West Virginia's top two youth volunteers of 2013, Jay Haapala, 15, of Elkview and Julian Harrington, 12, of West Union, were honored in the nation's capital on Sunday night for their outstanding volunteer service during the 18th annual presentation of The Prudential Spirit of Community Awards.
Haapala and Harrington, along with 100 other top youth volunteers from across the country, each received $1,000 awards and personal congratulations from Academy Award-winning actor Kevin Spacey and Olympic gold medalist Allyson Felix 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, named the two West Virginia'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.
Haapala, a freshman at Capital High School, chaired West Virginia's annual fundraising walk for the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation last year, attracting more than 700 walkers and raising a record $140,000. After Haapala was diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes nine years ago, he and his family began participating in the annual walk in Charleston. "As I grew older, I decided I wanted to find a project relating to diabetes, and to prove to myself and others that I could handle anything," said Haapala in a news release. "I am always up for a challenge, especially if I can help people in the process."
Harrington, a sixth-grader at Doddridge County Middle School, organized a yard sale and benefit dinner that together raised $1,600 for two families who lost their homes to a fire. Previously, Harrington had donated his birthday money to relief efforts in Haiti, raised money for tsunami victims in Japan, conducted a car wash and bake sale to benefit food pantries, and helped make blankets for senior citizens. "I don't like to see others hurting no matter what the circumstances," Harrington explained in a news release.
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 as well. In the past 18 years, the program has honored more than 100,000 young volunteers at the local, state and national level. More information about The Prudential Spirit of Community Awards and this year's honorees can be found at http://spirit.prudential.com or www.nassp.org/spirit.