California’s top youth volunteers of 2019 named by Prudential Spirit of Community Awards

Ethan Auyeung, 15, of Los Gatos and Hannah Karanick, 13, of Anaheim were named California’s top two youth volunteers of 2019 by The Prudential Spirit of Community Awards, a nationwide program honoring young people for outstanding acts of volunteerism. As State Honorees, Ethanand Hannah 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 2019.

The Prudential Spirit of Community Awards, now in its 24th year, is conducted by Prudential Financial in partnership with the National Association of Secondary School Principals (NASSP).

These are California’s top youth volunteers of 2019:

High School State Honoree: Ethan Auyeung

Nominated by Los Gatos High School

Ethan, a sophomore at Los Gatos High School, has provided more than 3,000 care packages for homeless and at-risk kids over the past few years, organized numerous activities for them, and worked to raise public awareness of the problem of youth homelessness. He vividly remembers the winter afternoon when he saw a boy emerge from a tent along a street. “I couldn’t help but notice that he was wearing worn-out clothes and his toes were poking from his tattered sneakers,” said Ethan. “His eyes were filled with hopelessness.” That disturbing image prompted Ethan to look into the issue of homelessness. “I was shocked to learn the magnitude of the problem among children and youth,” he said.

His reaction was to launch a multidimensional initiative aimed at ultimately ending the cycle of poverty and homelessness in his generation. He set about raising nearly $40,000 and recruiting 300 volunteers to assemble care packages containing hygiene and clothing items, school supplies and snacks. He then set up several pantries to distribute them. Ethan also has designed inspirational craft activities for at-risk kids, hosted an essay contest, taught more than 50 computer coding classes, published newsletters, and delivered dozens of speeches to motivate young people in need and educate his community about homelessness. “My mission is not simply to provide care packages, but also to be the voice of children and youth in underserved communities,” said Ethan.     

Middle Level State Honoree: Hannah Karanick

Nominated by Orangeview Junior High School

Hannah, an eighth-grader at Orangeview Junior High School, established a “closet” at her former elementary school that provides new clothing, laundry products, toiletries, quilts and school supplies to students there whose families can’t afford to buy such necessities. Her project was sparked by a boy at her school who never had a backpack and wore the same clothes every day. “He was funny and smart, but he was often teased for his hygiene and his clothes, and I saw his eyes fill up with tears many times,” said Hannah. When the boy and several other students ended up living with Hannah’s family as foster kids, “I watched their grades soar and their attitudes turn around,” she said.

Since her family couldn’t take every child in need into their home, Hannah had to find another way to help. After meeting with the principal of her old school and sending an opinion poll to its staff members, she decided to create a “closet” at the school where students could discreetly obtain basic necessities. She asked friends and family members to help her buy supplies, and then began obtaining items from the congregation of a local church. Nearly 50 children benefited from “Hannah’s Helpful Hands” closet in its first three months. “I am disappointed that I can’t help more kids at this point,” said Hannah, “but I am committed to expanding the program!”       

Distinguished Finalists

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

These are California’s Distinguished Finalists for 2019:

Hollis Belger, 14, of Larkspur, Calif., a freshman at Redwood High School, founded “Juggling For Jude” to raise funds for St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital, and in the past five years has donated more than $230,000, been named a U.S. Soccer “SheBelieves Hero,” and inspired countless people to help sick children. In addition, Hollis blogs, holds soccer clinics and gives speeches nationwide to seek donations and raise awareness about pediatric cancer and how St. Jude is making an impact.

Ashley Bussell, 17, of Ladera Ranch, Calif., a senior at Tesoro High School, turned her wish to offset medical travel expenses for a friend into the “Gas4Katie Cancer Foundation,” which has raised more than $75,000 to support families affected by pediatric cancer. Ashley built her initiative from a project that kept money in a pretzel jar to a foundation with an employee and an annual golf ball drop event with community partners.

Chloe Dahan, 17, of La Jolla, Calif., a senior at Torah High Schools of San Diego, created and manages “Shooting Stars,” a program that provides a creative outlet for children and adults with special needs to help them build confidence and nurture friendships. Each “Shooting Stars” event consists of dance, stage makeup, art, music and theater activities, and Chloe coordinates functions from programming to fundraising.

Jordan Krestul, 17, of Canyon Country, Calif., a senior at Canyon High School, is on a mission to donate new recreational books for elementary school children in low-income communities through “Code Read,” the nonprofit his sister founded to increase literacy and foster a lifetime love of reading. Through his leadership hosting fundraisers, recruiting volunteers, managing book supplies, hosting assemblies, and running book fairs, Jordan has provided roughly 5,000 children with free books.

Sebastian Kuhr, 17, of Hermosa Beach, Calif., a senior at Loyola High School, launched the skateboard fundraiser “SK8 for the Schools” when he was 5 years old, an initiative that has since generated more than $50,000 to save music, physical education and library programs at Hermosa Beach schools and raised awareness about concerns around public school funding. Sebastian also serves with Leadership Hermosa, collaborating with city council and others to improve the community.

Jason Lin, 16, of Los Altos, Calif., a sophomore at The Harker School, organized and emceed a benefit concert for the Tahirih Justice Center, raising $31,000 to help 300 asylum seekers escape gender-based violence and expanding awareness of the plight of these women and girls. Jason led an entirely student-based team of volunteers to produce the sold-out event, including a violinist from Juilliard and a communication team that produced a website, video and brochure.

Megan Loh, 16, of Placentia, Calif., a member of Girl Scouts of Orange County and a junior at Troy High School, formed the nonprofit “GEARup4Youth” to spark girls’ imaginations through fun, girls-only LEGO robotics programming classes held at more than 200 organizations in the U.S. and Malaysia; she also wrote the book Easy STEM Activities You Can Do at Home. With the help of 130 volunteers from 25 schools, she has raised $40,000 and reached 6,500 girls.

Katherine McPhie, 16, of Irvine, Calif., a junior at University High School, leveraged her project “OPEN SESAME: Coding for Kids” to provide more than 500 hours of programming instruction to children living in shelters, and raised nearly $25,000 to provide the children with Chromebooks and school supplies. She and her partner have exhibited their work at the annual meeting of the National Center for the Education of Homeless Children and Youth.

Avika Patel, 16, of Irvine, Calif., a junior at Woodbridge High School, founded the student-run nonprofit initiative “#innovate,” hosting workshops and outreach activities to help underserved students learn computer science skills and solve civic problems. She has taught 1,500 hours to 600 girls, in addition to publishing two books, creating a curriculum for schools in India, running an online student newsletter and speaking at conferences.

“These young volunteers learned and demonstrated that they can make meaningful contributions to individuals and communities through their service,” said Prudential CEO Charles Lowrey. “It’s an honor to recognize their great work, and we hope that shining a spotlight on their service inspires others to consider how they might make a difference.”

“Each of these honorees is proof that students have the energy, creativity and unique perspectives to create positive change,” said JoAnn Bartoletti, executive director of NASSP. “We commend each of the 2019 honorees for their outstanding volunteer service, and for the invaluable example they’ve set for their peers.” 

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 affiliates of Points of Light’s HandsOn Network, 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 6, 10 of the State Honorees – five middle level and five high school students – will be named America’s top youth volunteers of 2019. These National Honorees will receive additional $5,000 awards, gold medallions, crystal trophies and $5,000 grants from The Prudential Foundation for nonprofit charitable organizations of their choice.  

Since the program began in 1995, more than 125,000 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 or


The National Association of Secondary School Principals (NASSP) is the leading organization of and voice for principals and other school leaders across the United States. NASSP seeks to transform education through school leadership, recognizing that the fulfillment of each student’s potential relies on great leaders in every school committed to the success of each student. Reflecting its long-standing commitment to student leadership development, NASSP administers the National Honor Society, National Junior Honor Society, National Elementary Honor Society, and National Student Council. Learn more at

About Prudential Financial

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This article was released by Prudential Financial.