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Stevensville youth honored for volunteerism

The Prudential Spirit of Community Awards honored Montana’s top two youth volunteers of 2012 on Sunday during its 17th annual State Awards Ceremony in Washington, D.C.

Emily Jones, 13, of Stevensville, was honored for working with an organization that prepares and serves a free dinner every week to encourage families in her town to come and eat together.

Iko’tsimiskimaki (“Ekoo”) Beck, 16, of Missoula, was also

Super Bowl MVP Eli Manning pays tribute to young heroes Emily Jones from Stevensville (right) and Ekoo Beck from Missoula and as part of recognition events in Washington DC.

honored for implementing a program to prevent bullying and reduce prejudice among students through training workshops and after-school clubs at high schools, middle schools and elementary schools.

As State Honorees, Emily and Ekoo were among 102 top youth volunteers from across the country who received $1,000, engraved silver medallions, and all-expense-paid trips to Washington, D.C., this week for four days of recognition events. At the ceremony, Emily and Ekoo were each personally congratulated for their outstanding volunteer service by New York Giants quarterback and 2012 Super Bowl MVP Eli Manning.

“We are proud to honor them for their achievements, and hope their stories inspire others to consider how they, too, can make a difference,” said Manning.

Emily, an eighth-grader at Ravalli Classical Academy and a member of the Ravalli County 4-H, works with an organization that prepares and serves a free dinner every week to encourage families in her town to come and eat together. Emily, who loves to cook, became involved with Community Cooking Connections (CCC) two years ago when a friend invited her to what she thought was a cooking class. “It turned out to be so much more,” Emily said. “CCC brings families together for meal time so that moms and dads can spend time with their kids discussing their day and enjoying each other’s company.”

Every Friday, Emily volunteers for four hours after school to help cook and serve a healthy three-course dinner for anyone in the community who wishes to come. “We try to include an assortment of meals that are cultural, like French crepes, Indian briana, German beef stroganoff and many others,” said Emily. As a junior chef, she is also responsible for designing a menu. On the night her German beef stroganoff was served, 76 community members showed up for dinner. Chefs also are expected to make presentations during dinner, explaining why they chose a particular food and offering cooking tips. An enthusiastic advocate for the program, Emily has convinced four friends to don aprons and pitch in. “Many teens today spend around 15-20 minutes at dinner, ignoring their parents while texting their friends,” Emily said. “Community Cooking Connections brings families and family mealtime to the center stage.”

Ekoo, a senior at Hellgate High School, implemented a program to prevent bullying and reduce prejudice among students through training workshops and after-school clubs at high schools, middle schools and elementary schools. “Bullying, racist comments, sexist comments, and overall prejudicial actions run rampant in schools throughout Montana,” said Ekoo, who is part Native American. “I know how it feels. I am, and have often been, the target of those prejudicial comments.”

In the fall of 2010, Ekoo decided to take matters into her own hands. She applied for and won a $10,000 grant from America’s Promise Alliance and AT&T, and then partnered with a local chapter of the National Coalition Building Institute to create structured educational experiences for students of all ages. Ekoo said that the goal is to “provide kids with the skills to change a potentially violent situation, and the information to understand oppression and the roots of violence in their local and global communities.” Her program, called “Inspire to Lead,” includes peer-led training workshops for all freshmen at two local high schools, after-school “Respect Clubs” at three middle schools, and a pilot teaching project at an elementary school. So far, Ekoo’s program has involved hundreds of community and peer leaders, and has impacted more than 800 students in Missoula.

“Through their extraordinary acts of volunteerism, these students are powerful examples of the way one young person can make a big impact,” said John R. Strangfeld, chairman and CEO of Prudential Financial, Inc. “We are proud to honor them for their achievements, and hope their stories inspire others to consider how they, too, can make a difference.”

More than 26,000 young people participated in the 2012 awards program last fall through schools, Girl Scout councils, county 4-H organizations, American Red Cross chapters, YMCAs and affiliates of the HandsOn Network. The top middle level and high school applicants in each state were selected in February, and flown to Washington this week with their parents for four days of special recognition events.

Conducted in partnership with the National Association of Secondary School Principals (NASSP), The Prudential Spirit of Community Awards were created 17 years ago by Prudential Financial to encourage youth volunteerism and to identify and reward young role models. Since then, the program has honored more than 100,000 young volunteers at the local, state and national level.

“These young people have demonstrated remarkable leadership, selflessness and compassion, and they set a fine example for thousands of other students across the U.S. who want to make a difference,” said Ken Griffith, president of NASSP. “The actions of these young volunteers exemplify the best of what America’s youth have to offer.”

More information about The Prudential Spirit of Community Awards and this year’s honorees can be found at http://spirit.prudential.com or www.nassp.org/spirit.

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