Selected from a field of more than 26,000 youth volunteers across the country, Ashlee received a personal award of $5,000, an engraved gold medallion, a crystal trophy for her school and a $5,000 grant from The Prudential Foundation for a non-profit charitable organization of her choice.
Also honored this week in Washington was Angela Foremaster, 18, of North Las Vegas. She and Ashlee were named Nevada’s top youth volunteers in February, and were officially recognized Sunday night at the Smithsonian’s National Museum of Natural History along with the top two youth volunteers from each state and the District of Columbia. Each of the 102 state honorees for 2012 received $1,000 awards as well as personal congratulations from New York Giants quarterback and Super Bowl MVP Eli Manning. The honorees also received engraved silver medallions and an all-expense-paid trip with their parents to Washington, D.C., for this week’s recognition events.
Ashlee, a member of the Northern Nevada Chapter of the American Red Cross in Reno and a seventh-grader at Mendive Middle School, founded a non-profit organization that has collected and distributed more than 175,000 toys over the past five years for child victims of house fires and natural disasters. When Ashlee was 5, her family’s home burned down. Everything they owned was destroyed, including Ashlee’s special toy: a stuffed horse. A few years later, her father, a firefighter, was battling a large blaze in South Lake Tahoe, Calif.
“He sent us pictures of destroyed houses and all included burned toys in the yards,” Ashlee said. “I knew right away how the kids were feeling, and I knew I had to help.”
Ashlee solicited help from television and radio stations, newspapers and local businesses and toy donations came flooding in. She spent her entire summer vacation organizing toys, posting flyers and appealing for more donations. With additional support from toy companies, Ashlee was able to fill a whole semi-truck trailer with toys, which she delivered to the children affected by the South Lake Tahoe fire.
Since that initial fire, Ashlee’s organization, Ashlee’s Toy Closet, has continued its quest to make sure that no child is left without the comfort of a toy. Last year, she provided toys for children devastated by the tornado in Joplin, Mo. Ashlee has also begun supplying Christmas and birthday presents for local needy children who otherwise would go without.
“Seeing the smiles on children’s faces and knowing that I am helping them to be happy again is awesome,” Ashlee said.
More than 26,000 young people participated in the 2012 awards program last fall through schools, Girl Scout councils, county 4-H organizations, American Red Cross chapters, YMCAs and affiliates of the HandsOn Network. The top middle level and high school applicants in each state were selected in February, and 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 17 years ago by Prudential Financial to encourage youth volunteerism and to identify and reward young role models. Since then, the program has honored more than 100,000 young volunteers at the local, state and national level.
“These young people have demonstrated remarkable leadership, selflessness and compassion, and they set a fine example for thousands of other students across the U.S. who want to make a difference,” said Ken Griffith, president of NASSP. “The actions of these young volunteers exemplify the best of what America’s youth have to offer.”
For more information, visit http://spirit.prudential.com or www.nassp.org/spirit.