Teens’ projects earn volunteer service awards

Olympic gold medalist Lindsey Vonn congratulates Aditya Sidapara and Leanna Clipper, both of Phoenix, for winning Prudential Spirit of Community Awards. (Submitted photo)

Arizona’s top two youth volunteers of 2018 were honored in the nation’s capital last month for their volunteer service during the 23rd annual presentation of The Prudential Spirit of Community Awards.

They joined 100 other top youth volunteers from across the country – each received $1,000 awards and personal congratulations from Olympic gold medalist and World Cup champion Lindsey Vonn at an award ceremony and dinner reception at the Smithsonian’s National Museum of Natural History.

Aditya Sidapara, 18, a senior at BASIS Scottsdale, co-founded an educational initiative that is teaching computer coding to students living in four refugee camps in East Africa, aiming to lift them out of poverty and help meet the worldwide demand for skilled software engineers.

“Millions of high-potential refugees live in atrociously impoverished communities, hindered from realizing their dreams through technology,” the student stated in a release. “Software engineering offers a dignified path for uplifting refugees from cyclical poverty and inspiring the next generation of regional and global innovators.”

Leanna Clipper, an eighth-grader at Sweetwater School, started a “Peer Share” club that pairs middle school mentors with younger students who are dealing with difficult personal issues but are not comfortable discussing them with an adult.

She stated she “loves helping my community and making the world a better place.” The teen started her club because she knew of students going through tough times but not being able to open up to anyone. “It breaks my heart to see students in trouble.”

To start her club, she wrote a detailed plan and presented it to her school social worker and principal. After they approved her idea, she made announcements at school, created and distributed applications, and selected peer mentors.

So far, dozens of students have met with her mentors to discuss their problems and learn new coping skills, the release stated.

“These honorees exemplify something we’ve known for a long time – that young volunteers have the power to bring meaningful change to their communities,” stated John Strangfeld, chairman and CEO of Prudential Financial, Inc. “These students have shown leadership and determination well beyond their years, and it’s a privilege to celebrate their service.”

Youth volunteers in grades 5-12 were invited to apply for 2018 Prudential Spirit of Community Awards last fall through schools, Girl Scout councils, county 4-H organizations, American Red Cross chapters, YMCAs and affiliates of Points of Light’s HandsOn Network. More than 29,000 middle level and high school students nationwide participated in this year’s program.

The Prudential Spirit of Community Awards program was created in 1995 to identify and recognize young people for outstanding volunteer service – and, in so doing, inspire others to volunteer. In 23 years, the program has honored more than 120,000 young volunteers at the local, state and national level.

For more information about The Prudential Spirit of Community Awards and this year’s honorees, visit spirit.prudential.com or nassp.org/spirit.

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