WASHINGTON, DC — Tennessee’s top two youth volunteers of 2017, Mallory Fundora, 17, of Clarksville and Wills McAdams, 14, of Murfreesboro, were honored in the nation’s capital last night for their outstanding volunteer service during the 22nd annual presentation of The Prudential Spirit of Community Awards. Mallory and Wills – along with 100 other top youth volunteers from across the country – each received $1,000 awards and personal congratulations from Olympic gold medalist Michael Phelps 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 Mallory and Wills Tennessee’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.
Mallory, a junior at Rossview High School, began raising money and gathering supplies for orphans and other vulnerable children in Uganda in 2011, an effort that has since evolved into a nonprofit organization that currently feeds 450 Ugandan children each weekday and pays the school expenses of 169 students. When Mallory got the chance to meet members of a Ugandan orphans’ choir touring the U.S. in 2010, she was struck by how happy they were, even though they had so little. She explained that not long after, while working on her Christmas wish list, “I looked around my room and realized there was nothing I needed, but there was so much that children in Africa needed.”
At first, Mallory worked to support existing organizations that provide necessities for African children. She held fundraisers, conducted supply drives, wrote a blog, and spoke at events. On a trip to Uganda in 2012, she met with village leaders and visited schools to learn firsthand about the needs of children there. By the following year, Mallory’s own organization, called “Project Yesu,” was recruiting donors from around the world to sponsor the education of poor children in Uganda, and in 2014 inaugurated a program to provide nutritious breakfasts each weekday. More recently, Mallory partnered with another organization to build a playground in the Ugandan village where she is focusing her efforts.
Wills, an eighth-grader at Central Middle School, has volunteered at a local Veterans Administration facility twice a week for five hours a day over the past two summers. Wills says he was motivated by his mother, who was always “bugging me, telling me about the pride and respect that comes with volunteering,” along with his older brother, who also volunteered for the VA. At first Wills was skeptical about the idea, but “now I am a firm believer that volunteering can change your perspective,” he said.
Wills’ volunteering took place in the VA’s physical therapy department. There, he worked with a physical therapist and nurse to help patients exercise and stretch. He also pushed wheelchairs and cleaned the work environment. “That might not seem like a lot, but when you are doing it over and over, multiple times during the day, it can be hard work,” said Wills. He added that soon after, his duties didn’t seem like work at all. “Many outsiders see veterans as stereotypical crazy old people who go insane after service. That is not at all the case,” he said. “I loved the patients I worked with. They make the work I was doing into fun that I enjoyed.”
“These honorees have done exemplary work to contribute to the health and vitality of their communities, and we look forward to seeing the great things they achieve in the future,” said John Strangfeld, chairman and CEO of Prudential Financial, Inc. “Congratulations to each of these extraordinary young volunteers.”
“It’s a privilege to celebrate these students not only for outstanding volunteer service, but for the example they’ve set for their peers,” said Jayne Ellspermann, president of NASSP. “These honorees prove that one person truly can make a difference.”
Youth volunteers in grades 5-12 were invited to apply for 2017 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 31,000 middle level and high school students nationwide participated in this year’s program.