Olympic gold medalist Michael Phelps pays tribute to Yarmouth and Kennebunk students.
WASHINGTON, May 8, 2017 /PRNewswire/ — Maine’s top two youth volunteers of 2017, Kathleen Waeldner, 18, of Yarmouth and Bella Rossborough, 12, of Kennebunk, were honored in the nation’s capital last night for their outstanding volunteer service during the 22nd annual presentation of The Prudential Spirit of Community Awards. Kathleen and Bella – along with 100 other top youth volunteers from across the country – each received $1,000 awards and personal congratulations from Olympic gold medalist Michael Phelps at an award ceremony and gala dinner reception held at the Smithsonian’s National Museum of Natural History.
The Prudential Spirit of Community Awards program, sponsored by Prudential Financial in partnership with the National Association of Secondary School Principals (NASSP), named Kathleen and Bella Maine’s top high school and middle level youth volunteers in February. In addition to their cash awards, they each received an engraved silver medallion and an all-expense-paid trip with a parent to Washington, D.C., for four days of recognition events.
Kathleen, a senior at Yarmouth High School, worked with a local community services agency and a nonprofit organization to develop and then expand a summer meal program for at-risk children in her town. Kathleen was horrified when she saw video clips from a documentary about hungry children in America. “Learning about the problem of pervasive hunger in my own country was like a physical slap in the face,” she said. As she left the auditorium in tears, her thoughts quickly shifted from “How can this happen?” to “I am going to help solve this!”
Kathleen was soon packing weekend food bags for a program that feeds students from low-income families on days when they do not receive subsidized school lunches. She wondered, though, how the kids managed during the summer, and was happy to discover that a summer lunch program was about to start in her town. She quickly signed on to help launch the new program and began recruiting other teens to serve meals. The program was scheduled to end three weeks before the end of summer, but Kathleen and another student worked to extend it. The following year, Kathleen became co-coordinator of the program and helped expand it to include both breakfast and lunch, as well as activities such as playing games, going on field trips and making friendship bracelets.
Bella, a sixth-grader at Middle School of the Kennebunks, educated her community about the harm that plastic bags do to oceans and sea life, and spearheaded the passage of a town ordinance banning the bags. “I read an article about how bad plastic bags are for the environment and wildlife,” said Bella. “I wanted to protect the land and animals in my town, so I decided to see if I could make it so people used less plastic bags.”
After writing a letter to the town manager, Bella addressed the Board of Selectmen and began working with the Kennebunk Energy Efficiency Committee on ways to reduce the use of plastic bags. Bella, along with committee members, a friend, and her mother and teacher, handed out information and reusable bags at town events, talked about the issue during radio and newspaper interviews, and visited local retailers to urge them to stop using plastic bags. But their biggest achievement was persuading the Board of Selectmen to put a proposed ban on single-use plastic bags up for a vote last summer. The measure passed easily. “I’m really happy that people in our town agreed that plastic bags are harmful and that there are better options,” said Bella.
“These honorees have done exemplary work to contribute to the health and vitality of their communities, and we look forward to seeing the great things they achieve in the future,” said John Strangfeld, chairman and CEO of Prudential Financial, Inc. “Congratulations to each of these extraordinary young volunteers.”
“It’s a privilege to celebrate these students not only for outstanding volunteer service, but for the example they’ve set for their peers,” said Jayne Ellspermann, president of NASSP. “These honorees prove that one person truly can make a difference.”
Youth volunteers in grades 5-12 were invited to apply for 2017 Prudential Spirit of Community Awards last fall through schools, Girl Scout councils, county 4-H organizations, American Red Cross chapters, YMCAs and affiliates of the HandsOn Network. More than 31,000 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, too. In the past 22 years, the program has honored more than 120,000 young volunteers at the local, state and national level.