NEWARK, N.J., February 9, 2021 – Students from Harrison and Fayette counties have been named West Virginia’s top youth volunteers of 2021 by The Prudential Spirit of Community Awards, America’s largest youth recognition program based exclusively on volunteer service.
Molly Runner, 18, of Bridgeport and Emily Carothers, 13, of Meadow Bridge are the honorees.
As State Honorees, Molly and Emily will each receive a $2,500 scholarship, a silver medallion and an invitation to the program’s virtual national recognition celebration in April, where 10 of the 102 State Honorees will be named America’s top youth volunteers of the year. Those 10 National Honorees will earn an additional $5,000 scholarship, a gold medallion, a crystal trophy for their nominating organization and a $5,000 grant for a nonprofit charitable organization of their choice.
The Prudential Spirit of Community Awards, conducted annually by Prudential Financial in partnership with the National Association of Secondary School Principals (NASSP), honors students in grades 5-12 for making meaningful contributions to their communities through volunteer service.
“We created the Prudential Spirit of Community Awards 26 years ago to highlight and support the work of young people taking on the challenges of a changing world – a mission that rings truer than ever given the events of last year,” said Charles Lowrey, Prudential’s chairman and CEO. “We are proud to celebrate the vision and determination of Spirit of Community’s Class of 2021, and all the ways they’re making their communities safer, healthier and more equitable places to live.”
High School State Honoree: Molly Runner
Nominated by Bridgeport High School
Molly, a senior at Bridgeport High School, helped to organize a suicide prevention club and program at her school, and to develop a free after-school mental health support group for teenagers. Molly’s first experience with suicide occurred when her uncle took his own life in 2014. Mindful of the challenges of mental health issues like depression and anxiety, she was determined to find a way to help. After sharing her thoughts with her closest friends, they obtained permission to form their school’s first suicide prevention club.
As a club leader, Molly sought training to learn as much as possible about suicide prevention, and interviewed students and conducted research to set the club’s agenda. In weekly club meetings, she leads discussions on topics such as anxiety, depression, grief, stress, resilience and local agencies that offer support. In addition, the club partnered with a local mental health professional to develop a free after-school group counseling program for teens, and provides a safe space for LGBTQ+ and other youth dealing with difficult issues. Molly also was the key organizer of West Virginia’s first mental health fair, involving more than 100 agencies and vendors from across the state. “It is difficult to describe what it feels like to save a life,” said Molly. “This organization has allowed me to experience that on a regular basis.”
Middle Level State Honoree: Emily Carothers
Nominated by Girl Scouts of Black Diamond Council
Emily, an eighth-grader at Meadow Bridge High, planted an organic vegetable garden on the grounds of a local library to provide fresh produce to children and families in her community. Emily loves to garden at home, and has several friends who enjoy raising flowers. After seeing a news report about community gardens, “I thought it would be great if we could work together on a project,” she said.
Her first step was to find a suitable location. After the Fayette County library system offered space at the Meadow Bridge Town Library, Emily studied composting and best planting practices for organic vegetables and flowers. She then secured a grant to purchase planters, soil and seeds. Emily and fellow volunteers planted the new garden, and once the first crop was ready, hosted a “Harvest Day” for community members to come by and pick up fresh, pesticide-free vegetables. They have since added a bird feeder and a painted picnic table to the garden. Emily felt especially good about her project when a young girl, who had been a very picky eater, shocked her mother by trying some kale and announcing that she loved it. “She now enjoys visiting the garden and making her own salads,” said Emily.
“It speaks volumes about the character of today’s secondary school students that the Spirit of Community program heard from more than 21,000 applicants this fall – most of them stories of young volunteers overcoming the hardships of a global pandemic to support those in need,” said Ronn Nozoe, Chief Executive Officer, NASSP. “While we’re especially proud to celebrate this year’s 102 State Honorees, NASSP applauds every student who’s found a way to volunteer this past year. You inspire your peers and adults alike to remember that, even in times of crisis, we all have something to give.”
Danielle Thor of Cross Lanes and Olivia Turman of Barboursville were named Distinguished Finalists for West Virginia.
You can read the names and stories of all of this year’s State Honorees here.