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New York’s Top Youth Volunteers of 2020 Named by Prudential Spirit of Community Awards

Kunal Mohindra, 16, of Yorktown Heights and Victoria Holmes, 13, of Corning today were named New York’s top two youth volunteers of 2020 by The Prudential Spirit of Community Awards, a nationwide program honoring young people for outstanding acts of volunteerism. As State Honorees, Kunal and Victoria 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 2020.

The Prudential Spirit of Community Awards, now in its 25th year, is conducted by Prudential Financial in partnership with the National Association of Secondary School Principals (NASSP).

These are New York’s top youth volunteers of 2020:


High School State Honoree: Kunal Mohindra

Nominated by Yorktown High School

Kunal, a junior at Yorktown High School, has drawn from his own experience with autism to become an accomplished teacher and mentor who helps children with autism and other young people acquire computer coding and robotics skills. As a child, Kunal’s autism made it very difficult for him to communicate with his family. But one day his older sisters taught him how to use computer programming to create games, and his whole world changed. “I found this new mode of communication to be very liberating and empowering,” he said. Having an outlet for self-expression and creativity eventually enabled him to overcome many of his challenges, and instilled a desire “to share my love of coding with other students with disabilities who may be facing similar struggles,” he said. 

Two years ago, Kunal founded a nonprofit called “CodeConnect4All” to teach coding and robotics to kids with autism and other disabilities, and connect them to their neurotypical peers. Through his organization, Kunal teaches classes in robotics and video game design at local libraries, and conducts interactive workshops at after-school enrichment programs. He also teaches kids with autism and students from underserved communities at week-long summer camps, giving them hands-on experience in building their own robots and writing code for their own video games. As an Eagle Scout, Kunal helps fellow scouts earn badges in robotics, programming and engineering. He also works with Girl Scouts in hopes of kindling their interest in computer science. In addition, Kunal mentors middle level students as they prepare for science fairs, and even sponsored an award at the Dutchess County Science Fair.

Middle Level State Honoree: Victoria Holmes

Nominated by The Alternative School for Math & Science

Victoria, an eighth-grader at The Alternative School for Math & Science, began making fleece blankets for families dealing with serious illness after remembering what it was like when her mother had to spend months in the hospital being treated for leukemia. During that time, Victoria and her siblings had to stay with relatives hundreds of miles away. “One night I was very upset,” she recalled. “I really missed mom.” Her aunt wrapped her up in a blanket to comfort her, and the memory of that night stayed with her. “The blanket represented the love of my family,” said Victoria. Years later, she decided she wanted to give others in similar situations the same kind of comfort by making blankets for them.

Last summer, Victoria performed chores and small jobs to raise money for her project. She also asked friends and family members for help. By the end of the summer, she had enough money to buy $500 worth of fleece. A generous donation and discounts from a fabric store enabled her to buy three times as much as she expected. She then appealed to her church congregation for donations, and asked friends to talk about her project on social media. A friend from school helped Victoria measure and cut material for her blankets, and contacts in two other states are also helping to produce them. Victoria’s intent is to provide two blankets per family, one for a child and one for the parents, so “they can snuggle the same blanket while they are apart,” she said.   

Distinguished Finalists

The program judges also recognized eight other New York students as Distinguished Finalists for their impressive community service activities. Each will receive an engraved bronze medallion.

These are New York’s Distinguished Finalists for 2020:

Gillian Duffalo, 17, of Scarsdale, New York, a senior at Edgemont Junior-Senior High School, runs “Nutrition 101: Live to 101,” a project through which she has taught more than 30 boys from the Children’s Village about wellness and healthy eating through regular cooking classes. Gillian also completed a project about emergency preparedness, helping spread safety awareness and teaching people in her community how to make first aid kits, go bags and car kits.

Eliza Fogel, 16, of Rye, New York, a junior at Rye Country Day School, is helping improve childhood literacy with her project “Our Books Your Books,” through which she has held more than 10 free book fairs at community centers serving people in need; her efforts include spreading awareness of her project, collaborating with community partners, sorting donations and hosting the fairs. Eliza, who is passionate about reading, has collected and redistributed more than 4,000 books.

Viraj Jayam, 16, of Roslyn Heights, New York, a junior at The Wheatley School, founded “Helping Hands Long Island,” through which he uses 3-D printing to create tailored prosthetics for people in need; he learned how to operate the technology and partnered with another prosthetics charity organization to provide prosthetics to people in India, Nepal and Mexico. Viraj was inspired to start this project after his childhood friend from India lost an arm in a factory accident.

Michael Keschner, 15, of Lloyd Harbor, New York, a sophomore at Cold Spring Harbor Junior/Senior High School, founded and runs “Veggies For Veterans,” through which he has provided more than 4,000 pounds of fresh produce to veterans in his community by harvesting his own vegetables and soliciting donations from local grocery stores. Michael was inspired to start this project after learning about the lack of produce available at his local food banks.

Anna Lampman, 13, of Middle Village, New York, an eighth-grader at Sacred Heart Catholic Academy of Glendale, runs “Bedtime Bags,” through which she has donated 200 drawstring backpacks to children in need, each filled with a blanket, stuffed animal, toothbrush, toothpaste and a book. Her efforts include promoting her project at her school and community churches, collecting and sorting donations and delivering the bags to two charity organizations.

Kayla Minutillo, 17, of Manhasset, New York, a senior at Manhasset Secondary School, co-founded “PINK,” a project through which she and a friend sell handmade bracelets, hair accessories and a cookbook to benefit the Manhasset Women’s Coalition Against Breast Cancer; they have raised more than $60,000 so far. Kayla also partnered with a local company that employs young adults with autism to design and sell T-shirts and pajama pants to benefit the PINK cause.

Jahin Rahman, 16, of New York City, New York, a junior at Academy of American Studies, founded “Efforts in Youth Development of Bangladesh (EYDB),” an organization run by students in New York City and Dhaka, Bangladesh; her group has built a library and computer lab, established a literary program, and donated clothing to benefit children from underserved communities in Bangladesh. Through EYBD, Jahin is currently working to establish a drug rehabilitation center in the Dhaka area.

Abigail Wu, 14, of Syosset, New York, a freshman at Syosset High School, founded “Vision Competition,” through which she held two student music competitions in her community, raising more than $10,000 to benefit the music therapy program at the NYU Winthrop Cancer Center for Kids. Abigail’s efforts for her project included securing a venue, recruiting volunteers, holding auditions and creating posters to advertise her competition.

“In our 25th year of honoring young volunteers, we are as inspired as ever by the work students are doing to address the needs of a changing world,” said Charles Lowrey, chairman and CEO of Prudential Financial, Inc. “We hope that their resolve, their initiative and their perspectives on society’s challenges move others to consider how they can make a difference, too.”

“Middle level and high school students are doing remarkable things to shape the future of their communities through volunteer service. They inspire all students and schools to drive learning with real-world challenges,” said JoAnn Bartoletti, executive director of NASSP. “Congratulations to each of the 2020 honorees – it’s an honor to celebrate your commitment to creating positive change.”

About The Prudential Spirit of Community Awards

The Prudential Spirit of Community Awards represents the United States’ largest youth recognition program based solely on volunteer service. All public and private middle level and high schools in the country, as well as all Girl Scout councils, county 4-H organizations, American Red Cross chapters, YMCAs and Points of Light Global Network members, were eligible to select a student or member for a local Prudential Spirit of Community Award. These Local Honorees were then reviewed by an independent judging panel, which selected State Honorees and Distinguished Finalists based on criteria including personal initiative, effort, impact and personal growth. 

While in Washington, D.C., the 102 State Honorees – one middle level and one high school student from each state and the District of Columbia – will tour the capital’s landmarks, meet top youth volunteers from other parts of the world, attend a gala awards ceremony at the Smithsonian’s National Museum of Natural History, and visit their congressional representatives on Capitol Hill. On May 4, 10 of the State Honorees – five middle level and five high school students – will be named America’s top youth volunteers of 2020. These National Honorees will receive additional $5,000 scholarships, gold medallions, crystal trophies and $5,000 grants from Prudential for nonprofit charitable organizations of their choice.  

Since the program began in 1995, more than 130,000 young volunteers have been honored at the local, state and national level. The program also is conducted by Prudential subsidiaries in Japan, South Korea, Taiwan, Ireland, India, China and Brazil. In addition to granting its own awards, The Prudential Spirit of Community Awards program also distributes President’s Volunteer Service Awards to qualifying Local Honorees.

For information on all of this year’s Prudential Spirit of Community State Honorees and Distinguished Finalists, visit http://spirit.prudential.com or www.nassp.org/spirit.

About the Author

New York Trend is a weekly news publication that focuses on issues and lifestyles of the African & Caribbean American communities throughout the New York metropolitan area and Nassau and Suffolk Counties of Long Island. It is a respected and well recognized news publication that has been in existence since 1989. Owner, Publisher and Executive Director, Dr. Teresa Taylor Williams has been at the helm of this award-winning publication since its inception. New York Trend continues to be the only black woman-owned, metropolitan newspaper in New York and Long island. New York Trend is the largest black-owned newspaper throughout Nassau and Suffolk counties.

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