|John Strangfeld, Alisha Zhao and Michael Allison, president of the National Association of Secondary School Principals.|
While volunteering at a homeless shelter several years ago, Alisha Zhao realized that the families there were not getting the help they needed to escape the generational cycle of poverty. It quickly became a passion of hers to help others. “I met youth who were capable of becoming doctors, dancers and even presidents, yet did not have the resources to achieve their dreams,” says Alisha, 17, of Portland, Oregon.
Alisha, a high school junior, started the Hope for Homeless Club, which, over the following two years, grew to include more than 300 members and conducted projects serving 500 families and an additional 200 individuals. Alisha formed a nonprofit that could deliver educational and recreational programs to homeless youth through multiple organizations and shelters. Then she recruited an advisory board, a board of directors and volunteer leaders to help provide arts and crafts projects, games, tutoring, peer mentoring, life skills classes and donations of school supplies. In recognition of her leadership, Alisha was appointed by Portland’s mayor to be the first young person to ever serve on the city’s Human Rights Commission.
For her efforts, Alisha was one of the 10 middle- and high-school students named America’s top youth volunteers for 2016 at Prudential’s 21st annual Spirit of Community Awards held in Washington, D.C., on May 2. Alisha and the other national honorees each received $5,000, engraved gold medallions, crystal trophies for their schools and $5,000 grants from The Prudential Foundation for the charities of their choice.
The awards ceremony was part of a four-day event, where the top two youth volunteers from each state and the District of Columbia came to the nation’s capital to be recognized for their outstanding acts of community service. And all 102 were personally congratulated by Academy Award-winning actress Hilary Swank at a gala dinner reception at the Smithsonian’s National Museum of Natural History.
The Prudential Spirit of Community Awards program represents the United States’ largest youth recognition program based exclusively on volunteer community service. This year’s winners were selected from a field of more than 29,000 middle and high school youth volunteers nationwide. Since the program’s inception in 1995, more than 115,000 volunteers have been recognized at the local, state and national level.
"By using their time and talents to better their communities, these young people have achieved great things—and become examples for us all," says John Strangfeld, chairman and CEO of Prudential. “Congratulations to an exemplary group of honorees.”
Following the success of The Prudential Spirit of Community Awards in the United States, the program was introduced in Japan in 1997, South Korea in 1999, Taiwan in 2000, Ireland in 2006, India in 2010, China in 2013 and Brazil in 2015.
Want to learn more about the program and this year’s honorees? Visit the Spirit of Community page or email Harold Banks.