Audrey Stanton, 16, of Rose Hill and Isabella Lindsay, 14, of Haysville were named Kansas' top two youth volunteers of 2020 by The Prudential Spirit of Community Awards, a nationwide program honoring young people for outstanding acts of volunteerism.
Nominated by Rose Hill High School, Stanton, a junior at Rose Hill High School, worked with friend Isabella Ford to raise more than $50,000 last year in the Leukemia Lymphoma Society’s “Student of the Year” fundraising campaign. When Stanton was in preschool, she became best friends with a little girl named Reese Naylor, who shortly afterwards was diagnosed with leukemia. In 2016, Reese died after nine years of living with cancer.
“That was the day I knew I needed to help find a cure,” Stanton said.
That opportunity came two years later when Reese’s mother nominated Stanton and her friend for LLS’s Student of the Year fundraiser.
Although the seven-week fundraising campaign didn’t formally begin until January, the girls started laying the groundwork for their participation months before, collecting items for auction, explaining their mission to local businesses and booking venues for fundraising events. They created their own website to share the story of their friendship and display pictures of Audrey, Reese and Isabella over the years.
Once the campaign officially kicked off, they sent letters to family and friends asking for donations and hosted several fundraising events, including paint parties, T-shirt sales and a raffle. They surpassed their initial goal by $20,000. After the campaign, Stanton was asked by the Wichita LLS staff to be part of its leadership team for the 2020 Student of the Year campaign. Calling it “the best experience I’ve ever had.”
“Although Reese is no longer with us, I feel like during this campaign I grew closer to her,” Stanton said.
Nominated by Haysville Middle School, Lindsay, an eighth-grader at Haysville Middle School, established a local chapter of “Curvy Girls,” an international peer support group for girls with scoliosis, and has provided more than 90 care packages for young scoliosis patients who have undergone spinal fusion surgery. Last year, Isabella had surgery to correct her scoliosis.
As State Honorees, Stanton and Lindsay 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 2020.
While in Washington, D.C., the 102 state honorees – one middle level and one high school student from each state and the District of Columbia – will tour the capital’s landmarks, meet top youth volunteers from other parts of the world, attend a gala awards ceremony at the Smithsonian’s National Museum of Natural History and visit their congressional representatives on Capitol Hill. On May 4, 10 of the state honorees – five middle level and five high school students – will be named America’s top youth volunteers of 2020. These National Honorees will receive additional $5,000 scholarships, gold medallions, crystal trophies and $5,000 grants from Prudential for nonprofit charitable organizations of their choice.
The program judges also recognized four other Kansas students as Distinguished Finalists for their impressive community service activities. Each will receive an engraved bronze medallion.
These are Kansas' Distinguished Finalists for 2020:
Caroline Barber, 17, of Wichita, a senior at Eisenhower High School, participated in the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society’s “Student of the Year” fundraising competition, through which she secured corporate sponsorships and personal donations and hosted six fundraising events. Caroline, who ultimately raised more than $40,000 for her cause in seven weeks, was inspired to participate in this project by two young people in her community who had cancer.
Meagan Miller, 17, of Augusta, a junior at Augusta High School, created and runs “Passes for Classes,” which provides free bus passes to students in her community; for the project, she sold raffle tickets, secured a grant and sold shaved ice. Meagan, who worked with school social workers to help identify people who could benefit from the unlimited bus passes, was inspired to start her project after learning about students in her area who missed class due to lack of transportation.
Emily Nitz, 14, of Olathe, a freshman at Olathe South High School, held a workshop at her local middle school to show students how to make sleeping mats out of recycled plastic bags; this project benefitted people experiencing homelessness while reducing the amount of plastic that could potentially pollute the ocean and harm wildlife. Emily also travelled to Costa Rica and Panama to help the sea turtle population by loosening sand around nests and patrolling for hatching or beached turtles.
Hannah Soderstrom, 17, of Wichita, nominated by the American Red Cross of South Central and Southeast Kansas and a junior at Maize High School, regularly donates her time as an advocate for blood donation; she speaks at events including the Red Cross Missing Types campaign, and has hosted five blood drives that collected more than 250 units of blood. Hannah is passionate about this cause because of her experience receiving transfusions after her 2016 leukemia diagnosis.