Two Hawaii Youth Honored for Volunteerism at National Award Ceremony in Washington, D.C.

Hawaii’s top two youth volunteers of 2017, Cierra Nakamura, 18, of Honolulu and Emma Tandara, 14, of Ewa Beach, were honored in the nation’s capital last night for their outstanding volunteer service during the 22nd annual presentation of The Prudential Spirit of Community Awards. Cierra and Emma – 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.

Olympic gold medalist Michael Phelps congratulates Cierra Nakamura, 18, of Honolulu (center) and Emma Tandara, 14, of Ewa Beach (right) on being named Hawaii’s top two youth volunteers for 2017 by The Prudential Spirit of Community Awards. Cierra and Emma 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)

The Prudential Spirit of Community Awards program, sponsored by Prudential Financial in partnership with the National Association of Secondary School Principals (NASSP), named Cierra and Emma Hawaii’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-expense-paid trip with a parent to Washington, D.C., for four days of recognition events.

Cierra, a senior at ‘Iolani School, collects donated toothbrushes, toothpaste and packages of dental floss for impoverished families in underdeveloped Asia-Pacific countries through a campaign she calls “Spreading Smiles Across Miles.” Her interest in Third World dental care was sparked at a 2012 fundraiser for a medical mission to Nepal. “I was in awe of the doctors and nurses who flew to Third World countries at their own expense to treat ailing patients,” said Cierra. “I wanted to take part in this noble effort.” But as a 13-year-old, she didn’t know what she could do.

A little research, however, alerted her to the fact that dental care in Nepal is almost nonexistent; toothbrushes and toothpaste are luxuries that most cannot afford. Cierra resolved to address this need by collecting 2,000 toothbrushes, tubes of toothpaste and dental floss packages. She asked family members and friends for donations, then reached out to vendors at a Hawaiian dental convention. After exceeding her goal, she sent all of her collected supplies to Nepal, along with an instructional video she made with a dental hygiene professor to demonstrate proper oral hygiene procedures in Nepalese. Later, Cierra personally delivered toothbrushes and school supplies to kids in an orphanage in Vietnam, and is currently working to send dental supplies to the Philippines.

Emma, an eighth-grader at Ewa Makai Middle School, led an effort at her school to promote recycling of bottles, cans, paper products and old T-shirts. From the time she was very young, Emma accompanied her beloved grandmother in a wide range of volunteer activities. When her grandma died of cancer, Emma was moved to rededicate herself to community service.

She got that opportunity when she joined her school’s leadership team and elected to work on enhancing the school’s recycling program. She spearheaded the filming of a music video explaining her school’s green initiatives and how to properly sort recyclables, which was presented to the student body, teachers and staff at an assembly led by Emma and later shown to more than 300 educators across the state. Emma also led a recyclables sorting game at three elementary schools, helped coordinate two community recycling drives, and demonstrated how to turn old T-shirts into bags at an emergency preparedness fair. “Though my grandmother couldn’t stay forever, the work I’ve done in her spirit has become something that can,” said Emma.

“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 5-12 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.

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