Ohio’s top youth volunteers of 2018 selected by national program


The Prudential Spirit of Community Awards honors Cincinnati and Archbold students with $1,000, medallions and trip to nation’s capital

Finalists also named in Toledo, Westlake, Findlay, Warren, Loveland, Gahanna, Cincinnati and East Liverpool

COLUMBUS – Bennett Heyn, 17, of Cincinnati and Chaina Nafziger, 11, of Archbold were named Ohio’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, Bennett and Chaina 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.

The Prudential Spirit of Community Awards, now in its 23rd year, is conducted by Prudential Financial in partnership with the National Association of Secondary School Principals (NASSP).

These are Ohio’s top youth volunteers of 2018:

High School State Honoree: Bennett Heyn

Nominated by Sycamore High School in Montgomery

Bennett, a senior at Sycamore High School, launched a cell phone recycling campaign in his community to help preserve gorilla habitats in Africa, keep harmful chemicals out of landfills, and show people that even simple steps can make a difference in preserving the environment. Bennett began his project after learning that lowland gorillas in Africa are being threatened with extinction because their habitat is increasingly being mined for coltan, a black metallic ore used to make capacitors in cell phones. “I want to increase the supply of coltan by collecting cell phones so there won’t be a demand for it,” said Bennett. “With lower demand for coltan, the mining in Africa will decrease and the Western Lowland Gorillas won’t go extinct.”

After researching the problems associated with non-recycled cell phones, Bennett set a goal of collecting 2,000 unneeded phones. He worked with the administrations of all seven schools in his school district to bring his campaign to their students, and then purchased eight recycling bins to place at each school and the district office. “The hardest part of my project is staying in touch with each school to figure out collection dates,” said Bennett. Another objective of Bennett’s campaign is to enter and win a cell phone recycling competition run by the Cincinnati Zoo that would award his school district with a sizable cash prize if he collects the most phones. Regardless, he says he’s committed for the long term. “I think of my project as a long-distance race and not a sprint,” he said, noting that he hopes his school’s environmental club will continue his campaign after he graduates.

Middle Level State Honoree: Chaina Nafziger

Nominated by Archbold Middle School in Archbold

Chaina, a sixth-grader at Archbold Middle School, organized a bake sale with a friend at her church and raised $1,400 for two charities that assist orphans in Haiti. Chaina lived in an orphanage in Haiti from the age of 6 until she was adopted by a family in Ohio. “I know what it is like to live in an orphanage and to not have enough food to eat every day,” she said. So when a man came to her church to speak about Haiti, Chaina was reminded of her life there and the children she had left behind. “My friend and I felt so badly for the children that we wanted to do something to help,” she said.

Chaina and her friend proposed having a bake sale during a women’s conference at their church to raise funds for Haitian orphans. First, they met with their mothers to plan the event, and then sent emails to women in their congregation asking them to bake cookies and other treats for the sale. Nineteen agreed. Chaina and her friend delegated baking assignments, made promotional signs, and arrived at the church after school on a Friday to set up the sale. Over two days, they collected $1,400 for a ministry that provides a home and education for 24 orphans in Haiti, and for another charity that helps find food, homes and school money for Haitian teens who age out of the orphanage where Chaina used to live. “Most people think that helping people in poor countries is only for adults,” said Chaina, “but they’re wrong. Children can help, too.”

Distinguished Finalists

The program judges also recognized eight other Ohio students as Distinguished Finalists for their impressive community service activities. Each will receive an engraved bronze medallion.

These are Ohio’s Distinguished Finalists for 2018:

Rahul Bais, 18, of Toledo, Ohio, a senior at Ottawa Hills High School, has been volunteering since 2013 to help the student-run Universal Health Aid program conduct free community clinics, and now serves as director of the chapter in his region. Rahul has supported efforts ranging from fundraising and venue coordination to securing medical equipment for the health screenings, which typically draw hundreds of people.

Carolyn Bedell, 18, of Westlake, Ohio, a senior at Westlake High School, organized two fun community events and built a website in support of the Lilly Weston committee, a group dedicated to the preservation of a local historic farmhouse with hopes of one day turning it into a museum. Carolyn joined the committee and planned her initiatives after hearing that the group needed more local support; since then, they’ve raised $5,000 and doubled their membership.

Annalyse Dissinger, 17, of Findlay, Ohio, a member of Hancock County 4-H and a junior at Sugar Maple Lane Christian Academy, led an initiative that’s created 215 handmade dresses and gathered 106 donated dresses for the Dress a Girl Around the World campaign. Over the past two years, Annalyse mobilized about 100 volunteers during her four community sewing days, and inspired fellow members of a fashion board to implement sewing days of their own; she and her mother have made 145 dresses themselves.

Gianna Jones, 17, of Warren, Ohio, a senior at Warren G. Harding High School, worked with the Trumbull Neighborhood Partnership to brighten abandoned properties in her community by hand-painting the boards that were placed over doors and windows, protecting the buildings from intruders and the elements with portraits of important women in history. Gianna solicited donations for supplies from the local community, sketched her designs on a tablet, then worked in her garage to paint the boards.

Hannah Laman, 15, of Loveland, Ohio, a freshman at Loveland High School, co-founded a charity called “Adopt a Book” to benefit kids in need, and since 2011 has led initiatives that collected and distributed more than 130,000 new and gently-used children’s books to more than 100 locations in the U.S. and abroad. Hannah also established and now maintains a Little Free Library in her own community, and donated a number of bookshelves and “reading buddies” to help kids and child organizations create personal reading spaces.

Vanessa McCoy, 18, of Gahanna, Ohio, a senior at Ohio Connections Academy works year-round to support an annual Thanksgiving food box distribution, an event run by the local foundation where she’s been volunteering since 2012. Vanessa, a fundraising committee member, dedicates five to 10 hours a week to tasks from newsletter distribution to event planning in support of the food drive, which serves thousands of people in need every year.

Caitlyn Miler, 14, of Cincinnati, Ohio, a freshman at Ohio Connections Academy, volunteers as a teacher’s assistant with the MYCincinnati youth orchestra, working closely with young musicians in a program aimed at providing opportunities to grow and evolve through music. After her own rehearsal schedule with the program was scaled back, Caitlyn wanted to use her extra time to help younger students; she created her own assistant position, providing much-needed volunteer support for the program as enrollment increased.

Ryan Miller, 18, of East Liverpool, Ohio, a senior at Wellsville Junior/Senior High School, is the creator and director of “The Tiger Closet,” a room at his school stocked with personal hygiene items and school supplies for students in need. After learning how many students at his school qualified for free or reduced lunch, Ryan gained approval for the concept from his principal, then solicited business and community donations to stock the closet with deodorant, feminine hygiene products, pencils and other supplies.

“Prudential is proud to recognize these remarkable young people for using their energy, creativity and compassion to bring meaningful change to their communities,” said Prudential Chairman and CEO John Strangfeld. “We hope their stories inspire others to consider how they can do the same.”

“These middle level and high school students have not only improved the lives of the people and communities they’ve served – they also set an important example for their peers,” said JoAnn Bartoletti, executive director of NASSP. “These honorees prove that you’re never too young to make a difference.”

About The Prudential Spirit of Community Awards

The Prudential Spirit of Community Awards represents the United States’ largest youth recognition program based solely on volunteer service. All public and private middle level and high schools in the country, as well as all Girl Scout councils, county 4-H organizations, American Red Cross chapters, YMCAs and affiliates of Points of Light’s HandsOn Network, were eligible to select a student or member for a local Prudential Spirit of Community Award. These Local Honorees were then reviewed by an independent judging panel, which selected State Honorees and Distinguished Finalists based on criteria including personal initiative, effort, impact and personal growth.

While in Washington, D.C., the 102 State Honorees – one middle level and one high school student from each state and the District of Columbia – will tour the capital’s landmarks, meet top youth volunteers from other parts of the world, attend a gala awards ceremony at the Smithsonian’s National Museum of Natural History, and visit their congressional representatives on Capitol Hill. On April 30, 10 of the State Honorees – five middle level and five high school students – will be named America’s top youth volunteers of 2018. These National Honorees will receive additional $5,000 awards, gold medallions, crystal trophies and $5,000 grants from The Prudential Foundation for nonprofit charitable organizations of their choice.

Since the program began in 1995, more than 120,000 young volunteers have been honored at the local, state and national level. The program also is conducted by Prudential subsidiaries in Japan, South Korea, Taiwan, Ireland, India, China, Brazil and Poland. In addition to granting its own awards, The Prudential Spirit of Community Awards program also distributes President’s Volunteer Service Awards to qualifying Local Honorees.


The National Association of Secondary School Principals (NASSP) is the leading organization of and voice for middle level and high school principals, assistant principals, and school leaders from across the United States. The association connects and engages school leaders through advocacy, research, education, and student programs. NASSP advocates on behalf of all school leaders to ensure the success of each student and strengthens school leadership practices through the design and delivery of high quality professional learning experiences. Reflecting its long-standing commitment to student leadership development, NASSP administers the National Honor Society, National Junior Honor Society, National Elementary Honor Society, and National Student Council. For more information about NASSP, located in Reston, VA, visit www.nassp.org.

About Prudential Financial

Prudential Financial, Inc. (NYSE: PRU), a financial services leader, has operations in the United States, Asia, Europe, and Latin America. Prudential’s diverse and talented employees are committed to helping individual and institutional customers grow and protect their wealth through a variety of products and services, including life insurance, annuities, retirement-related services, mutual funds and investment management. In the U.S., Prudential’s iconic Rock symbol has stood for strength, stability, expertise and innovation for more than a century. For more information, please visit www.news.prudential.com.



For information on all of this year’s Prudential Spirit of Community State Honorees and Distinguished Finalists, visit http://spirit.prudential.com or www.nassp.org/spirit.

For information on all of this year’s Prudential Spirit of Community State Honorees and Distinguished Finalists, visit http://spirit.prudential.com or www.nassp.org/spirit.