Honoring teen volunteers

September 20, 2009 6:18:31 AM PDT
We are celebrating teen volunteers and their contribution to our community. 17-year-old Colin Leslie from Rye has just been named one of America's Top 10 Youth Volunteers in the Prudential Spirit of Community Awards. He raised more than $150,000 for the Celiac Disease Center at Columbia University. Colin joined us with details behind his successful fundraiser. Colin Leslie is a Prudential Spirit of Community Awards State Honoree and just named National Finalist, one of "America's Top 10 Youth Volunteers" and was awarded $5,000.

Colin Leslie, 17, of Rye, N.Y., a junior at Rye High School, has raised more than $150,000 for the Celiac Disease Center at Columbia University over the past three years by organizing an annual walkathon in his community. When he was 14, Colin began experiencing excruciating joint pain and migraine headaches. After four months of visits to many specialists, he was finally diagnosed with celiac disease, a genetic autoimmune disorder triggered by eating gluten from wheat, barley, or rye. The difficulty that doctors had in diagnosing his ailment convinced Colin that something needed to be done to increase awareness of celiac. He decided on a walkathon.

Colin contacted city officials, met with the police commissioner, and persuaded his school district to let him use his high school for the event. Then he obtained insurance, arranged for parking and shuttle buses, and began publicizing the walk by posting on blogs and websites, making posters, and contacting local support groups. About 1,000 people have come to the Colin Leslie Walk for Celiac Disease each year, not only to walk and contribute, but also to attend education sessions conducted by doctors and nutritionists, and to enjoy a gluten-free food fair. One year's event also featured a blood screening that diagnosed more than 60 people with celiac disease. "All of the money raised will go toward promoting awareness of celiac disease and research, so that one day a cure will hopefully be found," said Colin.

Colin, can you tell us more about the Prudential Spirit of Community Awards and what you can win?

It is a nationwide program, going into its 15th year that honors middle and high school students for outstanding acts of volunteerism. The Prudential Spirit of Community Awards is conducted by Prudential Financial in partnership with the National Association of Secondary School Principals. There are 102 State Honorees who receive $1,000, an engraved silver medallion and an all-expense paid trip to Washington, D.C. in May for several days of events where you get to meet some great people and create some unforgettable memories. In Washington DC, there's also a big awards ceremony, and 10 of the State Honorees become "America's Top Youth Volunteers." These five middle and five high school students then receive an additional $5,000, a gold medallion and a crystal trophy.

What is the deadline for the coming year's event?

It will be November 2nd.

How many winners were there this year?

There are 102 State Honorees named each year - two from each state, the District of Columbia and Puerto Rico. And, there are 230 Distinguished Finalists. Each May, the top 10 youth volunteers are then selected and named "America's Top 10 Youth Volunteers."

What were some of the other projects that won?

Many had to do with providing aid and comfort to the sick or disadvantaged, saving lives through health and safety initiatives, protecting the environment, reaching out to the elderly, teaching and mentoring children and this year, there were many projects relating to helping others in countries besieged by war and conflict, as well as those focusing on the environment, efforts to help those fighting in Iraq and programs to help people suffering in countries so far from our own.

If one of our viewers is also out there doing some great stuff for others, where can they get an application for next year's program?

Application forms for the 2010 Prudential Spirit of Community Awards are now online at www.prudential.com/community/spirit and will also will be available through middle and high schools, Girl Scout councils and county 4-H offices throughout the U.S. beginning in September. Interested students can access the application by visiting www.prudential.com/community/spirit, or by calling 1-888-450-9961.