WASHINGTON, D.C. — Connor Archer, an Old Town High School senior from Stillwater, was named one of America’s top 10 youth volunteers of 2016 on Monday by The Prudential Spirit of Community Awards during the program’s 21st annual national award ceremony at the Andrew W. Mellon Auditorium.
Selected from a field of more than 29,000 youth volunteers from across the country, Archer, 18, has earned the title of National Honoree, along with a personal award of $5,000, an engraved gold medallion, a crystal trophy for his school and a $5,000 grant from The Prudential Foundation for a nonprofit charitable organization of his choice.
Archer has worked to educate the public about autism and the challenges faced by people with autism, such as himself, and he has raised more than $12,000 for organizations that help people with special needs.
The son of Mike and Jessica Archer was diagnosed with autism at age 3. He is involved in numerous activities at Old Town High School, including the Coyotes’ cross-country and indoor and outdoor track teams.
Luckily, he said, his parents were tireless advocates for him and searched until they found a preschool — the Green House Nursery School in Milford — that could help him develop his full potential.
As he grew older, he wanted to give back to the school that helped him so much, so he created “sensory learning gardens” for the children there.
In 2014, Archer decided he wanted to do more for kids with special needs and founded “The Courageous Steps Project.” The project’s initial event was a walk-run fundraiser to benefit local schools that help children with special needs. The first one raised nearly $4,000, and a second one brought in more than $6,000.
Other fundraising activities, such as a benefit dinner at a local restaurant, have pushed his total to more than $12,000, with much of that money donated to benefit organizations that have played a key role in Archer’s own development as well as other groups that work with children with autism.
The Courageous Steps Project also has awarded scholarships to three graduating seniors who have overcome their own challenges, purchased iPads and a sound system for his former preschool and conducted two drives to collect supplies for area schools.
“Strong communities begin with individuals who have the support to take their own courageous steps,” he said.
Archer plans to attend Husson University in Bangor this fall.
Also honored in Washington was Benjamin Levesque, 14, of Lyman, who with Archer were named Maine’s top youth volunteers in February.
Levesque, an eighth-grader at Massabesic Junior High School, has been involved for the past three years in a variety of community service projects in his community through the Boy Scouts and his school.
The Prudential Spirit of Community Awards is a national youth recognition program sponsored by Prudential Financial in partnership with the National Association of Secondary School Principals.