Among the tens of thousands of high school students who volunteer service nationwide, 10 were given a first-ever national award Monday - and one was from Utah.
Katy Ballenger, who founded the HUGS Club (Help Us Give Service) at Olympus High School, was among the few students wining the Prudential Spirit of Community Award at a National Press Club ceremony on Monday.Ballenger's club links teen volunteers with groups that need their help. Through it, students have provided 1,200 hours of service at homeless shelters and nursing homes, and for organizations such as March of Dimes and Habitat for Humanity.
Ballenger is also working to turn her club into a national organization.
"Through HUGS Club, teens from different social groups have had the opportunity to interact with each other," Ballenger said. "Working together to make a difference in others' lives has united us, giving the feeling of belonging and feeling wanted and needed."
Ballenger won $5,000, a gold medallion and a trophy for her school.
Earlier in the same competition, she won $1,000 and a silver medallion for becoming one of 134 finalists - two chosen from each state, Puerto Rico and the District of Columbia - who were flown to Washington. The contest began with 7,000 nominees from individual schools.
The other finalist from Utah was Aaron Crim, a student at Valley Junior High School, who started a drive that provided 68 donated blankets to Hogle Zoo after he read in the newspaper that it had a shortage of them for newborn and sick animals.
"I learned that there are endless ways in which we can serve. There are many hidden and little-known areas that need our help, and we need to be more aware of needs," Crim said. "I also learned how good it feels to share and involve others in service."
The new competition to honor teen volunteers was launched by Prudential Insurance in cooperation with the National Association of Secondary School Principals. It is designed to encourage youth volunteerism and to identify and reward young role models.
Prudential Chairman Arthur Ryan said, "Over the past few years there has been a massive dropoff in volunteering in the United States, compounded by a major downturn in government funding of social programs. Through this program, we hope to help rekindle America's volunteer spirit."
Besides Ballenger, other national winners announced Monday were honored for such things starting groups to provide books and toys for children; finding "big brothers and sisters" for young children with cancer; organizing food banks; and providing shoes to the homeless.