Candonino Agusen, 17, of Kailua-Kona, Hawaii, was named one of America’s top 10 youth volunteers of 2012 yesterday in a ceremony at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, winning a national Prudential Spirit of Community Award for his outstanding volunteer service. Selected from a field of more than 26,000 youth volunteers across the country, Candonino received a personal award of $5,000, an engraved gold medallion, a crystal trophy for her school, and a $5,000 grant from The Prudential Foundation for a nonprofit charitable organization of his choice.
Also honored this week in Washington, D.C., was Jackson Button, 13, of Waialua. He and Candonino were named Hawaii’s top youth volunteers, and were officially recognized last night at the Smithsonian’s National Museum of Natural History along with the top two youth volunteers in each state and the District of Columbia. At that event, each of the 102 State Honorees for 2012 received $1,000 awards as well as personal congratulations from New York Giants quarterback and Super Bowl MVP Eli Manning. The honorees also received engraved silver medallions and an all-expense-paid trip with their parents to Washington, D.C., for this week’s recognition events.
Candonino, a junior at Kealakehe High School, helped raise more than $64,000 to buy temporary housing kits for people displaced by the earthquake in Japan last year. As president of the Interact service club at his high school, Candonino was no stranger to community service, having participated in several projects over the years, including sending care packages to soldiers in Afghanistan. However, when a massive earthquake hit Japan, triggering a powerful tsunami that wreaked havoc on the Hawaiian shoreline, he felt a new urgency to volunteer. “As bad as it was, I saw that our disaster was not nearly as devastating as the widespread damage and destruction in Japan,” Candonino said. “People were dying and desperately in need of life-saving shelter and equipment. They were suffering through cold, rain and snow.”
Candonino recruited others to help him buy “Shelterboxes” that include a tent, equipment and 30-day supplies for up to 10 people. They set up a table with collection jars in front of a local store and displayed boards showing a Shelterbox and its contents. In addition, Candonino campaigned vigorously for donations on Facebook. Within a few weeks, his team raised more than $64,000, enough to take care of 640 earthquake victims for a month. Candonino contributed another $2,000 by making a thousand paper origami cranes and sending them to Japan as a symbol of support. Candonino said, “I learned that overnight everything can change instantly, but disaster can bring people together for the good of all.”
Jackson, an eighth-grader at Hawaii Technology Academy in Waipahu, co-founded a nonprofit organization with his sisters that has raised nearly $100,000 to support a wide variety of projects aiding children in Africa, Mexico and the United States. When Jackson’s mother was diagnosed with breast cancer, “my family and I learned what it was like to really need help,” he said. They were so grateful for all of the assistance they received, even from people they did not know, that Jackson and his sisters wanted to do something in return. They wrote, published, and sold a cookbook to raise money to fight breast cancer. “But we soon realized there are too many kids around the world who needed basic things like food, water and medicine,” said Jackson. “We decided to help the most needy, especially kids, going through hard times.”
To do that, Jackson and his siblings have sold baked goods and organic vegetables from their garden, set up lemonade stands, hosted garage sales and sought donations. The money raised so far has been used to provide scholarships to children who have lost a parent to cancer or other diseases, and to purchase hygiene supplies for a family shelter, a solar heater for a Mexican orphanage, school supplies and backpacks for underprivileged kids in Hawaii and a therapeutic riding horse for disabled children. Jackson and his sisters also purchased a van to take HIV/AIDS orphans in Uganda to medical appointments, and bought four acres of land in that country to grow food and build a new orphanage. “We want to help children all over the world have a better life,” said Jackson.
“Through their extraordinary acts of volunteerism, these students are powerful examples of the way one young person can make a big impact,” said John R. Strangfeld, chairman and CEO of Prudential Financial, Inc. “We are proud to honor them for their achievements, and hope their stories inspire others to consider how they, too, can make a difference.”
More than 26,000 young people participated in the 2012 awards program last fall through schools, Girl Scout councils, county 4-H organizations, American Red Cross chapters, YMCAs and affiliates of the HandsOn Network. The top middle level and high school applicants in each state were selected in February, and flown to Washington this week with their parents for four days of special recognition events.