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Connecticut's Top Youth Volunteers Of 2020 Selected By National Program

The Prudential Spirit of Community Awards honors Guilford and Ellington students with $1,000, medallions and trip to nation's capital

Finalists also named in West Simsbury, Monroe, West Hartford and Bantam

HARTFORD, Conn., Feb. 4, 2020 /PRNewswire/ -- Gabriela Garcia-Perez, 18, of Guilford and Dhruv Suryadevara, 14, of Ellington today were named Connecticut's top two youth volunteers of 2020 by The Prudential Spirit of Community Awards, a nationwide program honoring young people for outstanding acts of volunteerism. As State Honorees, Gabriela and Dhruv 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 2020. 

(PRNewsfoto/Prudential Insurance)

The Prudential Spirit of Community Awards, now in its 25th year, is conducted by Prudential Financial in partnership with the National Association of Secondary School Principals (NASSP).

These are Connecticut's top youth volunteers of 2020:

High School State Honoree: Gabriela Garcia-Perez
Nominated by Guilford High School

Gabriela, a senior at Guilford High School, started a mentoring program that has recruited dozens of high school and middle school students from her hometown to help elementary school students in nearby New Haven with their English skills, and to share fun educational and cultural activities. In January 2018, Gabriela attended an event for Puerto Rican families that had relocated to New Haven after Hurricane Maria devastated their island. "This event helped me realize the importance and need for integrating non-English-speaking students into our society in a timely manner," she said.

Gabriela thought that getting some of her peers in Guilford together with young English learners in New Haven could benefit both groups. She presented the idea to the principal of Fair Haven School, who agreed to let her introduce a mentoring program as part of the school's extracurricular Saturday morning sessions. She immediately began recruiting mentors, identifying children who could benefit, and planning lessons. Currently, Gabriela has a pool of about 40 mentors who work with younger kids on English skills for 45 minutes on Saturdays, and then join them in a gym class featuring exercise and cultural activities. The program has made a big impact on the participating children, but the strong relationships that have been forged may do even more for the mentors, said Gabriela. "Being immersed in a community much different than their own, with multiple backgrounds, religions and ethnicities, has definitely taught everyone to be more understanding of other cultures," she said.

Middle Level State Honoree: Dhruv Suryadevara
Nominated by Ellington Middle School

Dhruv, an eighth-grader at Ellington Middle School, is a dedicated volunteer at a regional food bank because of his deep concern for families dealing with food insecurity. Dhruv's first exposure to poverty came during biannual family trips to India. "There were many people begging on the streets because they had no other way of getting food," he said. "It hurt me to see how these people struggled." Back home, Dhruv attended an event run by a charity that serves people in need. "It made me realize that I actually could and should do something to help struggling people," he said.

Dhruv saw his chance to do just that when he found out that, despite his age, he could volunteer at Foodshare, a food bank serving Hartford and Tolland counties. He started working there in the summer of 2018, and then found opportunities to contribute throughout the school year. At the facility, he sorts and packages produce, meat, bread, milk and canned items, cleans vegetables, and helps maintain a garden. And when he's at home, he makes mesh bags that are used by the food bank to store fruits and vegetables. For the past few years, Dhruv also has been helping to organize and set up a 5K run to raise funds for an organization that builds infrastructure in rural India. "I feel amazing that I have been able to have an impact on many people's lives," he said.

Distinguished Finalists

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

These are Connecticut's Distinguished Finalists for 2020:

Sarah Ackels, 17, of West Simsbury, Connecticut, a senior at Simsbury High School, founded and runs "Sarah Stops Hunger," a nonprofit organization that has raised more than $30,000 and distributed more than 125,000 bagged meals to women and children. Sarah's efforts include partnering with local and national businesses and organizations, spreading awareness of the organization's mission, planning events, recruiting and training volunteers, and assembling meals.

Aarti Arasada, 18, of Monroe, Connecticut, a senior at Masuk High School, is the president of the "Memory Matters" club at her high school, through which she has volunteered hundreds of hours visiting patients with dementia at her local senior center and organizing fundraising events to benefit the Alzheimer's Association. Aarti was first inspired to start volunteering after her grandmother was diagnosed with dementia.

Lauren Mahler, 17, of West Hartford, Connecticut, a senior at William H. Hall High School, has volunteered hundreds of hours of her time tutoring a local student, meeting with him twice a week, and working with his counselor, teachers and parents to help set him up for success. Lauren has worked with the student to help him improve his grades and pursue his interest in graphic novels, and hopes to continue their tutoring sessions when she goes to college in the fall.

Anthony Zuffelato, 16, of Bantam, Connecticut, a junior at Litchfield High School, regularly volunteers as a junior firefighter and emergency medical responder; along with responding to emergency calls, he regularly completes additional training and recruits other young people to volunteer with the fire department. Anthony, who first started volunteering at age 10 by helping to check the fire trucks and equipment, hopes to become fire chief one day.

"In our 25th year of honoring young volunteers, we are as inspired as ever by the work students are doing to address the needs of a changing world," said Charles Lowrey, chairman and CEO of Prudential Financial, Inc. "We hope that their resolve, their initiative and their perspectives on society's challenges move others to consider how they can make a difference, too."

"Middle level and high school students are doing remarkable things to shape the future of their communities through volunteer service. They inspire all students and schools to drive learning with real-world challenges," said JoAnn Bartoletti, executive director of NASSP. "Congratulations to each of the 2020 honorees – it's an honor to celebrate your commitment to creating positive change."

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 Points of Light Global Network members, were eligible to select a student or member for a local Prudential Spirit of Community Award. These 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 4, 10 of the State Honorees – five middle level and five high school students – will be named America's top youth volunteers of 2020. These National Honorees will receive additional $5,000 scholarships, gold medallions, crystal trophies and $5,000 grants from Prudential for nonprofit charitable organizations of their choice.  

Since the program began in 1995, more than 130,000 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, India, China and Brazil. 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.

For information on all of this year's Prudential Spirit of Community State Honorees and Distinguished Finalists, visit http://spirit.prudential.com or www.nassp.org/spirit.


The National Association of Secondary School Principals (NASSP) is the leading organization of and voice for principals and other school leaders across the United States. NASSP seeks to transform education through school leadership, recognizing that the fulfillment of each student's potential relies on great leaders in every school committed to the success of each student. Reflecting its long-standing commitment to student leadership development, NASSP administers the National Honor Society, National Junior Honor Society, National Elementary Honor Society, and National Student Council. Learn more at www.nassp.org

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 www.news.prudential.com.

For Spirit of Community Awards program logo and medallion graphics, please visit https://spirit.prudential.com/resources/media

The Prudential Spirit of Community Awards logo

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