Praneeth Alla, 15, of Exton and Ashley Geesey, 13, of Bainbridge were named Pennsylvania’s top two youth volunteers of 2018 by The Prudential Spirit of Community Awards, a nationwide program honoring young people for outstanding acts of volunteerism.
As State Honorees, Praneeth and Ashley each will receive $1,000, an engraved silver medallion and an all-expense-paid trip in late April to Washington, D.C., where they will join the top two honorees from each of the other states and the District of Columbia for four days of national recognition events.
During the trip, 10 students will be named America’s top youth volunteers of 2018.
These are Pennsylvania’s top youth volunteers of 2018:
High School State Honoree: Praneeth Alla
Nominated by The Episcopal Academy in Newtown Square
Praneeth, a junior at The Episcopal Academy, spent more than 1,000 hours creating a website for a charity in India, improving its ability to collect and manage donations, publicize projects and track income and expenditures. He also founded a network of youth clubs to raise money to improve the education of children in India.
The site so far has helped the District NRI Foundation raise more than $250,000, and is now being used by another Indian nonprofit to collect food for food banks. To get other students involved, Praneeth organized NRI Youth Clubs in the U.S., mobilizing high schoolers to participate in projects benefiting both their local communities and rural villages in India. There are now 25 of these clubs operating in several states. The youth clubs in Praneeth’s area alone have donated 55,000 pounds of food to the local community, and have made donations to India that include 100 prosthetic limbs, 100 television sets and four wheelchairs.
Middle Level State Honoree: Ashley Geesey
Nominated by Elizabethtown Area Middle School in Elizabethtown
Ashley, an eighth-grader at Elizabethtown Area Middle School, raises money for sick children and other causes by working with three friends to sell jewelry through local businesses and their Instagram account. In the past, Ashley had raised money to help others through bake sales and other activities. But she really enjoys making jewelry and thought that might be a way to help those less fortunate, particularly sick children. “I got started by picking up some jewelry and messing around,” she said. “I really didn’t have a motive. I just knew that I was a kid, in great health, and I wanted to help those who were not.”
After getting their parents’ permission, Ashley and her friends bought beads and other supplies and got to work making jewelry. To advertise their creations, they created an Instagram account and asked local businesses to display their work. As treasurer, Ashley’s job is to post updates and events on their account and handle the money they collect. When they started in the summer of 2016, their goal was to raise $200. But as word spread, the orders exceeded their expectations and it wasn’t long before the group had $2,000 to donate to the Children’s Miracle Network. Since then, they also donated $300 to the victims of Hurricane Harvey, and are now focusing their fundraising efforts on behalf of the Four Diamonds Fund, which supports cancer care for children being treated at Penn State Children’s Hospital.
The program judges also recognized eight other Pennsylvania students as Distinguished Finalists for their community service activities. Each will receive an engraved bronze medallion.
These are Pennsylvania’s Distinguished Finalists for 2018:
Grace Beal, 16, of New Castle, Pa., a sophomore at Neshannock Junior Senior High School, has organized a basketball fundraiser in memory of her late sister for the past four years, a community event that recently raised more than $24,000 for the Children’s Hospital of Pittsburgh. Grace, who has helped to raise more than $70,000 for the hospital over the years, is responsible for event planning, recruiting sponsors, holding volunteer meetings and advertising for “Layups for Lucy.”
Nandini Bhatt, 13, of Malvern, Pa., an eighth-grader at Great Valley Middle School, worked with a friend to create a project called “Cards for Care,” selling greeting cards printed with their handmade designs in exchange for a charitable donation. After three months of selling their cards at school and community events, Nandini and her friend were able to visit the Shriners Hospital in Philadelphia and make a donation of more than $600.
Corey Eisert-Wlodarczyk, 18, of Erie, Pa., a senior at McDowell High School, led an initiative to construct a “hidden in plain sight” trailer, a mobile mock bedroom that helps parents learn what to look for when trying to prevent their kids from taking drugs. Corey, a member of the Lake Erie Youth ROAD Crew drug prevention program, is motivated to help others avoid the pain he experienced after his brother died from a heroin overdose.
Peyton Klein, 16, of Pittsburgh, Pa., a sophomore at Allderdice High School, is the founder and director of “Global Minds,” an after-school intercultural inclusion program that’s now reaching 350 students at nine schools in the U.S. and Canada. Peyton also volunteers and holds leadership positions with several community organizations, supporting efforts to promote volunteerism, serve area seniors, offer summer programming to young refugees and more.
Cavan McIntyre-Brewer, 16, of Duncannon, Pa., a sophomore at The Cove School, has been serving veterans and wounded warriors since 2009 as founder of the national organization “Socks for Vets,” and recently took on a role managing nonprofit relations and social media for a fund supporting Gold, Silver and Blue Star families. Over the years, Cavan has distributed 2,600 supply bags to homeless veterans, raised more than $50,000 for the military community, and more.
Kareena Rogers, 17, of Yardley, Pa., a junior at Doane Academy, planted a variety of fruits and vegetables in a community garden last spring and then, over the summer, donated bags filled with the produce she’d grown to the local food pantry every week. Kareena also donated healthy recipe cards to inspire those who went home with the produce, and provided hands-on volunteer support during the pantry’s distribution day.
Madison Schwab, 18, of Harrisburg, Pa., a senior at Central Dauphin High School, played a lead role in an initiative to create a STEM center for students at the inner-city school where she tutored – a project that inspired a foundation to create similar STEM centers in other locations around the country. In addition to her work with the school, Madison promoted self-esteem and community service as president of a youth group serving Jewish teen girls.
Sahitya Suresh, 14, of Malvern, Pa., an eighth-grader at Great Valley Middle School, worked with a friend to create a charitable initiative called “Cards for Care,” and so far has been able to donate more than $600 to benefit young patients at the Shriners Hospital in Philadelphia. Sahitya, who learned about the struggle other children face when her brother was born with health issues, has dedicated a great deal of time to creating designs for the cards and selling them at community events.