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Positively Idaho: Academy Award-winning actor honors two Idaho volunteers

Positively Idaho: Academy Award-winning actor honors two Idaho volunteers

By On Your Side Newsroom. CREATED May 5, 2014

Idaho's top two youth volunteers of 2014 -- Cameron Kirk, 18, of Lewiston and John Mangum, 14, of Blackfoot -- were honored in the nation’s capital Sunday night for their outstanding volunteer service during the 19th annual presentation of The Prudential Spirit of Community Awards.

Kirk and Mangum – along with 100 other top youth volunteers from across the country – each received $1,000 awards and personal congratulations from Academy Award-winning actor Forest Whitaker 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, named Kirk and Mangum 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.

Kirk, a senior at Lewiston Senior High School, coaches Special Olympics athletes and, as public relations director for his local Special Olympics program, organizes fundraisers that have raised more than $64,000 over the past five years so that athletes can travel to and compete in sporting events free of charge. Six years ago, Kirk stepped in to substitute for his brother in a Special Olympics volunteer project. Little did Kirk know how much this chance encounter would change his life. “As soon as my time was up for the project, I knew I didn’t want to leave,” said Kirk. “The athletes had touched my life and I knew this was for me.”

He began by coaching athletes, but after a year, he wanted to do more. The opportunity to expand his involvement came when he was asked to be part of the management team for Lewis Clark Special Olympics. Now, Kirk typically spends six hours a week coaching and as many as 30 hours recruiting volunteers, seeking sponsorships from local businesses, and organizing fundraisers such as cookie dough and chocolate sales, auctions, car washes and a classic car show. The money raised from these endeavors covers equipment, travel and other costs of fielding a Special Olympics team. Kirk says he has been constantly inspired by “the spirit of the athletes, their uniqueness, and their endless smiles. They inspire me to be a better person and continually make me want to come back.”

Magnum, an eighth-grader at Snake River Junior High School, volunteers at a local animal shelter and created a Facebook page to promote pet adoptions, which resulted in a sharp decline in the number of dogs and cats euthanized at the facility. It all started when Magnum and his brother wanted a dog of their own. His parents, avid community volunteers, wanted the boys to know just how much work a dog requires, so they made arrangements for them to work at a local animal shelter.

Magnum and his brother cleaned up after the animals, and groomed and socialized them. Then they came up with the idea of posting pictures of the pets on a Facebook page they created, “so the public could see that the dogs were friendly and adoptable,” said Magnum. After a couple of weeks of work, the boys found a dog they wanted to adopt, but they wanted to continue helping out at the shelter. Months later, they were astonished to learn that in 2012, the shelter had to euthanize 800 dogs and cats -- but after the launch of their Facebook page, only 35 animals met that fate. Since then, Magnum and his brother have assisted with an Adopt-a-Pet Day, and organized a dog and cat food drive at a local grocery store. They are now directing their efforts toward raising money to build a new and larger shelter to house stray animals. “It is very gratifying to see an animal go to a good caring home,” said Magnum.

“These honorees are shining examples of what is possible when young people use their energy and initiative to help their communities,” said Magnum Strangfeld, chairman and CEO of Prudential Financial, Inc. “We are proud to recognize their accomplishments, and look forward to seeing the great things they achieve in the future.”

“Through their service, these students have not only made a difference in the lives of others – they’ve provided their peers with a powerful example of what it looks like to be an outstanding youth volunteer,” said Barbara-Jane (BJ) Paris, president of NASSP. “Congratulations to each of the 2014 honorees for a job well done.”

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.

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 19 years, the program has honored more than 100,000 young volunteers at the local, state and national level.