Cash Daniels, 11, of Chattanooga, was named one of America’s top 10 youth volunteers of 2021 on Sunday evening by The Prudential Spirit of Community Awards during the program’s 26th annual, and second fully virtual, national recognition celebration. Selected from a field of more than 21,000 youth volunteers from across the country, Cash has earned the title of National Honoree, along with a scholarship 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 organization of his choice.
The Prudential Spirit of Community Awards, sponsored by Prudential Financial in partnership with the National Association of Secondary School Principals, honors students in grades 5-12 for making meaningful contributions to their communities through volunteer service.
Cash, a fifth-grader at Homelife Academy, has organized cleanup outings that have removed more than 11,000 pounds of trash from the Tennessee River, recycled over 1,000 pounds of aluminum cans to raise money for river conservation, and installed fishing-line recycling receptacles along the river.
Since he was very young, Cash has been fascinated by the marine life in his local river. “I heard a lot of people talking about cleaning the ocean, but I didn’t know our American rivers were so bad,” said Cash. “I knew I had to make a difference and save the Tennessee River.”
He talked his parents into picking up trash along the river with him one day, but there was so much that Cash began planning additional cleanups. He appealed for volunteers by contacting local news media and creating an Instagram page. He then secured a donation of buckets and gloves from a hardwood store so his volunteers – typically 20 to 25 for each cleanup event – didn’t need to use plastic bags that would end up in landfills.
Cash also runs a recycling program with local businesses to keep aluminum cans out of landfills and support river conservation, and is working with state agencies to place monofilament receptacles along the river so discarded fishing line doesn’t end up entangling fish.
In addition, Cash wrote a children’s book about river pollution, which he has read to kids at various schools to “share how important our planet is,” he said.
“After 26 years of honoring young volunteers, we know that students across America do great things in service to their communities, and we’re especially inspired by this year’s honorees for doing so in the face of unprecedented challenges,” said Charles Lowrey, Prudential’s chairman and CEO. “Prudential is proud to shine a spotlight on these remarkable young people and their stories of service.”
“These young volunteers are great examples of the resilience and commitment to social progress that so many students demonstrated over the past year,” said Ronn Nozoe, chief executive officer, NASSP. “NASSP congratulates these students on a well-deserved honor, and thanks them for providing us all with role models for turning adversity into action.”
These are the other National Honorees:
Katie Chai, 18, of Charlotte, N.C., who helped start a grassroots effort to address the shortage of personal protective equipment in her city by using 3D printers and laser cutters to make more than 100,000 face shields, which were ultimately distributed to health care workers across North Carolina and in 12 other states.
Michael Chen, 13, of Raleigh, N.C., who has made more than 580 mask “buckles” with his 3D printer to lessen the discomfort that wearing face masks for extended periods can cause behind the ears.
Ruby Kate Chitsey, 13, of Harrison, Ar., who has raised more than $300,000 to grant wishes for over 8,000 nursing home residents across the country who cannot afford day-to-day expenses such as pet food, haircuts or clothes that fit properly.
Orion Jean, 10, of Fort Worth, Texas, who has collected more than 600 toys for kids at a children’s hospital, and provided more than 40,000 meals for people in need, after winning a national speech contest in which he encouraged people to “Race to Kindness.”
Thomas Kim, 17, of McLean, Va., who has piloted more than 20 flights to deliver over 70,000 personal protective equipment items and ventilator supplies to rural hospitals in four states since the COVID-19 pandemic began.
Suraj Kulkarni, 18, of Corvallis, Or., who created a website where young people of diverse backgrounds can share their experiences, perspectives and culture with one another, along with online conferences that have involved young people from more than 13 countries.
Gitanjali Rao, 15, of Lone Tree, Co., who has reached more than 30,000 students around the world, encouraging younger generations to think creatively about confronting the world’s big challenges by leading online workshops where she shares the unique problem-solving methodology she created.
Samantha Vance, 12, of Fort Wayne, In., who launched an initiative to provide “buddy benches” for shy, lonely or bullied kids at more than 150 schools across the country.
Ellie Zimmerman, 18, of Purchase, N.Y., who is the founder and CEO of an organization that has recruited thousands of high school students across the country to provide technology assistance to more than 180 nonprofit organizations, as well as to teachers, parents and students struggling with remote learning.
National Honorees were announced Sunday, culminating a three-day weekend of events celebrating Spirit of Community’s 102 State Honorees – the top middle level and high school volunteer of 2021 from each state and the District of Columbia. In addition to remarks from guest speaker Priyanka Chopra Jonas, the State Honorees connected with each other through small-group project-sharing sessions and learned about service and advocacy from accomplished Spirit of Community alumni. They were also congratulated by special guests including Mr. Lowrey from Prudential and Mr. Nozoe from NASSP.
To read the names and stories of this year’s State Honorees, visit http://spirit.prudential.com.