Two avid young Minnesotan volunteers -- Michael Guggenheim, 18, of St. Paul, and Mason Stoltz, 14, of Eden Prairie, were honored Monday in Washington, D.C., during the 19th annual presentation of the Prudential Spirit of Community Awards. Along with 100 other top youth volunteers from across the country, each received $1,000 and congratulations from Academy Award-winning actor Forest Whitaker at an award ceremony 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 Schools, named Michael and Mason Minnesota's top high school and middle level youth volunteers in February..
Michael, a senior at Mounds Park Academy, founded his own nonprofit charity when he was 12 to teach children in homeless shelters, housing projects and community centers how to type and use computers, and to provide them with their own laptops once they’ve acquired basic computer skills. He said he recognizes the importance of becoming computer literate at an early age because that’s what enabled him to overcome a learning disability.
Mason, an eighth-grader at Central Middle School, has undertaken several projects to improve the experience of young hospital patients, both as a member of the youth advisory council of Children’s Hospitals and Clinics of Minnesota and on his own. Mason was grateful for the care received at the hospital by his sister, who spent the first 99 days of her life there after a premature birth. So three years ago, he applied to serve on the hospital’s youth advisory council and has since worked with fellow members to design a teen room for older patients, launch a hand-washing campaign to reduce infections, and make an orientation video for new patients.
Youth volunteers in grades 5-12 were invited to apply for 2014 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 30,000 middle level and high school students nationwide participated in this year’s program.