Virginia's top youth volunteers of 2020 honored with $2,500 donation for local COVID-19 response

Actress Kristen Bell congratulates Vienna and Ashburn students at this weekend's Prudential Spirit of Community Awards virtual celebration

RICHMOND, Va., May 4, 2020 /PRNewswire/ -- Virginia's top two youth volunteers of 2020, Rayan Yu, 17, of Vienna and Ryan Janaske, 12, of Ashburn, were recognized this weekend for their outstanding volunteer service during the 25th annual, and first-ever virtual, Prudential Spirit of Community Awards national recognition celebration.

Rayan Yu (PRNewsfoto/Prudential Financial, Inc.)
Rayan Yu (PRNewsfoto/Prudential Financial, Inc.)

In recognition of the spirit of service that they have demonstrated in their communities, Rayan and Ryan – along with 100 other top youth volunteers from across the country – were also each given $2,500 to donate toward the local COVID-19 response efforts of a nonprofit organization of their choice. These funds come in addition to the $1,000 scholarship and engraved silver medallion they earned as Virginia's top youth volunteers of 2020.

The Prudential Spirit of Community Awards program, sponsored by Prudential Financial in partnership with the National Association of Secondary School Principals (NASSP), named Rayan and Ryan Virginia's top high school and middle level youth volunteers in February.

"Over the past 25 years, this program has honored students spanning three generations, and the common thread between them has been the determination of young people to respond to the challenges of the moment," said Charles Lowrey, chairman and CEO of Prudential Financial. "Who better than this group of young leaders from all over the country to help identify and direct resources to community needs arising from COVID-19?"

As State Honorees, Rayan and Ryan also earned an all-expense-paid trip to Washington, D.C. for the program's annual national recognition events; the trip, however, was canceled due to COVID-19 and changed to a three-day online celebration this past weekend. In addition to remarks and congratulations from actress Kristen Bell, honorees had opportunities to connect with each other through online project-sharing sessions, learn about service and advocacy from accomplished past Spirit of Community honorees, hear congratulatory remarks from Lowrey and NASSP Executive Director and CEO JoAnn Bartoletti, and more.

"We admire these young leaders for their ability to assess the needs of the communities they serve and find meaningful ways to address them," said Bartoletti. "At a time when everyone is looking for optimism, these students are a bright light for their peers and the adults in their lives."

About the Honorees

Rayan (pictured left), a junior at James Madison High School, worked with a partner to create free STEM-education mobile apps to help level the playing field for students around the world who otherwise lack the resources to reach their full potential. Two summers ago, Rayan tutored students in his father's hometown, an underserved village in China. He saw a real desperation to learn, but the obstacles were great. "Their schools lacked textbooks, curriculums and even teachers," said Rayan. "It was heartbreaking to see so many lose their potential simply because they did not have access to quality education."

When Rayan returned home, he founded "inGenius X," a nonprofit whose mission is to provide "easy access to education anywhere and everywhere." With the help of a partner, Rayan set out to create a math-based app. The pair spent a year coding, creating graphics, developing a curriculum, programming problem sets for practice, and testing it out on themselves, friends and family. Since inGenius X's first app was certified and published, it has been downloaded more than 10,000 times, spanning 12 countries, said Rayan. Two more apps that deal with science-related subjects are finished and awaiting certification, and three more are in development, all incorporating hours of interactive practice and video lectures. In addition to the nonprofit's digtial presence, Rayan persuaded a local university to sponsor and host HackGenius, a 24-hour hackathon featuring a computer science competition, coding workshops and speaker panels made up of rising tech leaders. The free event is designed for local students who otherwise might not have the same opportunities in computer science as those who go to school in affluent areas.

Ryan (pictured right), a seventh-grader at Trailside Middle School, stuffs up to 100 backpacks with school supplies each summer and donates them to elementary schools in her area for students who can't afford to start the school year with everything they need. Ryan used to help with a school-supply drive led by her mother at her workplace, but after her mom got a new job, Ryan knew that many of the kids who got help were no longer going to get the school supplies they needed. "I came up with the idea of starting my own charity because I liked what my mom did and how it made me feel when I helped people," said Ryan. She called her charity "Kids Helping Kids."

Before the start of summer, Ryan kicks off her fundraising efforts by sending letters to family members and friends to solicit donations. Next, she goes shopping to buy backpacks, pencils, glue sticks and other items. Then Ryan, with the help of friends and her mother, stuffs the backpacks and gets them ready for delivery. At the end of the summer, she and her team load up her mother's car and take the backpacks to school principals around her community. "I know the work I do each summer puts smiles on kids' faces," said Ryan. "I feel like I am making the world a better place, one backpack at a time."

About The Prudential Spirit of Community Awards

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 25 years, the program has honored more than 130,000 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. For more information about the National Association of Secondary School Principals, visit www.nassp.org. For more information about Prudential Financial, visit www.news.prudential.com.

Learn more at spirit.prudential.com

Ryan Janaske (PRNewsfoto/Prudential Financial, Inc.)
Ryan Janaske (PRNewsfoto/Prudential Financial, Inc.)
(PRNewsfoto/Prudential Insurance)
(PRNewsfoto/Prudential Insurance)
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SOURCE Prudential Financial, Inc.