Two Massachusetts youth honored for volunteerism at national award ceremony in Washington, D.C.
Massachusetts' top two youth volunteers of 2019, Julia Cuddy, 17, of Needham and Will Gladstone, 14, of Arlington, were honored in the nation's capital last night for their outstanding volunteer service during the 24th annual presentation of The Prudential Spirit of Community Awards. Julia and Will – 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 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 Julia and Will Massachusetts' 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.
Julia, a senior at Needham High School, founded the Boston chapter of The Shoebox Project for Shelters, a nonprofit organization that distributes beautifully wrapped shoeboxes filled with $50 worth of new personal care items and gifts to homeless women across the United States and Canada during the holidays. Community service trips to impoverished villages in Rwanda and India opened Julia's eyes to the injustices and lack of opportunities that many women around the world face. But even that didn't prepare her for the burgeoning population of homeless women and families in her own area. "Boston's homeless population of 21,000 has doubled since 1990," Julia said. "How could such a dramatic disparity exist in the heart of a city known as a leader in higher education, healthcare and strong employment?" Julia began researching the needs of homeless women and the services available to help. When she heard about The Shoebox Project, she knew she wanted to start a chapter in Boston.
After an interview, the organization gave Julia the go-ahead. She researched local charities to see which could benefit from receiving shoeboxes and selected The Women's Lunch Place, a day shelter for women. She then recruited five friends to join her in seeking donations of cash and completed shoeboxes through a website, social media, local news media and flyers distributed to businesses and homes. Julia and her fellow volunteers used the cash donations to purchase warm clothing accessories, toiletries, treats, cosmetics, gift cards and other items, and then boxed them up at wrapping parties at Julia's home. They distributed 225 shoeboxes the first year. The following year, Julia delivered shoebox gifts to Boston Health Care for the homeless "HER Saturday" program. For many of the recipients, the boxes were the only Christmas presents they received.