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Moores Hill Teen, 4-H Member Wins Volunteerism Award

Posted On February 12, 2014

Press release from Prudential Financial

(Indianapolis, Ind.) – Shanze Tahir, 16, of Zionsville and Mariah Reynolds, 15, of Moores Hill today were named Indiana’s top two youth volunteers of 2014 by The Prudential Spirit of Community Awards, a nationwide program honoring young people for outstanding acts of volunteerism. Shanze was nominated by Zionsville Community High School in Zionsville, and Mariah was nominated by Dearborn County 4-H in Aurora. The Prudential Spirit of Community Awards, now in its 19th year, is conducted by Prudential Financial in partnership with the National Association of Secondary School Principals (NASSP).

Shanze, a junior at Zionsville Community High School, advocates against bullying by leading focus groups in her community, mentoring other young people, and developing a mobile application called “Bullying Matters” to educate students and teachers about this prevalent problem. Shanze decided to focus her efforts on bullying after she and other students testified in front of the Indiana House Education Committee when it was considering an anti-bullying bill. “The youth I met at the Indiana Statehouse told me stories about how their bullying incidents led to so much negativity in their lives: depression, despondency, even suicidal thoughts and attempts,” said Shanze. “That day, my initiative to end bullying was born.”

Shanze brought groups in her community together to discuss the problem and started a mentoring program for youth, urging bullied students to speak out about their experiences. She received a $1,000 grant from two national organizations and traveled to Washington, D.C., where she met with one of her state’s U.S. senators to discuss the issue. Shanze is now working on her anti-bullying app and hopes to launch it sometime this year. Shanze said the best part of her experience has been the relationships she’s formed with the youth her efforts have helped. “Hearing their stories of how their life experienced a gradual crescendo from negativity to positivity puts the biggest smile on my face. I never want to stop doing this,” she said.

Mariah, an eighth-grader at the School for Creative & Performing Arts in Cincinnati, launched an effort in 2008 to collect and distribute cold-weather clothing, school supplies and other items to children’s organizations and young victims of natural disasters. While visiting Louisiana in 2007, Mariah saw the destruction left by Hurricane Katrina and came away feeling “compelled to make a contribution to those in direst need,” she said. She already had created a nonprofit organization that sends valentines, thank-you cards and other items to veterans and soldiers overseas, and now wanted to focus on children in need of basic necessities.

She started by creating a website and social media presence to recruit volunteers and solicit donations. She and a growing number of helpers then began to hold raffles and bake sales, make donation boxes for schools and libraries, auction off services such as babysitting and housecleaning, and contact corporations for support. So far, more than 4,500 teens have volunteered for Mariah’s campaign, which now has volunteer directors in seven states. Since 2012, the organization has donated 11,000 pairs of gloves and almost 2,000 backpacks filled with school supplies to young victims of Hurricane Sandy, tornadoes in Oklahoma and Kentucky, and flooding in Boulder, Colo. Mariah’s group also has distributed 110 cases of bottled water, 12,000 cold-weather accessories, and 11,000 books to schools, daycare centers and children’s homes. Mariah is now recruiting volunteers to aid orphaned children in Mexico. “Knowing how kids battling family problems, financial issues, tragedy or even illness can feel, I feel obligated to create hope and bring a sense of normality back to their lives,” said Mariah.

As State Honorees, Shanze and Mariah 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 2014.

Distinguished Finalists

The program judges also recognized six other Indiana students as Distinguished Finalists for their impressive community service activities. Each will receive an engraved bronze medallion.

These are Indiana’s Distinguished Finalists for 2014:

Joseph Hilty, 13, of Portland, Ind., a seventh-grader at East Jay County Middle School, has raised more than $15,000 to send nearly 500 care packages to soldiers overseas through “Lemonade for Soldiers,” the program he founded in 2011. Joseph, who began this project with just one care package sent to a friend in the military, decided to host lemonade stands to raise the funds and has since done so throughout the state of Indiana.

Bailey Meenach, 18, of New Washington, Ind., a member of the Clark County 4-H and a senior at New Washington Middle/High School, volunteered as the student director for her school’s drama club production of “The Wizard of Oz.” As director, Bailey was involved in all aspects of the production, including casting, set-building, choreography and advertising; she also raised $3,000 to support the program.

Kendra Mehling, 18, of Newburgh, Ind., a senior at Castle High School, created “Health is Wealth,” a mobile nutrition camp that she took to various organizations for a week at a time over the summer. Kendra, an aspiring dietitian, also developed a website where all of her resources can be found and duplicated in other communities.

Hannah Midkiff, 18, of Brownsburg, Ind., a senior at Brownsburg High School, is the president of her high school’s Riley Dance Marathon, a statewide event that benefits the Riley Hospital for Children. Hannah, who as president is responsible for fundraising, community awareness, student involvement, and communication with Riley Hospital, hopes to raise $20,000 with this year’s event.

Cole Thompson, 18, of Lebanon, Ind., a senior at Western Boone Jr-Sr High School, raised more than $3,000 and then led a project to restore Mechanicsburg Cemetery. Cole, who earned his Eagle Scout Award for this project, also led a team of volunteers in a four-month project to clean and upright 175 headstones.

Taylor Watkins, 18, of Lake Village, Ind., a senior at North Newton Jr/Sr High School, has helped to raise nearly $2,500 to support the March of Dimes by organizing charity walks and awareness events. Taylor has been invited to serve the March of Dimes as its Northwest Indiana Teen Ambassador, and through her new role is proud to be able to reach thousands of people to talk about the prevention of premature births.

“We applaud each of these young people for their exemplary volunteer service,” said Prudential Chairman and CEO John Strangfeld. “They use their time and talents to make a meaningful difference in their communities, and we hope their example inspires others to do the same.”

“By going above and beyond in their volunteer service, these students have brought positive change to communities across the country,” said JoAnn Bartoletti, executive director of NASSP. “Congratulations to each and every one of them on this well-deserved honor.”