PADUCAH, KY (KFVS) - A Paducah student was one of two from Kentucky named on Monday, May 5 as America's top 10 youth volunteers of 2014.
Kinsey Morrison, 17, of Goshen, Ky. and Morgan Guess, 11, of Paducah, Ky. were named by The Prudential Spirit of Community Awards during the program's 19th annual national award ceremony at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce.
Selected from a field of more than 30,000 youth volunteers from across the country, and then from 102 State Honorees, Kinsey and Morgan have each earned the title of National Honoree along with personal awards of $5,000, engraved gold medallions, crystal trophies for their schools, and $5,000 grants from The Prudential Foundation for nonprofit charitable organizations of their choice.
Kinsey and Morgan, who in February were named Kentucky's top youth volunteers of the year, were also recognized last night along with the top two youth volunteers from each other state and the District of Columbia at an award ceremony and gala dinner reception held at the Smithsonian's National Museum of Natural History. At that event, each of the 2014 State Honorees received $1,000 awards as well as personal congratulations from Academy Award-winning actor Forest Whitaker. The State Honorees each also received silver medallions and all-expense-paid trips with a parent to this week's national recognition events in Washington, D.C.
Kinsey, a senior at St. Francis High School, is a motivational speaker who's delivered more than 50 speeches on a variety of topics and helped raise a significant amount of money for dozens of charities. When Kinsey was five, she was diagnosed with a rare bone marrow condition called aplastic anemia. Her parents were told she only had one month to live, but Kinsey beat the odds. When she was six, while attending a luncheon to thank donors for the transfusions that helped save her life, she gave a five-minute impromptu speech in which she referred to her illness as the "dragon" and herself as a "dragon slayer." That speech launched her quest to tell her story with the goal of raising money for health charities and inspiring audiences to "appreciate every day as a gift, to live, not just exist."
Over the past 11 years, Kinsey has reached more than 25,000 people by speaking at events for some of the nation's leading health and education organizations, including the American Heart Association, Girl Scouts of the USA, American Cancer Society and the American Red Cross. In addition to health-related topics, Kinsey's speeches have dealt with subjects such as marriage equality, bullying, and the importance of living life to its fullest. On a local level, Kinsey is deeply involved with Gilda's Club Louisville, which provides social and emotional support to cancer patients and their families. In addition to raising money for the organization, she has served as a counselor at its kids' camp for the past two years. To date, Kinsey's efforts have helped to raise more than $500,000 for dozens of charities.
"My dream is using my story to slay more dragons, and to inspire people to live, not just exist," she said.
Morgan, a fifth-grader at Lone Oak Intermediate School, has worked with her mother to focus local, state and national attention on the problem of bullying through a variety of measures, after Morgan herself was bullied. When Morgan was bullied by another child at her school, she suffered in silence and became clinically depressed. When her mother finally found out about it, she "told me that bad things are going to happen in life and I could choose to ignore it, blame others, or be a part of the solution," said Morgan. After learning that Kentucky leads the nation in teen suicide attempts and that 160,000 kids skip school each day because they're afraid, Morgan chose to be part of the solution.
Morgan began by sharing her story on a YouTube video that's been viewed almost 4,000 times. She and her mother then started a foundation to spread awareness of the problem. They arranged for a movie on bullying to be screened in their community, and invited an author who had written a book on the subject to speak to 6,000 students in grades 4-12. Morgan co-authored an opinion piece for the Huffington Post, led an anti-bullying march around the local mall, and distributed anti-bullying bumper stickers and T-shirts. She also was featured in two anti-bullying shows on the statewide educational television station, started a "Kids for Kindness" Facebook page, and spoke about the issue at a college conference.
"The beauty of this work is that it isn't about me," Morgan said. "It is about my story, and that story has kept the conversation alive and is bringing people together."
The Prudential Spirit of Community Awards is a nationwide youth volunteer recognition program sponsored by Prudential Financial in partnership with the National Association of Secondary School Principals.
"These honorees are shining examples of what is possible when young people use their energy and initiative to help their communities," said John Strangfeld, chairman and CEO of Prudential Financial, Inc. "We are proud to recognize their accomplishments, and look forward to seeing the great things they achieve in the future."
"Through their service, these students have not only made a difference in the lives of others – they've provided their peers with a powerful example of what it looks like to be an outstanding youth volunteer," said Barbara-Jane (BJ) Paris, president of NASSP. "Congratulations to each of the 2014 honorees for a job well done."
In addition to Kinsey and Morgan, these are the other 2014 National Honorees:
- Jessica Bird, 18, of Atherton, Calif., a senior at Sacred Heart Preparatory, is a dedicated advocate for young sex-trafficking victims around the world, and last year led a team to Costa Rica to provide girls at a safe house with the skills to build a life outside of prostitution.
- Lillian Diuble, 11, of Manchester, Mich., a sixth-grader at Manchester Middle School, leads a team that has raised more than $78,000 over the past four years for the Foundation Fighting Blindness, which is devoted to developing treatments and cures for eye diseases like the one affecting Lillian.
- Sean Egan, 18, of Staten Island, N.Y., a senior at Monsignor Farrell High School, founded an organization of more than 300 students who assist and thank veterans of the U.S. armed forces by sponsoring events, providing goods and services, and visiting military hospitals.
- Elijah Evans, 16, of Youngsville, La., a sophomore at Comeaux High School, works in his community to raise awareness of child abuse and improve the lives of foster children by promoting and hosting an annual Christmas party for children in foster care.
- Kaylee Graham, 14, of Florence, Ore., an eighth-grader at Siuslaw Middle School, initiated an annual citywide day of service in her town that has motivated more than 3,000 residents to work on community improvement projects, raise money for charity, donate food, and take part in other volunteer activities over the past three years.
- William Lourcey, 11, of Fort Worth, Texas, a volunteer ambassador with the Volunteer Center of North Texas and a fifth-grader at Trinity Valley School, is the founder and CEO of a service group that organizes fun events to raise money and awareness to fight hunger, and to encourage young people to get involved in their community.
- Katie Stagliano, 15, of Summerville, S.C., a freshman at Pinewood Preparatory School, established a nonprofit organization that has helped kids across the country create and maintain more than 60 vegetable gardens, which have yielded thousands of pounds of fresh produce to feed people in need.
- Michael Stolzenberg, 14, of Weston, Fla., an eighth-grader at Pine Crest School, has raised more than $225,000 to help rebuild the lives of people who lost limbs when terrorists detonated two bombs during the 2013 Boston Marathon.
The distinguished selection committee that chose the National Honorees was chaired by Strangfeld and included Paris of NASSP; Tracy Hoover, president of Points of Light; Jennifer Sirangelo, president and CEO of the National 4-H Council; Andrea Bastiani Archibald, chief girl expert for Girl Scouts of the USA; James E. Starr, vice president for volunteer management for the American Red Cross; Robert Bisi, senior marketing specialist for the Corporation for National and Community Service; Dru Tomlin, director of middle level services for the Association for Middle Level Education; André Wesson, senior program associate for strategic communications, outreach and development for Achieve; Reneé Jackson, senior manager of education programs at the National PTA; and two 2013 National Honorees: Emma Astrike-Davis of Durham, N.C., a senior at Cary Academy, and Joshua Williams of Miami Beach, Fla., an eighth-grader at Ransom Everglades School.
Youth volunteers in grades 5-12 were invited to apply for 2014 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 30,000 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 19 years, the program has honored more than 100,000 young volunteers at the local, state and national level.