WASHINGTON — Indiana’s top two youth volunteers of 2019, including a 15-year-old Michigan City boy, were honored in the nation’s capital Sunday night for outstanding volunteer service during the 24th annual Prudential Spirit of Community Awards.
Adrian Huizar of Michigan City, and 18-year-old Tatum Parker of Indianapolis joined 100 other top youth volunteers from across the country – and received a $1,000 award and personal congratulations from award-winning actress Viola Davis at a ceremony and gala dinner 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 Adrian and Tatum Indiana’s top middle and high school volunteers in February. In addition to cash awards, each received an engraved silver medallion and all-expense-paid trip with a parent to Washington, D.C.
Huizar, an eighth-grader at Queen of All Saints School, started a tutoring program that recruits members of the National Junior Honor Society to offer assistance to fellow students who are having difficulty with homework. When he was younger, Adrian received help at an after-school homework program run by two teachers.
“It really helped me a lot and made a difference in my grades,” he said. “I realized there was a need to help more students.” Having volunteered as a tutor himself, Adrian knew the power of an individual to help with a student’s education.
His program hosted tutoring sessions for kids in first through sixth grade for 45 minutes, four days a week. He created forms for parents to give permission for students to stay after school, then asked NJHS members to serve as tutors, and adults to be present during sessions. Huizar is responsible for scheduling and keeping track of attendance, and provides worksheets for tutors to use in their lessons.
“Each student is different,” he said. “Some need help completing homework, while others need to be drilled on certain skills. Everyone benefits from the program. The students get the help they need to boost grades and master skills, the tutors refresh skills they don’t use every day, and parents don’t have to spend as much time helping children at home.”
Adrian estimates that since he started in late 2017, 62 students, tutors and supervisors have been involved in his program.
Parker, a senior at North Central High School, has delivered more than 3,500 backpacks, each stuffed with about $350 worth of fun items, to every child in Indiana diagnosed with cancer since she and her family began the “Tatum Parker Project” in 2008.
At age 6, she learned she had Ewing’s sarcoma, a rare cancer. After undergoing surgery and a year of chemotherapy, Parker thought she was cured. But a year later, her disease was back and she again needed treatment. During her hospitalizations, it saddened her to see “so many young patients far away from family and friends and without much to do. I always felt so terrible that I would share my things,” she said.
After she was well again, Parker and her family wanted to give back to the pediatric cancer community. They established a website, got word out around the state and started raising money to purchase items to fill backpacks. They then reached out to schools, businesses and clubs to host toy drives and fundraisers.
Every month, she gets a list of the age and gender of every child in Indiana recently diagnosed with cancer. She and her family then go shopping for age-appropriate games, toys, craft kits and electronics, which are packed into backpacks.
She delivers her “bags of fun” to hospitals for nurses to distribute. “My hope with every bag is that the child is able to laugh, smile and get more hope,” Tatum said. So far, the project, which also raises funds for pediatric cancer research, has donated well over $1 million worth of treats.
“We’re impressed and inspired by the way these honorees have identified problems facing their communities and stepped up to the challenge to make a difference,” said Charles Lowrey, chairman and CEO of Prudential Financial. “It’s a privilege to celebrate their leadership and compassion, and we look forward to seeing the great things they accomplish in the future.”
“These students have not only done important work in support of people in need – they’ve shown their peers that young people can, and do, create meaningful change,” said Christine Handy, president of NASSP. “We commend each of these young volunteers for all they’ve contributed to their communities.”
In 2019, more than 29,000 middle level and high school students nationwide participated in the program, created in 1995 to identify and recognize young people for outstanding volunteer service – and inspire others to volunteer. In the past 24 years, the program has honored more than 125,000 young volunteers. For more information, visit spirit.prudential.com or nassp.org/spirit.
— From staff reports