Samuel Lam, 17, of Old Westbury and Cory Nichols, 12, of Oceanside today were named New York’s top two youth volunteers of 2013 by The Prudential Spirit of Community Awards, a nationwide program honoring young people for outstanding acts of volunteerism. Samuel was nominated by Jericho Senior High School in Jericho, and Cory was nominated by Oceanside Middle School in Oceanside. The Prudential Spirit of Community Awards, now in its 18th year, is conducted by Prudential Financial in partnership with the National Association of Secondary School Principals (NASSP).
Samuel, a senior at Jericho Senior High School, co-founded a nonprofit organization that is working to educate both young people and adults about “cyberbullying,” and to provide support and assistance to those who have been victims of online harassment. When he was in the eighth grade, Samuel stood up to a fellow student who was bullying another boy, and soon became a target himself. The bully and his friends, said Samuel, “plastered my Facebook wall with vitriolic statements and racial slurs. I had no idea whom to turn to for help. Lost, humiliated and defenseless, I felt caught in a seemingly hopeless battle.”
Instead of just enduring the attacks, Samuel resolved to do something to stop not just his own harassment, but the cyberbullying that millions of young people experience every day around the world either through the Internet or a cell phone. He created a website featuring news and statistics about cyberbullying, along with tips on how to prevent it. Then he began enlisting help from classmates, making presentations at middle and high schools and using social media to broaden his audience. As word spread, Samuel and a classmate formed the “End to Cyber Bullying Organization,” which they designed to become a global awareness campaign. According to Samuel, the campaign has so far attracted more than 200 volunteers, sparked youth initiatives in numerous states plus Great Britain, China and Australia, and reached more than 4.5 million individuals worldwide. Samuel also has worked with New York State Senator Jeffrey Klein on legislation to address cyberbullying.
Cory, a seventh-grader at Oceanside Middle School, has committed to donating $100 worth of food to a local food pantry each month for an entire year, and is so far greatly exceeding his goal. Cory knew he had to help feed the hungry after watching an HBO documentary about the hard times many people were going through on Long Island, where he lives. “After seeing this documentary, I realized that people all around me, people who I am sure I go to school with, are suffering with hunger.” After speaking with his parents, Cory decided he would name his campaign “C the difference: Cory Cares.”
Cory first talked to the director of the local food pantry about its needs, and determined that he could make a significant difference if he could donate $100 worth of food on a monthly basis. He and his mother then spoke to a supermarket manager who agreed to give Cory a 10 percent discount. Then, Cory got to work soliciting monetary donations through social media and emails to family, friends and neighbors. After he receives a contribution, Cory sends each donor a thank you note, along with a bracelet imprinted with the name of his project. Every month, he contacts the food pantry to find out its specific needs, carefully peruses grocery store shelves for bargains, delivers bags of food to the pantry and even stocks the shelves himself. “It is so rewarding,” he says, “seeing the shelves go from empty to not so empty.” In just the first two months of his project, Cory raised $3,000 for groceries, and is continuing his efforts to help feed his community’s hungry.
As State Honorees, Samuel and Cory 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 2013.
The program judges also recognized eight other New York students as Distinguished Finalists for their impressive community service activities. Each will receive an engraved bronze medallion.
These are New York’s Distinguished Finalists for 2013:
“Prudential is proud to honor these students for making meaningful contributions to their communities,” said Prudential Chairman and CEO John Strangfeld. “We hope that shining a spotlight on their initiative, creativity and compassion inspires others to consider how they, too, can make a difference.”
“Through their volunteer service, each of these young people has made his or her mark on at least one person, school or community,” said JoAnn Bartoletti, executive director of NASSP. “When you consider the collective impact of each of these individual acts, it’s clear that young people can be a major force for good.”
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 HandsOn Network affiliates, were eligible to select a student or member for a local Prudential Spirit of Community Award. Nearly 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, 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 6, 10 of the State Honorees – five middle level and five high school students – will be named America’s top youth volunteers of 2013. These National 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 have been honored at the local, state and 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.