up to a child’s bed. Raymond’s foundation also grants wishes, one of which was an $80,000 home extension for a severely handicapped child.
As State Honorees, Christopher and Raymond 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 several days of national recognition events. Ten of them will be named America’s top youth volunteers for 2012 at that time.
In addition, the program judges recognized eight other New York students as Distinguished Finalists for their impressive community service activities. Each will receive an engraved bronze medallion:
Kayla Babbush, 17, of Merrick, N.Y., a senior at John F. Kennedy High School in Bellmore, is the founder of the “Teens for Life” organization, through which she has coordinated CPR and Automatic External Defibrillator (AED) training for more than 1,200 students. Kayla, forever affected by the cardiac arrest and death at nine years old of her brother’s best friend, has also lobbied New York legislators to one day have CPR training mandated for high school students.
Shane Carman, 16, of Geneseo, N.Y., a junior at Geneseo Junior/Senior High School, partnered with his county youth group to open a youth community center that offers concerts, game nights and activities twice monthly. Shane, who does not participate in sports, wanted to create a place where youth from different backgrounds and different schools could come together for the common interest of fun.
David Cruikshank, 17, of Larchmont, N.Y., a senior at Mamaroneck High School in Mamaroneck, helped raise more than $30,000 to benefit the charity Brooklyn Ice by coordinating two ice shows. David and a friend, both competitive ice skaters, support Brooklyn Ice to help the organization provide free figure skating lessons and dance classes to underprivileged children.
Jillian Dolce, 13, of Slate Hill, N.Y., an eighth-grader at Minisink Valley Middle School, has raised nearly $33,000 through the “One Step At A Time” charity organization that she founded just last year. Inspired by her friend’s mother, who is battling lymphoma, Jillian raised the funds by sponsoring two benefit walks and a bowl-a-thon, then donated the money to Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center.
Lynn-Indora Edmond, 17, of Commack, N.Y., a senior at Commack High School, founded “Supporting Children Around the World,” an organization that provides basic necessities to impoverished children in Haiti. Lynn-Indora, whose parents are Haitian immigrants, travels frequently to Haiti where she teaches English, job skills and environmental awareness.
John Farese, 18, of Sayville, N.Y., a senior at Sayville High School, founded “Operation Sports Equipment” and has collected, refurbished and donated 15,000 pieces of athletic equipment throughout New York and the Dominican Republic. John was motivated to start the project when his Little League disposed of older equipment to make room for new equipment; he solicited and tracked donations, worked with numerous agencies to accept the donations, and coordinated the transportation of the donated equipment.
Annalise Mozer, 13, of Huntington, N.Y., an eighth grader at J. Taylor Finley Middle School, raised $5,000 to support the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation after being diagnosed with juvenile diabetes early in 2010. Annalise not only participates in various fundraisers sponsored by JDRF, but she has also created her own projects including a fundraising website, an awareness group at her school and making and selling wristbands to support the cause.
Emory Nager, 16, of North Salem, N.Y., a member of the Westchester County 4-H and a freshman at North Salem Junior/Senior High School, initiated a political awareness campaign that helped save a nearly $1 million 4-H budget from impending cuts. Emory, who organized email and media campaigns to urge government action, also secured 1,000 signatures on a petition that she presented directly to the majority leader of the Westchester Board of Legislators.
“Through their selfless acts of service, these award recipients have greatly improved the lives of others,” said Prudential Chairman and CEO John Strangfeld. “We hope their stories and their dedication inspire other young people to do the same.”
“We are so pleased to celebrate these student volunteers,” said JoAnn Bartoletti, executive director of NASSP. “It’s important to highlight them as powerful examples of how young people can make a difference.”
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 HandsOn Network, were eligible to select a student or member for a local Prudential Spirit of Community Award. More than 5,000 Local Honorees were then reviewed by an independent judging panel, which selected State Honorees and Distinguished Finalists based on criteria including personal initiative, creativity, 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, attend a gala awards ceremony at the Smithsonian’s National Museum of Natural History, and visit their congressional representatives on Capitol Hill. In addition, 10 of them – five middle level and five high school students – will be named National Honorees on May 7. These 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.
Since the program began in 1995, more than 100,000 young volunteers nationwide have been honored by The Prudential Spirit of Community Awards at the local, state or national level. The program also is conducted by Prudential subsidiaries in Japan, South Korea, Taiwan, Ireland and India.
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 on behalf of President Barack Obama.