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Two West Virginia Youth Honored for Volunteerism at National Award Ceremony in Washington, D.C.

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May 19, 2016

Washington, D.C. – West Virginia's top two youth volunteers of 2016, Sofia Salon, 16, of Daniels and Arin Dorsey, 13, of Fayetteville, were honored in the nation's capital last night for their outstanding volunteer service during the 21st annual presentation of The Prudential Spirit of Community Awards. Sofia and Arin — along with 100 other top youth volunteers from across the country — each received $1,000 awards and personal congratulations from Academy Award-winning actress Hilary Swank at an award ceremony and gala dinner reception held at the Smithsonian's National Museum of Natural History.

The Prudential Spirit of Community Awards program, sponsored by Prudential Financial in partnership with the National Association of Secondary School Principals (NASSP), named Sofia and Arin West Virginia's top high school and middle level youth volunteers in February. In addition to their cash awards, they each received an engraved silver medallion and an all-expense-paid trip with a parent to Washington, D.C., for four days of recognition events. Sofia, a sophomore at Woodrow Wilson High School in Beckley, organized a 16-hour rocking chair "rock-a-thon" on June 20, 2015, that drew considerable attention in southern West Virginia to the battle against Alzheimer's disease and raised more than $17,000 for Alzheimer's research and care. "After watching my grandma having struggles being a caregiver for my grandfather, I was motivated and determined to do something to make a difference for families coping with Alzheimer's," said Sofia. She heard that the Alzheimer's Association promoted various kinds of fundraising activities across the country each year on the summer solstice, and decided she would take part in "The Longest Day" event by creating a rock-a-thon.

Sofia persuaded the Raleigh County Commission on Aging to help with her event and lend its facilities. Then she invited teams from across southern West Virginia to raise money and participate in the rock-a-thon. From S a.m. to 9 p.m. on June 20, the teams and other participants rocked in rocking chairs, danced, sang karaoke, played games, and bid in a silent auction. "The most memorable part was when my grandpa sang karaoke, after dancing with my grandma twice," said Sofia. When it was all over, she had collected $17,258 to fund Alzheimer's research at West Virginia University and to support caregivers and medical workers in her state, making her one of the nation's top 10 "Longest Day" fundraisers for 2015.

Arin, a member of the Girl Scouts of Black Diamond and an eighth-grader at Fayetteville High School, organized a "Milk and Cookies with Santa" event to entertain local children and solicit donations of toys and money for the homeless. Arin became interested in homelessness after meeting a fellow Girl Scout who was homeless at one time. She began to research the subject, and contacted the administrator of a local homeless shelter to learn more about the needs of its clients. Then Arin asked her Girl Scout council to help her hold a holiday event that not only would delight local youngsters, but also collect donations to brighten the season for homeless people.

Arin distributed invitations through schools to 800 children, secured space from a local church, arranged for donated cookies and decorations, and recruited a Santa Claus and other adults to help manage her event. Afterwards, Arin gathered all of the donations, assembled "care packages" of food and toys, and delivered them to the 130 residents of the Pinehaven Homeless Shelter. "At this point, I learned how donations and giving help reduce their feelings of loneliness and abandonment," said Arin.

"By using their time and talents to better their communities, these young people have achieved great things — and become examples for us all," said John Strangfeld, chairman and CEO of Prudential Financial, Inc. "Congratulations to an exemplary group of honorees."

"These students have demonstrated a truly remarkable level of leadership and commitment in the course of their volunteer service, and it's an honor to celebrate their accomplishments," said Michael Allison, president of NASSP. "We commend each and every one of them for a job well done."

Youth volunteers in grades 5-12 were invited to apply for 2016 Prudential Spirit of Community Awards last fall through schools, Girl Scout councils, county 4-H organizations, American Red Cross chapters, YMCAs and affiliates of the HandsOn Network. More than 29,000 middle level and high school students nationwide participated in this year's program.

For additional information, contact the West Virginia Department of Education Office of Communications at 304-558-2699.

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