Nebraska's top two youth volunteers of 2013, Alexandra Baxter, 18, of Omaha and My'Kah Knowlin, 12, of Lincoln, were honored for outstanding volunteer service in the nation’s capital Sunday night.
The 18th annual presentation of The Prudential Spirit of Community Awards honored youth volunteers from across the country – each received $1,000 awards and personal congratulations from Academy Award-winning actor Kevin Spacey and Olympic gold medalist Allyson Felix/
The award ceremony and gala dinner reception was held 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 (NASSP), named Alexandra and My'Kah Nebraska'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.
Alexandra, a senior at Millard North High School, started the “Red Kettle 5K Run” in 2010, a fall charity event that has collected more than 80,000 cans of food to stock Salvation Army pantries for the high-demand holiday season.
Since she was a little girl, Alexandra has volunteered with her local Salvation Army as a bell ringer in front of the charity’s signature red kettle. But when she was a freshman, she decided she wanted to do more. An avid runner, she and her mother were jogging one day when the idea of a 5K run came to her. “I decided to combine something that I liked – running – with something that I knew was an issue in Omaha – hunger during the holidays,” Alexandra said.
My'Kah, a sixth-grader at Lux Middle School, provided more than 300 “Boxes of Love” filled with toys, snacks other items to children in Joplin, Mo., after that city was hit by devastating tornadoes, and then began working on additional projects to serve others.
My’Kah is no stranger to volunteering. When she was 5 years old, she started asking for books instead of gifts for her birthday, which she then donated to children in need.
As a result, over the past six years, she has given 1,200 books to schools in low-income areas of her community. But “hearing about the tornadoes in Joplin was my call to action,” said My’Kah. “I felt it was important to help the children, since they can’t help themselves.”
She started by traveling around Nebraska, asking local businesses to donate items that could comfort young children. She then asked shoe stores to donate boxes to hold the items, and recruited friends to help fill the boxes.
My’Kah, along with her mother and a few friends, traveled to Joplin to distribute their boxes, stopping at that community’s Ronald McDonald House, a Boys and Girls Club and a home for children displaced by the tornadoes.
Youth volunteers were invited to apply for 2013 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 28,000 middle level and high school students nationwide participated in this year’s program.