Actress Hilary Swank honors Idaho students

Posted at 1:24 PM, May 02, 2016
and last updated 2016-05-02 15:43:44-04

Idaho's top two youth volunteers of 2016 -- Harlie Sorrell, 18, of Parma and Tracen Mangum, 14, of Blackfoot -- were honored in the nation’s capital Sunday night for their outstanding volunteer service during the 21st annual presentation of The Prudential Spirit of Community Awards. Harlie and Tracen, along with 100 other top youth volunteers from across the country, each received $1,000 awards and personal congratulations from Academy Award-winning actress Hilary Swank.

The award ceremony and gala dinner reception was held at the Smithsonian’s National Museum of Natural History.

The Prudential Spirit of Community Awards program, sponsored by Prudential Financial in partnership with the National Association of Secondary School Principals (NASSP), named Harlie and Tracen Idaho's top high school and middle-level youth volunteers in February. In addition to their cash awards, they each received an engraved silver medallion and an all-expense-paid trip with a parent to Washington, D.C., for four days of recognition events.

Harlie, a senior at Parma High School, has filled hundreds of shoe boxes with gloves, hats, socks, toiletries and other items each Christmas for the past nine years and delivered them to people in need. When she was 9, Harlie helped fill a shoe box at her church with items a needy child would need in winter. “I was amazed at how good it felt to help and wanted to do more,” she said. The following Christmas, Harlie used her birthday gift money to fill her own boxes, and shipped 28 of them to a mission in Montana. After receiving a photo of a smiling little boy holding one of her boxes, Harlie repeated her project for the next two years.

Harlie then decided to distribute Christmas boxes to the needy in her own community. She started speaking at area churches every Sunday from October to December to raise shopping money, asked Boise State University’s athletic program for empty shoe boxes, and spent Saturdays filling and wrapping the boxes. The first year she distributed 350 boxes; by Christmas 2014, she was delivering 600 boxes to individuals, local shelters, community centers and a holiday dinner for homeless men. “I have seen so much need it is sometimes overwhelming,” she said. “So many homeless and needy people out there!”

Tracen, an eighth-grader at Snake River Junior High School, co-founded a youth volunteer group with his brother that has collected more than 800 winter-wear items for people in need. It all began when Tracen and his brother started volunteering at the local animal shelter where they’d adopted their dog, and later held a community pet food drive that ended up delivering more the 3,000 pounds of pet food and supplies to two local animal-welfare organizations and to families who could not afford to feed their pets. After Tracen and his brother were recognized locally for their efforts, they heard from other young people in the community who wanted to know how to volunteer, too. So they organized the “I, YOU, WE YOUTH GROUP” to take on other service projects.

That spring, the group held a winter wear drive, decorating boxes and placing them throughout the community. By November, the young volunteers had collected more than 400 coats, hats, boots and other winter necessities, which they washed, mended and distributed to five local organization that assist families in need. Since May 2015, the group has collected another 470 winter wear items and delivered them to local organizations. Tracen has also been involved in efforts to recycle grocery bags by turning them into plastic mats for the homeless, and has supported the volunteer projects of other youth in the community by collecting books and helping with fundraising. “Volunteering has made me more aware of the needs of the animals and people in our community,” Tracen said.

“By using their time and talents to better their communities, these young people have achieved great things -– and become examples for us all,” said John Strangfeld, chairman and CEO of Prudential Financial, Inc. “Congratulations to an exemplary group of honorees.”

“These students have demonstrated a truly remarkable level of leadership and commitment in the course of their volunteer service, and it’s an honor to celebrate their accomplishments,” said Michael Allison, president of NASSP. “We commend each and every one of them for a job well done.”

Youth volunteers in grades 5-12 were invited to apply for 2016 Prudential Spirit of Community Awards last fall through schools, Girl Scout councils, county 4-H organizations, American Red Cross chapters, YMCAs and affiliates of the HandsOn Network. More than 29,000 middle level and high school students nationwide participated in this year’s program.

The Prudential Spirit of Community Awards program was created in 1995 to identify and recognize young people for outstanding volunteer service -– and, in so doing, inspire others to volunteer, too. In the past 21 years, the program has honored more than 115,000 young volunteers at the local, state and national level.