Feb. 6 2020
LOUISIANA’S TOP YOUTH VOLUNTEERS OF 2020
SELECTED BY NATIONAL PROGRAM
The Prudential Spirit of Community Awards honors Winnfield and Baton Rouge students
with $1,000, medallions and trip to nation’s capital
Finalists also named in Houma, New Orleans and Reeves
Caroline Whisonant, 18, of Winnfield and Kierce Smith, 12, of Baton Rouge
today were named Louisiana’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,
Caroline and Kierce 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.
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 Louisiana’s top youth volunteers of 2020:
High School State Honoree: Caroline Whisonant
Nominated by Winn Parish 4-H
Caroline, a senior at Winnfield Senior High School, developed an educational program to teach
elementary school children about the danger of opioid drugs and help them develop the skills to avoid all forms
of substance abuse. Caroline was motivated to start her program after a classmate died from an opioid overdose.
“Seeing the empty seat next to me in my math class where [he] sat, I felt it was important to take immediate
action in educating children at an early age on the opioid epidemic,” she said.
Caroline began by researching the epidemic and kid-friendly educational activities. She recruited fellow
4-Hers to help her plan a curriculum, and then met with first-, second- and third-grade teachers to arrange times
to work with their students. In 45-minute sessions, Caroline leads the kids in hands-on activities, role-playing
scenarios, and games and songs, all designed to teach them skills in goal-setting, conflict resolution, problem solving,
and decision-making. Approximately 200 kids have taken part in the program so far. “Ultimately, I
want students to leam that a drug is a chemical used to treat, cure or prevent sickness, but some drugs can make
you sick if you abuse them,” said Caroline. She also drafted a piece ofstate legislation that would address the
role of education in combating the opioid epidemic. In addition, Caroline is planning a summer day camp for
young students, and a pill drop-off box in her community so that unused drugs can be disposed ofsafely.
Middle Level State Honoree: Kierce Smith
Nominated by Glasgow Middle School
Kierce, a sixth-grader at Glasgow Middle School, has volunteered for a wide range of service projects in
his community. He felt compelled to start helping others after seeing news reports about “all the bad things
going on,” he said. “l wanted to be the light in the darkness.” When his school sought volunteers to plant a
garden to grow herbs and spices that could be sold to local merchants, Kierce was one of the few students who
answered the call. He brought in sand, prepared soil and painted planter boxes. When he saw senior citizens
struggling with heavy sandbags in advance of a storm, he jumped at the chance to fill bags for them and load
them into their vehicles.
After experiencing a “dry drowning” accident, Kierce joined a swim team to help spread awareness of
the danger ofdying after a water rescue. In addition, Kierce helped sort, wash and fold school uniforms that are
donated at the end ofthe school year to families in need. He also has assisted an elderly neighbor with yard
work and served as a counselor at a grief camp. He is hoping to volunteer at a homeless or animal shelter next.
“l learned that even ifthere is no reward, it is rewarding to do the right thing,” said Kierce.
The program judges also recognized four other Louisiana students as Distinguished Finalists for their
impressive community service activities. Each will receive an engraved bronze medallion.
These are Louisiana’s Distinguished Finalists for 2020:
Anna Doskey, 18, of Houma, Louisiana, a senior at Vandebilt Catholic High School, regularly
volunteers her time to Girls on The Run, an organization designed to improve self-confidence in young girls
through a lO-week running program; along with helping organize the end-of-the-season race, Anna has also
helped coach more than 30 participants. Anna was inspired to volunteer for Girls on The Run by her mother,
who coaches, and by her past personal experience as a participant in the program.
Elizabeth Drennan, 17, of New Orleans, Louisiana, ajunior at Louise S. McGehee School, is a
student leader for Hearts of Passion, an organization that offers a week long summer camp experience to
teenagers with cancer; she helped plan fundraising events, establish partnerships with local businesses and
identify participants. Elizabeth also helped facilitate the camp events, which included a breakfast at an
aquarium, a steamboat party and a scavenger hunt through the French Quarter.
Joaquin Gomez,17, of New Orleans, Louisiana, a senior at Benjamin Franklin High School, helps
lead The Gateway Program, an initiative that offers weekly introductory engineering sessions over a five-month
period to under served middle school students interested in STEM subjects; along with teaching lessons, he also
helped recruit volunteers and secure grant funding for the project. Joaquin also helps run “The Fast Start,” a
one-day event that gives instruction and support to middle school robotics teams.
Amelia Thomas, 13, of Reeves, Louisiana, a member of Allen Parish 4-H and a seventh-grader at Bella
Claire Gifted And Talented School, has distributed more than 800 St. Michael prayer medals, prayer cards and
thank you cards to police officers in her community; she also regularly sends appreciation letters to police
precincts to thank officers for their service. Amelia uses social media to spread awareness of her project and
encourage others to show their appreciation for law enforcement officers, too.
“In our 25th year of honoring young volunteers, we are as inspired as ever by the work students are doing to
address the needs ofa 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 leaming 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 olCommunity 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 groMh.
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 of2020. These
National Honorees will receive additional $5,000 scholarships, gold medallions, crystal trophies and $5,000
grants from Prudential for nonprofit charitable organizations of their choice.
Since the program began in 1995, more than 130,000 young volunteers have been honored at the local,
state and national level. The program also is conducted by Prudential subsidiaries in Japan, South Korea,
Taiwan, Ireland, lndia, China and Brazil. In addition to granting its own awards, The Prudential Spirit of
Community Awards program also distributes President’s Volunteer Service Awards to qualifying Local
For information on all of this year’s Prudential Spirit of Community State Honorees and Distinguished
Finalists, visit http://spirit.prudential.corn or w$,rv.nassp.org/spirit.
The National Association of Secondary School Principals (NASSP) is the leading organization ofand
voice for principals and other school leaders across the United States. NASSP seeks to transform education
through school leadership, recognizing that the fulfillment ofeach student’s potential relies on great leaders in
every school committed to the success ofeach 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. Leam more at wwrl.nassp.org