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Jessica Chang ’21 is one of Ohio's Top Youth Volunteers

  • Student News

Senior Jessica Chang is one of two students named Ohio's top youth volunteers of 2021 by The Prudential Spirit of Community Awards, America's largest youth recognition program based exclusively on volunteer service.

As State Honorees, Jessica receives 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. 

State Honorees in The Prudential Spirit of Community Awards Class of 2021 – the top middle level and high school volunteer from all 50 states and the District of Columbia – were selected for service initiatives completed, at least in part, between fall 2019 and fall 2020. The selection was based on criteria including impact, effort, initiative, and the personal growth demonstrated over the course of the project. Several Distinguished Finalists and runners-up were also selected in each state, and all qualifying applicants received President's Volunteer Service Awards. 

About Jessica: 

Jessica created a youth organization that promotes civics education among middle-level and high school students across the country. As the first American citizen in her family, Jessica has a strong interest in civics and politics. So when she volunteered to tutor middle schoolers, "I was shocked by the level of disengagement of my students," she said. Jessica concluded it wasn't because they were inherently apathetic, but because schools are often reluctant to teach civics subjects that might stir controversy. "I believe education cannot be complete without a basic understanding of your rights and duties as a citizen," she said.

Jessica decided to form a student-run group to counter the trend toward "civics deserts" in schools. She crafted a mission statement, built a website, and began recruiting like-minded students. Over the past two years, she has assembled a team of 45 students from schools across the country who work on a variety of projects to expose more young people to civics. They've developed a civics curriculum that has been taught at schools and summer programs, published articles on social and political issues, and hosted virtual conferences. Jessica's organization, called "The Catalyst," also partners with other student and civic groups to raise awareness, funds and supplies for various causes. "Our goal is to inspire students to care about their communities and create change," said Jessica, "and then to provide them with the resources and empowerment to do so."

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