Rydell receives honor at gala DC reception Two South Dakota students, Michelle Rydell, 17, of Vermillion and Molly Stehly, 13, of Sioux Falls, were honored in the nation's capital May 1 for their outstanding volunteer work during the presentation of The 2005 Prudential Spirit of Community Awards.
The two young people � along with over 100 other top youth volunteers from across the country � received $1,000 awards as well as personal congratulations from General Colin L. Powell, USA (Ret.), U.S. Secretary of State (2001-2004), at the 10th annual award ceremony and gala dinner reception, held at the Smithsonian Museum of Natural History.
Rydell and Stehly were named the top high school and middle level youth volunteers in South Dakota last February. In addition to their cash awards, they received engraved silver medallions and an all-expense-paid trip to Washington, DC, for this week's recognition events.
Conducted in partnership with the National Association of Secondary School Principals (NASSP), the Prudential Spirit of Community Awards were created 10 years ago by Prudential Financial, Inc. to encourage youth volunteerism and to identify and reward young role models. Since then, the program has honored more than 60,000 young volunteers at the local, state and national level.
"Michelle and Molly are inspiring examples of young Americans who care deeply about the needs of others and who have taken the initiative to help meet those needs," said Arthur F. Ryan, Chairman and CEO of Prudential Financial, Inc. "We are proud to give them the recognition they so richly deserve, and hope that their outstanding volunteer work will inspire other young people to become actively involved in their own communities."
Rydell, a senior at Vermillion High School, created the "Dream Team" at her school, a club dedicated to providing essential goods to impoverished people in Guatemala, and raising awareness of the poverty that exists in that Central American nation. "As I became older and more aware of the poverty crisis around the world, I felt a calling to help," said Rydell. She began by volunteering with "Sharing the Dream," an organization that sells Guatemalan crafts, but she soon realized that she could do much more.
With the help of her Spanish teacher, Rydell formed the Dream Team and recruited more than 30 fellow students to be "team" members. As president, she organized and led meetings, spoke at school assemblies, promoted the club to schools and teachers in other districts, and coordinated the club's projects. For its first project, Michelle's club collected thousands of school supplies and raised funds to purchase 200 Spanish-language schoolbooks for newly built schools in Guatemala. "The Dream Team will also be holding clothing and shoe drives during the winter months, and a toy drive before Christmas," said Rydell.
Stehly, a seventh-grader at Memorial Middle School in Sioux Falls, volunteered at a summer school program for special-education students.
General Powell, who spoke to the honorees in a keynote address Sunday night, praised their commitment and initiative. "These young people embody the leadership skills that will help make a better community, a better nation, and a better world," he said. "They are the leaders of tomorrow and collectively, they are setting the course of our global future. I thank and congratulate them for their outstanding work."
More than 20,000 youth volunteers submitted applications to the 2005 awards program last fall through schools, Girl Scout councils, county 4-H organizations, American Red Cross chapters, YMCAs, Camp Fire USA councils and Volunteer Centers affiliated with the Points of Light Foundation. The top middle level and high school applicants in each state, plus Puerto Rico and the District of Columbia, were announced in February. These 104 State Honorees traveled to Washington this week with their parents for four days of special recognition events.