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winners of the 2009 prudential spirit of community award America's Top-Ten Youth Volunteers for 2009. Top from left: Jeremy Bui, Brittany Bergquist, Colin Leslie, Morgan Mariner, Melissa Monette. Bottom from left: Shelby Romero, Shardy Camargo, Sean Nathan, Beatrice Thaman, Amanda LaMunyon. (Mark Regan)

Middle School Students Make a Difference

America's Top-Ten Youth Volunteers for 2009 Honored

By Laura Leigh Davidson | May 13 , 2009

Thirteen-year-old Sean Nathan throws a big birthday party every month.

But the Louisiana eighth-grader isn't celebrating the day he was born over and over again. Sean puts together parties for homeless kids who are staying in a shelter in his hometown of Shreveport.

Sean received the Prudential Spirit of Community Award last week for his volunteer service. As one of America's Top-Ten Youth Volunteers for 2009, he was invited to Washington, D.C., to receive his reward.

Sean and the nine other top youth volunteers were honored at a reception inside the Smithsonian's National Museum of Natural History.

The 10 national honorees each received $5,000, engraved gold medallions, crystal trophies for the schools or organizations that nominated them, and $5,000 grants from The Prudential Foundation to benefit the charities of their choice.

Sean has been hosting birthday parties once a month for the last two years at the Providence House Shelter. He got the idea while he and his brother, Neil, were singing Christmas carols at the Providence House shelter.

"Afterward, one of the kids told us that he never got to celebrate his birthday," said Sean. "I was just astonished because I thought all kids had birthday [parties]."

Sean's idea bloomed into the monthly "Providence House Birthday Bash."

The birthday bash has all of the stuff you would expect at a party: pizza, cake, games, music, and presents for the kids celebrating birthdays that month.

Sean convinced a few local pizza parlors to provide free or discounted pizzas for the parties. But Sean and his brother pay for most of the party supplies themselves. The brothers earn money by giving musical performances at events around Shreveport.

Providence House children's coordinator Louise Droddy says party days have a big impact on the families at the shelter.

 "That day they're not homeless," Droddy told The Shreveport Times. "[Each is] simply a child whose birthday is being celebrated."

Sean was among five middle school students and five high school students who were recognized as national honorees for their service. Here's a little about what the other four middle school students do to help their communities.

Eighth-grader Amanda LaMunyon of Enid, Oklahoma, supports a number of charities with her singing and artwork. Amanda also draws on her experience with autism to educate others about the disorder. Amanda was diagnosed with Asperger's syndrome, a form of autism, when she was 8.

Thirteen-year-old Morgan Mariner was honored for her statewide antibullying campaign. She travels to school districts throughout Wyoming to deliver her message that "it's cool to be kind." She used her own money to buy and distribute silicone wristbands with the slogan "Kind Kids Rock."

Shelby Romero of Hutto, Texas, raised nearly $400,000 over the past three years for a horseback-riding therapy center for disabled children. The 12-year-old's fund-raising generated enough money for a covered horseback-riding arena to be built and to provide scholarships to children in families that cannot afford therapy.
 
Twelve-year-old Beatrice Thaman started a donation and fund-raising drive to provide vitamin tablets to poor children in the Central American country of Guatemala. When her family adopted Beatrice's younger sister from Guatemala, Beatrice learned about the country and its poverty. After doing some research on malnutrition, Beatrice decided that providing vitamins would be the best thing she could do. Over the last three years, her efforts have provided a year's supply of vitamins to more than 500 children.

This the 14th year for the Prudential Spirit of Community Awards. The program was created to encourage youth volunteerism and reward young role models.

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