As a parent, you strive to raise your children right and you teach them the value of giving. Throughout the country and the world there are so many opportunities for youth to get involved in and help others. Over the past 16 years, The Prudential Spirit of Community Awards have been given to nearly 100,000 middle and high school students across the country for helping the less fortunate, promoting health and safety, protecting the environment, and many other volunteer activities.
The search is now on to identify thousands more who have made meaningful contributions to their communities over the past 12 months, as the prestigious awards program kicks off its 17th year!
In honor of this school year’s application period, I had the chance to interview one of last year’s High School National Honorees, Justin Churchman. Here is what Justin tells us about his experience and why he encourages more teens to get involved with this year’s awards program:
- What has being part of The Prudential Spirit of Community Awards meant to you?
Being surrounded by other community volunteers for several days was amazing! It give me an opportunity to share ideas, problems and concerns with other volunteers my age. It is inspirational and affirming, at the same time, to see what other teens are doing around the world and to realize that you are making an important contribution as well.
As a national winner, the experience has been incredible. When you look at the resumes of the teens from throughout the country, you see that kids are not letting anything hold them back – not age, gender, where they live, money and sometimes, adults! We are the generation who will be leading this country and programs like Prudential are making it clear that giving back to the community HAS to be a number one priority.
Application forms for the 2011 Prudential awards are available now online at www.prudential.com/community/spirit and the deadline is Nov. 1. I hope you will encourage your readers to apply!
- What is the number one reason you would encourage your peers to get involved?
The world is not going to be a better place if we don’t get involved. People don’t have to go to Mexico and build a house or to India and build a well. They can look in their neighborhoods for a senior citizen who can’t mow their grass anymore. They can walk down the street to a school where kids are working hard to learn to read and spend an hour helping. They can organize trash clean ups or clothing drives. And if everyone would just spend an hour or two, unselfishly being there for another person, they would be amazed at the changes inside them – and they will be back.
- Has this experience brought about new opportunities for you?
Being a Prudential winner introduced me to some of the most amazing teens in the country. I’ve met super achievers who are passionate about changing the world and I’ve met regular kids who are passionate about improving a specific part of their city. It has created networks where I can find support – both financial and physical – and a place I can turn to if I need motivation. I have also gotten some support for my favorite project, building houses in Mexico, at www.casasporcristo.org, and through my new online site https://www.giveback.org/pages/MyGiveBack/MyCauseIntro.aspx
- How did you go about selecting a volunteer project?
I built my first house when I was 12 by joining a school-sponsored project. I knew that was going to be my passion, so I just made sure I stayed involved with Casas por Cristo, the organization building them. In the early years it was tough, fund raising and organizing and convincing adults I could do the job, but now that I have proven myself it is easier. As for other projects, I just look around. Really, every community has the same needs. There is always trash to be picked up or families in need of food and clothing. There are always younger kids who need an older kid to hang out with or to help them with homework. I just see a need and do my best to find a solution.
- Why do you feel volunteering should be a part of every teen’s daily life?
I think every teen should be volunteering because we are the next generation of leaders. We learn what we need to in school to get a career and we learn from our families about relationships. We learn from spending time in the community what it takes to grow a community strong and how to find solutions to social problems. Of course, it makes you happy to volunteer, and it rewards you like nothing else can.
As Justin mentions, the search is now on to identify thousands more who have made meaningful contributions to their communities over the past 12 months, as the prestigious awards program kicks off its 17th year!