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Vermont's Top Two Youth Volunteers Selected in 18th Annual National Awards Program
[February 05, 2013]

Vermont's Top Two Youth Volunteers Selected in 18th Annual National Awards Program

MONTPELIER, Vt. --(Business Wire)--

Neel Desai, 18, and Michaela Forgione, 12, both of South Burlington, today were named Vermont'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. Neel was nominated by South Burlington High School in South Burlington, and Michaela was nominated by Mater Christi School in Burlington. 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).

Neel, a senior at South Burlington High School, started a nonprofit organization that provides free classes in basic computer skills to residents of his community, in topics that run the gamut from how to buy a computer to using social networks to connect with old friends. After being chosen as one of 12 students from the U.S. to attend a leadership conference in central Europe, Neel returned determined to give back to his community. A passion for technology was the spark that led him, with a group of like-minded peers, to launch "Technology for Tomorrow" in August 2011. The organization's mission, said Neel, is "to teach technology to the citizens of our community in order to expand their capabilities, broaden their social ties, and liberate them from physical isolation." Many people at home have expensive computers, "but they are unaware of the potential of the technology they own," Neel said.

With funding from a grant, Neel and his partners developed a series of six workshops, which they held at a local library. Topics included the differences between a PC and Mac and how to evaluate which better suits the needs of the owner; office applications; how to make a spreadsheet; the use of email and Facebook; and how to video-chat with family and friends. "Many parents probably have a computer but they don't know how to use Skype (News - Alert)," said Neel. "We taught them how they can communicate with their overseas children." A highlight of the workshop, Neel said, was when U.S. Senator Patrick Leahy joined the group via Skype to share his thoughts on technology. By September 2012, nearly 100 residents of Neel's community had attended the workshops, and the program was on track to serve another 100 by the end of the year. The technology team also is talking about replicating the workshops with chapters of "Technology for Tomorrow" in Kansas City, Slovakia and Serbia.

Michaela, a seventh-grader at Mater Christi School, is an avid volunteer whose regular activities include helping to feed the hungry and visiting residents of a local nursing home. Michaela's family has always encouraged her to get involved in activities that will help the community, and she tries to encourage her friends to look for ways to help, too. "A few years ago in school we were given an assignment to write about our volunteer activity in the community," she said. "I finished and looked around at my friends who had either nothing to write or very little to write. It made me sad."

Last year for Michaela's birthday, she asked friends to bring grocery-store gift cards instead of gifts for her, and ended up with $600 to feed the hungry. When she heard that the son of a friend of her teacher's was paralyzed in a swimming accident, Michaela, a competitive Irish dancer, organized a "jigathon" that raised more than $300 for the family. Michaela also cooks dinner once a month with her mother and delivers it to a local homeless shelter, and she frequently takes dinner and treats next door to an elderly neighbor who lives alone. Her favorite volunteer activity, however, is visiting a nursing home for retired nuns each week. In addition, Michaela is continually "trying to getother kids to see how much fun it is to help others."

As State Honorees, Neel and Michaela 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.

Distinguished Finalists

The program judges also recognized two other Vermont students as Distinguished Finalists for their impressive community service activities. Each will receive an engraved bronze medallion.

These are Vermont's Distinguished Finalists for 2013:

Thomas Watson, 16, of Williston, Vt., a freshman at Champlain Valley Union High School, has trained nearly 400 people, including the Governor of Vermont, how to conduct Hands Only CPR, and has spoken to state legislators to help pass a law requiring high schools to teach all students in this method. Thomas, who was upset when a man went into cardiac arrest at a sporting event and only one person knew CPR, worked with the American Heart Association to teach this simpler form of CPR in an effort to save lives.

Samantha Wulfson, 18, of South Burlington, Vt., a member of the Greater Burlington YMCA, and a senior at South Burlington High School, co-founded "Vermont Dream Project, Inc.," in 2009 with her sister to provide tennis racquets and sneakers for hundreds of children across America who would not otherwise be able to afford to play tennis. Samantha, who has played tennis since she was 5 years old, is the president of the nonprofit organization and is currently working on the "Sister City" project to build bonds between Vermont communities and communities around the world.

"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."

About The Prudential Spirit of Community Awards

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.

For information on all of this year's Prudential Spirit of Community State Honorees and Distinguished Finalists, visit or


NASSP (National Association of Secondary School Principals) is the leading organization of and national voice for middle level and high school principals, assistant principals, and all school leaders from across the United States and more than 36 countries around the world. The association provides research-based professional development and resources, networking, and advocacy to build the capacity of middle level and high school leaders to continually improve student performance. Reflecting its longstanding commitment to student leadership development as well, NASSP administers the National Honor Society™, National Junior Honor Society®, National Elementary Honor Society®, and National Association of Student Councils®. For more information about NASSP, located in Reston, VA, visit

About Prudential Financial

Prudential Financial, Inc. (NYSE: PRU), a financial services leader, has operations in the United States, Asia, Europe, and Latin America. Prudential's diverse and talented employees are committed to helping individual and institutional customers grow and protect their wealth through a variety of products and services, including life insurance, annuities, retirement-related services, mutual funds and investment management. In the U.S., Prudential's iconic Rock symbol has stood for strength, stability, expertise and innovation for more than a century. For more information, please visit

Editors: For full-color pictures of the Prudential Spirit of Community Awards program logo and medallions, click here:

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