This month, Jennifer O’Neal from Troop 484 was named Arizona’s top youth volunteer for 2011 by the Prudential Spirit of Community Awards, a nationwide program honoring young people for outstanding acts of volunteerism. The awards program, now in its 16th year, is conducted by Prudential Financial in partnership with the National Association of Secondary School Principals.
Jennifer was nominated by the Girl Scouts of Southern Arizona for her service to the Tucson community, and will receive $1,000, an engraved silver medallion, and an all-expense-paid trip in early May to Washington, D.C. While there, she will join the top two honorees from each state and the District of Columbia for several days of national recognition events. In addition, 10 of the 102 State Honorees – five middle level and five high school students – will be named National Honorees on May 2 by a prestigious national selection committee. These honorees will receive additional $5,000 awards, gold medallions, crystal trophies, and $5,000 grants from The Prudential Foundation for nonprofit, charitable organizations of their choice.
Jennifer, a junior at Catalina Foothills High School, is working with fellow Girl Scouts Sharon Fass and Lauren Evans to create a classroom at Diamond Children’s Medical Center for young patients. When O’Neal’s sister was hospitalized at University Medical Center in 2009, she learned that young patients often struggle to keep up with school work while being treated, and that falling behind in school is an additional worry that families must endure. “The reality is that these patients are missing weeks, maybe months of their education, falling behind everyday,” said O’Neal. “It was obvious to me and my team that the hospital needed more academic support.”
For their Girl Scout Gold Award project, Jennifer, Sharon, and Lauren decided to create a room at the medical center specifically designed for studying and doing homework. Calling it their “Hearts for Diamonds” project, they planned a fund-raising walk and race that drew nearly 200 attendees and brought in $11,000 from entry fees and donations. They raised an additional $25,000 from Scholastic Inc., by writing the winning essay in a contest of community service ideas. The money is going to buy computers, printers, furniture, books, Internet access, and other items for the new classroom. “By giving the children a functional and comfortable classroom, we hope to assuage some of the stress that cancer patients feel about falling behind in school,” said Jennifer. She said she also would like to provide games and other fun activities for children, and perhaps even some basic medical equipment.
The Gold Award is the highest award in Girl Scouting, and represents a girl’s commitment to herself and her community. During the Gold Award process, each Girl Scout plans, funds and executes a lasting project that benefits her community. Girls are encouraged to choose a project that reflects their passions and interests, and allows them to grow as individuals.
“These award recipients have proven that young people across America are critical to the future of our neighborhoods, our nation, and our world,” said John R. Strangfeld, chairman and CEO of Prudential Financial. “Each and every one of these honorees deserve our respect and admiration, and we hope by shining a light on them, they will continue to serve as an example for others.”
In addition to the Prudential Spirit of Community Award, Jennifer will also be receiving the President’s Volunteer Service Award and the Hearts for Diamonds team will be recognized by the YWCA at the Women on the Move Awards Banquet on February 20, 2011. “I am incredibly proud of these three young women,” said Debbie Rich, Girl Scout CEO. “Working towards the Gold Award is challenging process and they have demonstrated commitment, innovation and a true desire to serve our community.”