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Amazing Kids! of the Month

Amazing Kids! is proud to highlight the Amazing Kids! of the Month!

Each month, we showcase kids who are accomplishing amazing things.  We hope that by telling their special stories, we will inspire other kids to accomplish their own amazing achievements. 

Amazing Kids! of the Month for January, 1999: 
The Prudential Spirit of Community Award Winners!
The Prudential Spirit of Community Awards logo

This month we highlight the amazing community service 
achievements of young people from across the United States. 

Introducing Some Amazing Youth Dedicated to Community Service...

Happy New Year to all!  To ring in the New Year, this month Amazing Kids! is celebrating the amazing community service accomplishments of young people across the United States!  These dedicated youth have have been hard at work trying to make the world a better place through their community service activities.

The Amazing Kids! of the Month for January, 1999 are the winners of a very special community service award given to them by Prudential.  Each year, Prudential honors young people who are doing exceptional work in their communities.  Called the "Spirit of Community" award, the purpose of the award is to get young people excited about helping improve their communities. 

The 1998 Prudential Spirit of Community Award National Winners

The "Spirit of Community" award is part of Prudential's "Spirit of Community Initiative" programs.  The goals of these special programs are to:

  • create visible role models for young people by recognizing exemplary community service by middle-school and high-school students across the United States
  • help young Americans learn how they can make worthwhile contributions to their communities, through training materials and education programs
  • promote greater public attention to the issue of community service by young people, and ways to encourage it
You can learn more about the Prudential Spirit of Community Initiative programs by visiting the Prudential website.  Simply click on the program titles below to visit the Prudential website and read about the programs.

The 1998 Prudential Spirit of Community Awards Winners

Prudential selected ten young Americans to receive the 1998 Prudential Spirit of Community Award, for their outstanding accomplishments in self-initiated community service. 

These amazing young people were chosen from a group of more than 11,000 student volunteers throughout the United States!  Below is a list of the winners, along with their very special stories, reprinted with the permission of Prudential. 

Michael Harris, 18, of Arapaho High School in Arapaho,  Oklahomahas worked tirelessly since he was only 9 years old to preserve natural resources and educate others about the need for environmental resuscitation." 

His broad-based conservation campaign, which he calls "Environmental CPR" (Conserve, Preserve, Reserve), grew from his love of the land and his frustration with the widespread perception that  natural resources are not endangered. "We have opened a Pandora's Box releasing erosion, pollution and a 'throw away' mentality," says Mike. "That is not the legacy I want to leave my children." 

His efforts started with recycling projects to collect aluminum and plastic. As Mike’s ideas grew, he secured endorsements from local officials and began recycling Christmas trees, telephone books, greeting cards, and clothing, often with area businesses, schools and government agencies serving as collection sites. In addition, he has presented educational  programs to students and community groups, and promoted conservation awareness through newspaper articles, radio public service announcements, a recycling calendar and a newsletter. Mike estimates that nearly 470,000 people have been reached with his message of  environmental conservation, and over 22,000 pounds of landfill items have been recycled. 

Jenny Hungerford, 18, of Parkview High School in Orfordville, Wisconsin says she wasted nearly three years of her life hooked on drugs and running away from home. When she finally recovered, Jenny decided that her experience could help others resist the temptation of drugs. Working with her mother and drawing on her actual experiences, she began delivering dramatic presentations and motivational speeches on the dangers of substance abuse when she was only 14. 

More recently, she scripted a four-act reenactment called "Jenny — A Day inhe Life of a Teenage Addict,"which she presents to schools, youth conferences, treatment facilities and community groups in cooperation with the Wisconsin Association of Runaway Services. Jenny coordinates most of the logistics herself, from the writing of the script to securing props, distributing press materials, scheduling performances, and soliciting funds. Her presentations have elicited strong response from audiences, and she is now planning to expand her effort by putting together an entire troupe of former teenage addicts. "I learned that even I, who had once taken so much from the people I care about and from my community, could be a positive and productive citizen," Jenny says. 

Becca Laptook, 17, of J.J. Pearce High School in Richardson, Texas created a youth volunteer organization that has performed close to 100 community service projects over the past two years in the Dallas-Ft. Worth area. Her group, "Giving and Learning Our Way (GLOW) Youth Volunteers," has more than 250 teen members who participate in projects that Becca schedules throughout the year. "I felt many kids would welcome the chance to be part of a group having a good time while doing things of value for themselves and for others," she says. More than 55 non-profit organizations have benefited from 
GLOW's volunteer work, including hospitals, shelters and food banks. 

The group maintains regular volunteer commitments with Children's Hospital and The Ronald McDonald House, a local women’s shelter thrift shop, and area homeless facilities. Becca recently received a state charter for GLOW Youth Volunteers and arranged for the group’s non-profit status. Now, her focus will be to train the members in raising funds to build GLOW's budget and therefore provide even more community outreach. "I have learned that there are many children and adults in the world who need help, and that there are many good teenagers who are very happy to provide that help," said Becca, who 
hopes to expand GLOW's reach to other states. 

 Brooke Lyons, 17, of Hopkins School in New Haven, Connecticut founded and now presides over the Scoliosis Association of Connecticut, a support and information network for individuals afflicted with the curved-spine disorder and their families. 

At the age of 14, after years of studying ballet, Brooke was diagnosed with scoliosis and had to wear a body brace for 18 hours each day to improve her condition. Her search for information and support led only to frustration when she realized that there was no support group for scoliosis patients in her state. Brooke, determined to make the path easier for others than it was for her, worked with the National Scoliosis Association to develop a Connecticut chapter, which now includes 100 members. Brooke schedules meetings, secures guest speakers, reaches out to the community, handles media relations, educates school nurses on the importance of scoliosis screenings, and staffs a toll-free support hot line. 

She recently coordinated – and danced in – a performance of The Nutcracker Ballet, which raised $10,000 to benefit scoliosis research. The National Scoliosis Association has named Brooke its National Teen Spokesperson, and she will travel across the country to speak to teens about dealing with the illness. "The stories I've heard, the lives that I have touched, and the changes I have made all have left permanent imprints in my mind and in my heart," said Brooke. 

Jon Wagner-Holtz, 16, of Mission Viejo High School in Mission Viejo, California is the founder and CEO of Kids Konnected, a non-profit organization that provides friendship, education and support for kids who have a parent with cancer. Jon established the organization when he was only 11 years old after searching desperately for support to cope with his mother’s cancer diagnosis. 

"There were no groups where I could talk to other kids who knew what it was like to have a real sick mom," Jon explains, so he created his own. 

Jon secured a grant in 1993 to operate a 24-hour hot line from his home, which soon led to the  creation of regular support groups, and by 1997, Kids Konnected was incorporated as a non-profit organization with 18 chapters in 12 states. Jon has raised over $400,000 to fund Kids Konnected programs, which include a summer camp, an Internet website, youth leadership training, grief workshops, and other cancer related services – all offered free of charge. 

Jon has begun to train a young member of the board of directors to take over as CEO when he leaves for college. "It's real important to continue Kids Konnected as a corporation that is run by kids, for kids," says Jon. 

Aubyn Burnside, 13, a home-schooled student from Hickory, North Carolina, founded "Suitcases For Kids," a program that collects and distributes used suitcases for children in foster care. When she discovered that the belongings of kids being moved from one foster home to another are usually placed in trash bags, Aubyn was surprised and upset. "I thought, 'That is horrible. These children must feel like garbage!'" So she dedicated herself to ensuring that every child in foster care would have a suitcase of his or her own. 

By getting the word out through local newspapers and in her Girl Scouts and 4-H newsletters, Aubyn started small. The donations and the message grew, and soon Aubyn was speaking at state-wide conferences on her program, and passing out starter kits for other groups to launch Suitcases for Kids programs in their areas. Because nearly 4,500 suitcases have been donated so far, Aubyn is now enlisting support from trucking companies to transport the excess to areas in need. 

"Suitcases for Kids has the unique quality of being inspired by, organized by, and carried out by young people, says Aubyn. Aubyn will soon introduce her project in 19 states across the country and dreams that recycling luggage will one day become as common as recycling newspaper, glass and plastic. 

Jason Crowe, 11, a home-schooled child from Newburgh, Indiana, created a neighborhood newspaper "by kids and for kids" in memory of his grandmother to raise money for the American Cancer Society and to spread the word that one person can make a difference in the world. 

"Besides earning money for a cure for cancer, I wanted my paper to give kids a chance to see their stories and drawings published because I thought this would build their self-esteem," says Jason. 

With his parents' help, Jason wrote and designed a prototype, knocked on doors and wrote countless letters to solicit stories and sell subscriptions. Jason now has subscribers in 17 states and 3 foreign countries, and  one of his articles – about a cellist in Sarajevo – has become part of a full-fledged campaign to publicize an inspirational example of individual heroism. 

After writing about the cellist, who courageously opposed the war in Bosnia through his music, Jason organized a tribute concert by the Evansville Philharmonic Orchestra and is now working to have statue of the cellist built and sent to the people of Bosnia, to "tell the world that one person can make a difference."

Richard Hiatt, 13, of McAuliffe Middle School in Los Alamitos, California, was motivated to organize a fund-raising walk-a-thon in his town after a friend died of cancer. Then, only two days after beginning his project, 
Richie's little sister was diagnosed with leukemia. 

"I was so scared, I thought she was going to die," said Richie. With that added dose of inspiration, Richie mobilized several Boy and Girl Scout Troops, his school and other local organizations to help plan the walk-a-thon, and solicited pledges from businesses and individuals throughout his community. Richie’s 7-year-old sister, Laci, kicked off the walk and led 200 walkers to the music from the movie, Rocky. 

His initial goal of $1,000 was surpassed when he collected nearly $15,000, which Richie then donated to the Children's Cancer Center at the Long Beach Memorial Medical Center. The money he raised is being used to help pay for important medications, check-ups, and transportation to hospitals and clinics for patients who do not have cars. 

"If you really believe in yourself and your cause, others will too," says Richie. 

Jason Jones, 14, of Baker Middle School in Columbus, Georgia, has dedicated the past three years of his life to initiating and managing a Neighborhood Advisory Committee that provides a variety of volunteer services in his mobile-home park. 

"I was surrounded by unsupervised children playing around trash, people with problems, and a lack of hospitality and spirit in the park," says "Jay." So he approached the park manager for support and then started a monthly neighborhood clean-up. The success of that campaign led to a food drive for needy families, a hospitality get-together to improve community spirit, free tutorial services for younger children living in the park, and a child-care service. 

Although Jay’s efforts, which require at least two hours of his time each day, have encouraged adults to become more involved in their community, most of his volunteers are other concerned children. 

"By reaching the children, I have indirectly touched the adults," says Jay.

Laura Shlesinger, 13, of Saint Rita School in Alexandria, Virginia conducted a bone marrow donor drive for Hispanic members of her community to help increase the very low percentage of minority-group members who 
register with the National Bone Marrow Registry. Laura learned about bone-marrow matching when her uncle was diagnosed with leukemia and was told that a bone marrow transplant was his only hope. She then read about about a Hispanic man in northern Virginia who needed a transplant but was unable to find a match, due in part to the fact that only a very small percentage of minorities register with the National Bone Marrow Registry. Laura decided that a bone marrow donor drive held at an area church with a large Hispanic congregation might improve the chances for these people. She arranged yard sales, sold plants, and held a raffle to raise more than $1,000 to support the marrow testing, and she secured a matching grant from the National Institutes of Health to supplement her initial donations. Nearly 100   people came out for the drive, and people were added to the National Registry. 

Some Other Amazing Spirit of Community Winners!
There are so many wonderful stories about young people serving in their communities today!  In addition to the national winners, Prudential has named some amazing state finalists and honorees for the award!  You can read about the 1998 state winners and finalists by visiting the Prudential website

Prudential will be announcing the 1999 Spirit of Community Award winners on February 4, so don't forget to visit their website in February to find out who the 1999 winners of them could be you !!!


Read about one of the amazing state finalists from California on the Christian Science Monitor website:

12 year old Brandon Keefe was one of the state finalists from California.  In 1993, when he was 8 years old, he started collecting books for a children's orphanage, because they couldn't afford a library.  Brandon got his whole school involved, and collected 847 books for the orphanage library! 

Since he first started back in 1993, Brandon has collected and distributed over 10,000 books and has organized 11 book drives!  He and his mother have started a non-profit organization called "Book Ends" that will teach other kids about community service and how it can really help make the world a better place for all of us. 

Way to go, Brandon!  Keep up the good work! 

To read more about Brandon and his amazing community service work, visit the Christian Science Monitor website at:

What Do Young People Think About Community Service?

Prudential recently commissioned an interview of 1,000 young people about volunteering and community service. Here are some of the questions they asked, and the answers they found:

    • 95 percent of those interviewed support volunteering.
    • Almost two-thirds of those respondents said that individual responsibility is the best way to solve community problems. 
    • Sixty-seven percent indicated that they devote some of their time to volunteer   activities.  
Why are so many students interested in serving their communities? 

    Because they want to: 

  • make a difference  
  • develop new skills
  • explore career paths
  • have fun working with friends 
  • feel good about themselves  

A Special Message from Amazing Kids! for all you teens:

It's no secret...every person has the potential to be amazing in their own way.  Sometimes we just need a little help in finding out what our special talents are! 

If you are doing some amazing things too, we want to hear about it!  Send us your stories about your amazing accomplishments, so we can tell the world just how amazing you are!  We are always looking for new stories.  And don't be shy!  We'd love to hear from you!
Here's an idea you might want to try:


If you know someone who needs a little encouragement, why not tell them what you think is special about them?  Maybe you can be the one to help them uncover their own special talents! 

Amazing Kids! is looking for teens like you to be Amazing Teen Volunteers and Ambassadors. If you'd like to join Amazing Kids! in helping to spread the word, please email us at: 


 It's cool to be an Amazing Kid!


Calling All Amazing Kids!  We Need Your Help!

If you are, or know any kids who are, doing amazing things, we want to hear about it

Send us your stories, so we might be able to feature you too someday!   Please be patient, and we will do our best to tell your story some day -- hopefully soon! 

Back to the Amazing Kids! of the Month Index

For more information about Amazing Kids!, please contact Alyse Rome, Executive Director, at:
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