Georgia’s top two youth volunteers of 2019, Anish Bikmal, 18, of Cumming and Seth De La Pena, 13, of Alpharetta, were honored in the nation’s capital last night for their outstanding volunteer service during the 24th annual presentation of The Prudential Spirit of Community Awards.
Anish and Seth – along with 100 other top youth volunteers from across the country – received a $1,000 award and personal congratulations from award-winning actress Viola Davis at an award ceremony and gala dinner reception held at the Smithsonian’s National Museum ofNatural History.
The Prudential Spirit of Community Awards program, sponsored by Prudential Financial in partnership with the National Association of Secondary School Principals, named Anish and Seth Georgia’s top high school and middle level youth volunteers in February.
In addition to their cash awards, they each received an engraved silver medallion and an all-expense-paid trip with a parent to Washington, D.C., for four days of recognition events.
Anish, a senior at South Forsyth High School, co-founded a nonprofit organization that operates a tutoring academy for local students and uses the proceeds to benefit charities in India serving subsistence farmers, hungry children and people with cataracts.
On a visit to India several years ago, Anish had the chance to meet farmers near Mumbai who work 70 hours a week but use agricultural techniques that can damage soil quality and produce harvests too meager to adequately support their families, he said. “I wanted to help, but how?” he wondered, and then concluded: “Although I can’t educate the farmers directly, I can educate students in my local community and then, using the profits from tutoring, I can educate farmers indirectly.”
Anish and his older brother recruited other high school students to join them in providing academic assistance in a variety of subjects to kids in grades 3-12 through weekly classes, summer camps, motivational talks, college counseling and mentoring relationships.
Since then, three branches of their “Motivate and Inspire” academy have taken root, and more than $50,000 has been donated to philanthropic organizations in India to educate and provide tools to 104 farmers, serve approximately 30,000 meals to children in need, and pay for 44 cataract surgeries. As the current president, Anish delegates tasks to the academy’s tutors, organizes events, manages advertising and finances, and conducts four classes a week himself.
“I would tell other young people that the best way to show your appreciation for the resources you have is to share it with others,” he said. “The only way we can improve as a society is by working together.”
Seth, an eighth-grader at Fulton Science Academy, started a service group that provides clothing and school supplies to students in need at an elementary school in an area of the Philippines affected by a volcanic eruption early last year.
Seth’s parents immigrated to the United States from that country and took him to visit when he was younger.
“I came back home with a heavy heart thinking of the unfortunate kids my age,” said Seth. “My parents’ constant reminders not to waste food and be grateful for what I have convinced me to spend my time not on games or otherwise pointless tasks, but instead on running an organization that would provide for the misfortunate.”
Seth recruited other students at his school to help him begin an information and fundraising campaign in support of students at Tinago Elementary School in Albay, Philippines.
The effort got off to a slow start, but after the Mayon volcano erupted and displaced many nearby residents, Seth’s group collected approximately $1,000 and many boxes of clothing, and then delivered school supplies and clothing to young students at the elementary school.
“The smiles on their faces after seeing their new items and the pure innocence of their lives were heartwarming,” he said.
“We’re impressed and inspired by the way these honorees have identified problems facing their communities and stepped up to the challenge to make a difference,” said Charles Lowrey, chairman and CEO of Prudential Financial, Inc. “It’s a privilege to celebrate their leadership and compassion, and we look forward to seeing the great things they accomplish in the future.”
“These students have not only done important work in support of people in need – they’ve also shown their peers that young people can, and do, create meaningful change,” said Christine Handy, president of NASSP. “We commend each of these young volunteers for all they’ve contributed to their communities.”
Youth volunteers in grades 5 through 12 were invited to apply for 2019 Prudential Spirit of Community Awards last fall through schools, Girl Scout councils, county 4-H organizations, American Red Cross chapters, YMCAs and affiliates of Points of Light’s HandsOn Network. More than 29,000 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 24 years, the program hashonored more than 125,000 young volunteers at the local, state and national level.