WASHINGTON, May 6, 2019 /PRNewswire/ — Montana’s top two youth volunteers of 2019, Kyla Johnston, 18, of Columbia Falls and Karlee Albertson, 12, of Billings, were honored in the nation’s capital last night for their outstanding volunteer service during the 24th annual presentation of The Prudential Spirit of Community Awards. Kyla and Karlee – along with 100 other top youth volunteers from across the country – received a $1,000 award and personal congratulations from award-winning actress Viola Davis at an award ceremony and gala dinner reception held at the Smithsonian’s National Museum of Natural History.

Award-winning actress Viola Davis congratulates Kyla Johnston, 18, of Columbia Falls (center) and Karlee Albertson, 12, of Billings (right) on being named Montana's top two youth volunteers for 2019 by The Prudential Spirit of Community Awards. Kyla and Karlee were honored at a ceremony on Sunday, May 5 at the Smithsonian's National Museum of Natural History, where they each received a $1,000 award.

The Prudential Spirit of Community Awards program, sponsored by Prudential Financial in partnership with the National Association of Secondary School Principals (NASSP), named Kyla and Karlee Montana’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.

Kyla, a senior at Columbia Falls High School, is dedicated to using her love of reading to promote the social and educational development of other students in her community. For Kyla’s independent study class this year, she had an opportunity to develop and execute her own community service project. Knowing that there were Spanish-speaking students at her school struggling to communicate with their teachers and classmates, she decided to create a bilingual story hour and homework help session for students just learning English «so that they feel welcome and supported,» she said. Kyla got right to work, building a curriculum and working with her school’s Spanish teacher to bring her idea to life. But when her venue fell through, she decided to take her reading initiative in another direction.

Kyla had heard through church about her neighboring town’s community dinners, which were attended by families with young children. «One of my favorite things as a child was being read to, and I would like to share this tradition with them,» she said. Kyla now attends the dinners each month and reads to the children after they’re done eating. She also brings them new books so they can add to or establish their own home libraries, and is working on raising money for more books and helping kids keep up with their reading in the summer. «I would also like to bring in a few younger high schoolers, in hopes that reading at community dinners will continue,» Kyla said.

Karlee, a sixth-grader at Castle Rock Middle School, has raised nearly $20,000 over the past six years to buy anonymous Christmas gifts for struggling families and individuals, by painting nails at school events and community venues. When she was in the first grade, Karlee saw a TV commercial about «being the change you wish to see.» She and her mother considered many possible ways she could make a difference in her community before Karlee came up with the idea of painting nails at her school’s craft fair and using the proceeds to «adopt» students and families on the school’s Christmas Giving Tree. «I felt it was important to help those less fortunate people who couldn’t afford Christmas,» she said.

Shortly afterward, Karlee’s grandfather, who always loved Christmastime, died on Christmas Eve, so Karlee decided to continue «as a way to carry on his memory,» she said. She began painting nails at various community events and locations, charging $3 per customer. She also started receiving donations of money, gift cards and nail polish as word of her project spread and people learned about her GoFundMe page. With money in hand, Karlee spends a lot of time shopping for presents, and wraps them all with the help of a Boy Scout troop and other volunteers. So far, she has given Christmas gifts anonymously to more than 250 people. «My dream would be that someday, everybody everywhere has a Christmas present under their tree and feels loved and blessed,» said Karlee.

«We’re impressed and inspired by the way these honorees have identified problems facing their communities and stepped up to the challenge to make a difference,» said Charles Lowrey, chairman and CEO of Prudential Financial, Inc. «It’s a privilege to celebrate their leadership and compassion, and we look forward to seeing the great things they accomplish in the future.»

«These students have not only done important work in support of people in need – they’ve also shown their peers that young people can, and do, create meaningful change,» said Christine Handy, president of NASSP. «We commend each of these young volunteers for all they’ve contributed to their communities.»

Youth volunteers in grades 5-12 were invited to apply for 2019 Prudential Spirit of Community Awards last fall through schools, Girl Scout councils, county 4-H organizations, American Red Cross chapters, YMCAs and affiliates of Points of Light’s HandsOn Network. More than 29,000 middle level and high school students nationwide participated in this year’s program.

The Prudential Spirit of Community Awards program was created in 1995 to identify and recognize young people for outstanding volunteer service – and, in so doing, inspire others to volunteer, too. In the past 24 years, the program has honored more than 125,000 young volunteers at the local, state and national level.

For more information about The Prudential Spirit of Community Awards and this year’s honorees, visit  http://spirit.prudential.com or www.nassp.org/spirit.

About NASSP

The National Association of Secondary School Principals (NASSP) is the leading organization of and voice for principals and other school leaders across the United States. NASSP seeks to transform education through school leadership, recognizing that the fulfillment of each student’s potential relies on great leaders in every school committed to the success of each student. Reflecting its long-standing commitment to student leadership development, NASSP administers the National Honor Society, National Junior Honor Society, National Elementary Honor Society, and National Student Council. Learn more at www.nassp.org.

About Prudential Financial

Prudential Financial, Inc. (NYSE: PRU), a financial services leader, has operations in the United States, Asia, Europe, and Latin America. Prudential’s diverse and talented employees are committed to helping individual and institutional customers grow and protect their wealth through a variety of products and services, including life insurance, annuities, retirement-related services, mutual funds and investment management. In the U.S., Prudential’s iconic Rock symbol has stood for strength, stability, expertise and innovation for more than a century. For more information, please visit www.news.prudential.com.

Editors: For pictures of the Spirit of Community Awards program logo and medallions, visit  https://spirit.prudential.com/resources/media.

For B-roll of Montana’s honorees at the 2019 national recognition events, contact Prudential’s Harold Banks at (973) 216-4833 or harold.banks@prudential.com.

The Prudential Spirit of Community Awards logo

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