Kayleigh Lapre, 16, of Cumberland and Alyssa Grayson, 14, of Greene today were named Rhode Island's top two youth volunteers of 2015 by The Prudential Spirit of Community Awards, a nationwide program honoring young people for outstanding acts of volunteerism. Kayleigh was nominated by Cumberland School Department in Cumberland, and Alyssa was nominated by University of Rhode Island 4-H in Kingston. The Prudential Spirit of Community Awards, now in its 20th year, is conducted by Prudential Financial in partnership with the National Association of Secondary School Principals (NASSP).
“Shortly after seeing that movie, I saw a commercial on the aerial hunting of wolves, and people gassing mothers and pups right in their own dens. I wanted to tell everyone how terrible this was.”
Kayleigh, a junior at Cumberland High School, spearheads or participates in a wide variety of volunteer activities that benefit children in homeless shelters and low-income families, senior citizens, homeless animals and others. Kayleigh has been volunteering since she was very young. “What inspired me was my awareness early in life on how, as small as you feel, you have a voice, and you can make a difference,” she said. But she greatly expanded her activities after becoming extremely ill in the eighth grade and worrying that she hadn’t “left a mark or legacy yet.”
In 2013, Kayleigh collected more than 1,700 pairs of jeans from neighbors, schools and businesses, and donated them to kids in homeless shelters around the country. Jeans that were unwearable were made into dog toys and given to an animal shelter and dogs in foster homes. Kayleigh also has taken temporary care of homeless dogs and puppies and helped to find them homes. In addition, she has helped provide Christmas gifts to children in need, sung Christmas carols and made Valentine’s Day cards for residents of a retirement home, made 423 birthday cards for kids in homeless shelters, performed dances with her dance studio to benefit numerous charities, and volunteered at a Bible camp during the summer.
Alyssa, an eighth-grader at Rocky Hill School, is an enthusiastic wildlife advocate who gives presentations at schools, libraries, fairs, wildlife refuges and other venues about wolves and the importance of protecting them in the wild. When she was about 5 years old, Alyssa saw an animated film about a wolf-dog and “started to fall in love with wolves,” she said. “Shortly after seeing that movie, I saw a commercial on the aerial hunting of wolves, and people gassing mothers and pups right in their own dens. I wanted to tell everyone how terrible this was.”
In second grade, Alyssa started a wolf club at her school that almost every student soon joined, and began producing a hand-written monthly newsletter about wolves. Next, she joined a 4-H dog club and put together a presentation on wolves and coyotes, using a tri-fold display and a wolf stuffed animal as a prop. Since then, her presentation has grown to include a 40-minute slideshow, 7 tri-fold displays, skulls, furs, track molds and other exhibits, and she has delivered it to all kinds of groups – some as large as 300. Alyssa also has lobbied federal officials to maintain wolves’ status as an endangered species, and is now volunteering to help study coyote populations as well.
As State Honorees, Kayleigh and Alyssa each will receive $1,000, an engraved silver medallion and an all-expense-paid trip in early May to Washington, D.C., where they will join the top two honorees from each of the other states and the District of Columbia for four days of national recognition events. During the trip, 10 students will be named America’s top youth volunteers of 2015.
The program judges also recognized two other Rhode Island students as Distinguished Finalists for their impressive community service activities. Each will receive an engraved bronze medallion.
These are Rhode Island's Distinguished Finalists for 2015:
Sarah Coutu, 11, of Pawtucket, R.I., a fifth-grader at St. Cecilia's School, has raised $700 to benefit a local animal shelter by selling homemade jewelry and hair clips through an organization she founded called “Paws for Life.” Sarah, who is a passionate animal lover who supports animal adoption, also asked for and received donations instead of gifts for her 11th birthday.
Grace D'Antuono, 18, of North Kingstown, R.I., a senior at North Kingstown High School, has raised $1,380 for the American Cancer Society by baking and selling cupcakes at various events through an organization she calls “Cupcakes against Cancer.” Grace, an avid baker who also sells cupcakes for private parties, is also producing a cookbook that will combine recipes with stories of real people who have overcome cancer.
“Prudential is honored to celebrate the contributions of these remarkable young volunteers,” said Prudential Chairman and CEO John Strangfeld. “By shining a spotlight on the difference they’ve made in their communities, we hope others are inspired to volunteer, too.”
“These students have not only improved their communities through their exemplary volunteer service, but also set a fine example for their peers,” said JoAnn Bartoletti, executive director of NASSP. “Each of their stories is proof of the impact one young person can have when they decide to make a difference.”
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