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Academy Award-Winning Actress Susan Sarandon Pays Tribute to Young Heroes as Part of Four-Day Recognition Events

Academy Award-Winning Actress Susan Sarandon Pays Tribute to Young Heroes as Part of Four-Day Recognition Events

Two New Hampshire students, Taylor Levesque, 17, of Manchester and Chase Hughes, 13, of Bedford, were honored in the nation’s capital last night for their outstanding volunteer work during the presentation of The 2011 Prudential Spirit of Community Awards. The two young people – along with 100 other top youth volunteers from across the country – received $1,000 awards as well as personal congratulations from Academy Award-winning actress Susan Sarandon at the 16th annual award ceremony and gala dinner reception, held at the Smithsonian’s National Museum of Natural History.

Taylor and Chase were named the top high school and middle level youth volunteers in New Hampshire last February. In addition to their cash awards, they received engraved silver medallions and an all-expense-paid trip with their parents to Washington, D.C., for this week’s recognition events.

“The Prudential Spirit of Community honorees have seen problems in their communities and around the world and have taken action,” said Ms. Sarandon. “Their compassion to help others should give us all a lot of hope for the future.”

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Academy Award-winning actress Susan Sarandon congratulates Taylor Levesque, 17, of Manchester (center) and Chase Hughes, 13, of Bedford (right) on being named the top two youth volunteers in New Hampshire for 2011 by The Prudential Spirit of Community Awards. Taylor and Chase were honored at a ceremony Sunday night, May 1, at the Smithsonian’s National Museum of Natural History in Washington, D.C., where they each received a $1,000 award to be used towards future projects.

Taylor, a senior at Trinity High School, raises money to buy books, games, toys, crafts, and writing supplies that she then distributes in small tote bags to hospitalized children in New Hampshire and other states. Taylor was motivated by the miserable time she had in the hospital following heart surgery a few years ago. “I was sore, bored, and felt isolated from the world,” she said. “I knew how horrible my experience was, and I wanted to make sure no one else would ever have to go through something so awful again.” She got the chance when she was given an assignment in a theology class to positively influence someone else’s life.

After brainstorming with her family, Taylor began contacting hospital pediatric wards to see if they would accept gift bags for young patients. Then she set about raising funds by holding bake sales and selling crafts at church gatherings, sending solicitation letters to local businesses, and applying for grants. When enough money had been collected, she went shopping for pens, crayons, coloring books, stuffed animals, puzzles, storybooks, and other small items that might cheer up a sick child. After packing her gifts into 80 tote bags and delivering them to a local hospital, Taylor realized she couldn’t stop, so she took her project, called “Project Share a Smile,” outside of school and created a website to solicit donations. She has since made deliveries to five more hospitals, and recently delivered her 240th gift bag. “I love to make people happy and improve their situations,” said Taylor. “It gives me unparalleled satisfaction.”

Chase, a homeschooled seventh-grader, directed a project that collected, packaged and distributed more than 2,000 hygiene kits for victims of earthquakes in Haiti and Chile. Chase is no stranger to volunteering. Since he was 4, he has been working with his family to provide humanitarian assistance to people around the world. Chase has helped send art and school supplies to needy children in Africa, raised money for local families in need, and prepared hygiene kits for victims of the tsunami in Southeast Asia and Hurricanes Katrina and Rita.

After the devastating earthquakes in Haiti and Chile, Chase organized his family’s relief effort, setting an initial goal of 500 hygiene kits consisting of toothpaste, toothbrushes, towels, soaps and combs. As word of the project spread through social networking and media coverage, organizations such as the YMCA and Boys & Girls Clubs agreed to become partners, and schools, scout troops, businesses and individuals quickly embraced the cause, filling collection boxes all over New England and in other states as well. In the end, almost $17,000 worth of supplies were donated and shipped to the disaster areas in Haiti and Chile. Chase said his organization will continue to send help to the needy and not just during times of disaster. “It is a great thing to help pitch in and work for others,” he said.

“Taylor and Chase represent young Americans who have a strong sense of community and who are dedicated to improving our neighborhoods, our nation and our world,” said John R. Strangfeld, chairman and CEO of Prudential Financial, Inc. “With great anticipation, we look forward to their future achievements as they continue to spread the spirit of community.”

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More than 29,000 young people participated in the 2011 awards program last fall through schools, Girl Scout councils, county 4-H organizations, American Red Cross chapters, YMCAs and affiliates of the Points of Light Institute’s HandsOn Network. The top middle level and high school applicants in each state were selected in February, and were 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 16 years ago by Prudential Financial to encourage youth volunteerism and to identify and reward young role models.

“The young women and men in America’s schools are nothing short of amazing, and nowhere is this more evident than amongst this year’s award recipients,” said NASSP President Jana Frieler. “They possess a keen intellect, servant hearts, capable leadership skills, and are filled with energy and ambition. NASSP and Prudential are honored to recognize them.”

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.

 

Originally appeared in the Union Leader

May 1, 2011

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