Downstate students have volunteer ‘Spirit’

Olympic gold medalist Michael Phelps congratulates Kayleigh Barnes, 18, of Bridgeville (center) and Rachel Mackie, 13, of Dover (right) on being named Delaware’s top two youth volunteers for 2017 by The Prudential Spirit of Community Awards. Kayleigh and Rachel were honored at a ceremony on Sunday, May 7 at the Smithsonian’s National Museum of Natural History, where they each received a $1,000 award. (PRNewsfoto/Prudential Insurance)

WASHINGTON — Delaware’s top two youth volunteers of 2017, Kayleigh Barnes, 18, of Bridgeville and Rachel Mackie, 13, of Dover, were honored in the nation’s capital recently for their outstanding volunteer service during the 22nd annual presentation of The Prudential Spirit of Community Awards.

Kayleigh and Rachel — 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, named Kayleigh and Rachel Delaware’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-expenses-paid trip with a parent to Washington, D.C., for four days of recognition events.

Kayleigh, a member of the American Red Cross in Wilmington and a senior at Sussex Academy of Arts and Sciences, founded an organization dedicated to improving the lives of young women through mentoring and community service, an organization now made up of more than 120 young women in nine states.

Officials said that when she entered high school, Kayleigh noticed that many female students wanted to get involved in community service, but didn’t know how. Kayleigh, who had been volunteering with numerous organizations since she was a little girl, thought she might be able to do something about that.

She started by getting together with a few other girls periodically to undertake small projects such as packing kits for servicemen or baking for a local homeless shelter. As word spread, Kayleigh began receiving inquiries from other young women, even some from other states. She started teaching workshops on creating community service projects, and established a partnership with the local American Red Cross chapter. As more and more girls have joined, Kayleigh’s group has conducted an increasing number of service projects, such as donating school supplies, helping kids in need celebrate Halloween, collecting food and clothing for the homeless, instigating random acts of kindness across the country, and volunteering at many Red Cross events. Kayleigh spends a great deal of time not only supporting members’ projects, but also mentoring and training new members and planning future initiatives.

Rachel, a member of Kent County 4-H and a seventh-grader at Holy Cross School, spearheaded an effort to collect more than 900 items for the homeless in her county and helped bring holiday cheer to a center for the homeless by providing a fully decorated Christmas tree. Rachel was president of her 4-H Club when she “stumbled” onto Code Purple, a statewide organization that helps homeless people find shelter in churches or other designated buildings when the temperature plunges to 32 degrees or below.

“I couldn’t and still can’t imagine what it must be like to sleep on the streets,” said Rachel. “I wanted to help.”

Under Rachel’s leadership, 4-H members launched a collection drive in partnership with a local physical therapy group. They wrote letters to attract donations and distributed fliers to publicize their drive. Every week, Rachel collected donations of clothing, food, and other supplies and delivered them to the Code Purple House in Dover. Then, working with her knitting club, she provided 50 hats for Code Purple to distribute. And, after asking a church to donate a Christmas tree, Rachel and her club made more than 200 ornaments, and then set up the tree at the Code Purple House.

“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 through 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.

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 22 years, the program has honored more than 120,000 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.

Reach the Delaware State News newsroom at newsroom@newszap.com

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