Indiana’s 2017 Top Youth Volunteers

Zionsville, Carmel teens honored in nation’s capital

Indiana’s top two youth volunteers of 2017, Grace Zhang, 18, of Carmel, and Tara Harmon, 14, of Zionsville, were honored in the nation’s capital for their outstanding volunteer service during the 22nd annual presentation of The Prudential Spirit of Community Awards.

Grace and Tara – along with 100 other top youth volunteers from across the country – each received $1,000 awards and personal congratulations from Olympic gold medalist Michael Phelps at an award ceremony and gala dinner reception 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 Grace and Tara Indiana’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.

Grace, a senior at Carmel High School, organized a one-day “street store” in Indianapolis last year that enabled more than 200 struggling families to obtain free, gently used clothing.

She enlisted the help of fellow students in her high school club, contacted local organizations that serve the poor, solicited clothing donations at schools and in the community, and lined up sponsors. She welcomed needy shoppers to choose from among 16,000 articles of donated clothing.

Tara, an eighth-grader at Zionsville West Middle School, secured $4,000 in grants and donations over the past three years to provide weekend meals, healthy snacks and school uniforms for inner-city kids in her community. While walking around downtown Indianapolis with her family, Tara frequently encountered homeless people, and it broke her heart. But after seeing a homeless mother and son sleeping on the street, “I went home and thought long and hard,” she said.

Through an online search, Tara identified an elementary school with a high rate of free and reduced-price lunches, and while visiting the school, learned about its desperate need for uniforms. She then sought a grant from the Indianapolis Colts and a donation from Walmart. The result was 200 new uniforms for the school.

Tara also learned that without subsidized lunches at school, many students go hungry over the summer. She responded by securing another grant and more store donations and used the money to provide 100 weekend meal packages to summer campers. To encourage healthy eating, Tara also planted a vegetable garden and donated 600 pounds of produce for an inner-city summer camp. She estimated more than 500 kids in need have benefited from her activities.

“These honorees have done exemplary work to contribute to the health and vitality of their communities, and we look forward to seeing the great things they achieve in the future,” said John Strangfeld, chairman and CEO of Prudential Financial, Inc. “Congratulations to each of these extraordinary young volunteers.”

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