WASHINGTON — Two Maine students, Ian Pelletier, 18, of Deer Isle and Charlotte Eisenberg, 13, of Peaks Island, were honored in the nation’s capital this week for their outstanding volunteer work during the presentation of the 2011 Prudential Spirit of Community Awards.
Pelletier and Eisenberg — along with 100 other top youth volunteers from across the country — received $1,000 awards as well as congratulations from Academy Award-winning actress Susan Sarandon at the 16th annual award ceremony and gala dinner reception, held Sunday night at the Smithsonian’s National Museum of Natural History.
Pelletier and Eisenberg were named respectively the top high school and middle level youth volunteers in Maine last February. In addition to their cash awards, they received engraved silver medallions and an all-expense-paid trip with their parents to Washington, D.C., for this week’s recognition events.
“The Prudential Spirit of Community honorees have seen problems in their communities and around the world and have taken action,” said Sarandon. “Their compassion to help others should give us all a lot of hope for the future.”
Pelletier, a senior at Deer Isle-Stonington High School, raised $30,000 to construct a storage building for a local elementary school and performing arts center. When Deer Isle-Stonington Elementary School and Reach Performing Arts Center were built in 2000, “there was little thought or funds put into storage,” he said. “The maintenance department had to store equipment like ladders, snowblowers and tools in a dilapidated shed.” In addition, the sets and props for the arts center were kept in community members’ garages and barns, making access difficult.
After getting approval from the school, arts center and city officials, Pelletier recruited an architect to
design plans for a 24-foot-by-36-foot, two-story building. He then solicited bids from local contractors and building suppliers and began to raise funds. He sent a letter to more than 1,000 potential contributors, attracted attention from a local newspaper, and displayed a model of his proposed building at arts center performances. After donations started coming in, Pelletier recruited volunteers and hired contractors.
Nineteen months after he had started, with the help of 345 donors and 70 volunteers, Pelletier’s building was finished.
“One of the most memorable parts of this project was looking out of the upstairs window and realizing that this building was standing because of the work I had initiated,” said Ian. “The building felt so strong and sturdy, I knew it would still be standing after I die.”
Eisenberg, an eighth-grader at King Middle School in Portland, helped create and now leads an environmental club at her school that encourages composting and “green” living. Involved in her community since she was a little girl, Eisenberg has given tours at a Civil War history museum, collected hats and mittens for a family shelter, and worked as a phone canvasser for a presidential campaign. But it was while working last year on a school project with friends dealing with the harmful effects of styrofoam that she decided to focus her efforts on the environment.
“We were outraged at the statistics we were finding,” she said. “When I read things like styrofoam takes 1 million years to decompose or plastic water bottles are made with chemicals that cause cancer, it motivates me to take action.”
Eisenberg and her friends formed the “Green Team,” whose first project was to secure a grant to purchase compost bins for their school’s classrooms. Now, students can put snack waste such as banana peels and apple cores into the bins, which are filled with worms. The team placed larger bins outside the cafeteria, and every day a club member empties cafeteria waste into them. The compost is used to enrich the soil in the school’s organic garden, which is weeded by club members. To promote other healthy environmental habits, Green Team members used recycled paper to make bookmarks and posters with facts about global warming, and made presentations to sixth-grade classrooms. The group is also working on a video to help classmates understand the importance of composting.
“Ian and Charlotte represent young Americans who have a strong sense of community and who are dedicated to improving our neighborhoods, our nation and our world,” said John R. Strangfeld, chairman and CEO of Prudential Financial Inc. “With great anticipation, we look forward to their future achievements as they continue to spread the spirit of community.”
More than 29,000 young people participated in the 2011 awards program last fall through schools, Girl Scout councils, county 4-H organizations, American Red Cross chapters, YMCAs and affiliates of the Points of Light Institute’s HandsOn Network.
The top middle level and high school applicants in each state were selected in February, and were flown to Washington this week with their parents for four days of special recognition events.
Conducted in partnership with the National Association of Secondary School Principals, the Prudential Spirit of Community Awards were created 16 years ago by Prudential Financial to encourage youth volunteerism and to identify and reward young role models.
For more information, visit online: http://spirit.prudential.com or www.nassp.org/spirit.