National award seeks outstanding youth volunteers

Although volunteer hours have become a graduation requirement for most students, the philosophy behind it wasn’t to create yet another thing for teens to do. Philanthropic organizations throughout the world tout the benefits not only to the organizations but to the kids themselves.

Gaining new skills and knowledge, growing in maturity and discovering a hidden passion are often the result of helping others.

The Prudential Spirit of Community Awards wants to add to the benefits by honoring America’s top youth volunteers. Through Nov. 5, middle and high school students who make a difference can receive state and national recognition for those good deeds as well a chance to receive $1,000 as a state winner and $5,000 as a national winner.

In 2017, two Georgia state-level winners went on to become national winners as well.

The AJC recently caught up with Amal Bhatnagar, a graduate of Northview High School and Kelsey Norris, a ninth-grade special education student at Veterans High School in Warner Robins.

Bhatnagar, now a junior at University of California Berkely, has a dual major in data science and economics. While in high school he created a foundation, First Aid for All, that provides first-aid kits to people in the U.S. and overseas who lack access to basic health care.

Through volunteering at local hospitals, he saw patients whose innocuous bruises had progressed into infected lacerations because they did not have basic first-aid supplies. “I realized that a bandage, such a trivial health care supply, was so effective and yet so elusive for underserved, powerless populations,” he said.

His foundation has reached out to the needy in Greece and India as well as victims of Hurricanes Harvey and Irma.

The passion fostered through those initial contacts grew to a new desire to help in another way. He’s helping create a class that studies the intersection between data science and economics using real data and Python, a programming language. “We are building a free online, open-source interactive textbook,” he said. “There is a huge demand for this. We are currently teaching 30 undergraduate students at Berkeley with the focus on democratizing access to data science education.”

Winning the Prudential award exposed him to opportunities he may not have encountered otherwise.

“I was a judge the following year and met several influential people,” he said.

Kelsey began life in a Russian orphanage. “The doctors did not know if she would ever walk or talk,” said her mother, Carol Norris.

Diagnosed with intellectual disabilities, autism and Rubenstein-Taybi Syndrome, Kelsey stays busy with gymnastics, dance and swim team as well as logging over 3,500 documented community service hours.

After winning the national Prudential Spirit of Community Award, she went on to receive the 2018 International “Yes I Can!” Award.

In addition to winning several other awards for service to others, she has raised over $30,000 to help children in need and their families and has written grant proposals totaling over $25,000 to fund autism awareness outreach materials, school health clinic supplies, nutritious food and sports equipment for economically deprived children.

Both Amal and Kelsey encourage students to apply for the Prudential award.

Through a blog he writes for The Tiimes of India, Amal interviews CEOs, entrepreneurs and private equity owners about their experiences.

“At first, this was intimidating, as the people I was talking to were decades older than me. However, my passion for what I was doing helped me overcome any intimidation and nervousness,” he said, adding that volunteering is a good way to find self-confidence. “Age doesn’t matter as long as you’re passionate about what you’re doing.”

More details

Apply for the Prudential Spirit of Community award:

Learn more about Amal Bhatnagar

Learn more about Kelsey Norris