Two Nebraska youth, including Beatrice elementary student, honored at national award ceremony in Washington, D.C.

Two Nebraska youth, including Beatrice elementary student, honored at national award ceremony in Washington, D.C.
Award-winning actress Viola Davis congratulates Pranav Rajan, 17, of Lincoln (center) and Jorja Boller, 10, of Beatrice (right) on being named Nebraska's top two youth volunteers for 2019 by The Prudential Spirit of Community Awards. Pranav and Jorja were honored at a ceremony on Sunday, May 5 at the Smithsonian's National Museum of Natural History, where they each received a $1,000 award.

WASHINGTON/PRNewswire/ – Nebraska’s top two youth volunteers of 2019, Pranav Rajan, 17, of Lincoln and Jorja (pronounced Georgia) Boller, 10, of Beatrice, were honored in the nation’s capital Sunday night for their outstanding volunteer service during the 24th annual presentation of The Prudential Spirit of Community Awards.

Pranav and Jorja, along with 100 other top youth volunteers from across the country, received a $1,000 award and personal congratulations from award-winning actress Viola Davis at an award ceremony and gala dinner reception 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 Pranav and Jorja Nebraska’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.

Jorja, a fifth-grader at Stoddard Elementary School, created a charity that distributes gift bags to residents of several retirement homes every year at Christmastime.

Jorja has been volunteering at Beatrice Good Samaritan Society ever since she was five years old, and still spends 12-20 hours a month there.

Several years ago, she wanted to make sure one of the residents received a Christmas gift, so she set up a lemonade stand to raise money. As Christmas drew closer, Jorja decided she couldn’t just do this for one resident – she had to give presents to everyone at the nursing home.

“There are many people who don’t get visited often,” she explained. “It can be very lonely.”

Her desire, she said, is to “make sure that at Christmastime, no one is left out.”

The first year, Jorja’s family and the staff at the Good Samaritan Center helped her collect enough money and other donations to give out 108 gift bags.

“It was so fun delivering them the week of Christmas and giving lots of hugs,” she said.

The next year, she named her project “Gifts for Grands,” sold lemonade to raise funds and collected gift cards at her birthday party. Then, her 4-H club joined the effort, helping Jorja conduct bake sales, trash pickups, make greeting cards and assemble gift bags

When Christmas comes, they load up a big cart and pass out bags while walking through the halls of the nursing homes, wearing Santa Claus hats.

Jorja expected to deliver 400 gift bags in seven different retirement facilities this past Christmas, and is now helping a girl in Oklahoma start her own “Gifts for Grands” chapter there.

In addition to her work with her gift bag charity, Jorja also works with local Special Olympics swimmers, helping people with disabilities learn to swim and have fun in the water.

For Pranav’s story, click here.

“We’re impressed and inspired by the way these honorees have identified problems facing their communities and stepped up to the challenge to make a difference,” said Charles Lowrey, chairman and CEO of Prudential Financial, Inc. “It’s a privilege to celebrate their leadership and compassion, and we look forward to seeing the great things they accomplish in the future.”

“These students have not only done important work in support of people in need – they’ve also shown their peers that young people can, and do, create meaningful change,” said Christine Handy, president of NASSP. “We commend each of these young volunteers for all they’ve contributed to their communities.”

Youth volunteers in grades 5-12 were invited to apply for the 2019 Prudential Spirit of Community Awards last fall through schools, Girl Scout councils, county 4-H organizations, American Red Cross chapters, YMCAs and affiliates of Points of Light’s 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.

In the past 24 years, the program has honored more than 125,000 young volunteers at the local, state and national level.

See the video of Jorja being honored, along with a short interview, below: