Prudential Spirit of Community Awards honors students with $1,000, medallions and trip to nation’s capital

Isha Dalal, 17 and Rachel Weintraub, 13, both of Trumbull, were named Connecticut's top two youth volunteers of 2017 by The Prudential Spirit of Community Awards, a nationwide program honoring young people for outstanding acts of volunteerism. As State Honorees, Isha and Rachel each will receive $1,000, an engraved silver medallion and an all-expense-paid trip in early May to Washington, D.C., where they will join the top two honorees from each of the other states and the District of Columbia for four days of national recognition events. During the trip, 10 students will be named America’s top youth volunteers of 2017.

Nominated by Trumbull High School — Isha Dalal, a senior at Trumbull High School, founded an organization of 60 students from across Connecticut called “Voice,” that seeks to propose and promote state legislation addressing educational inequality and other important issues. A self-described “book nerd,” Isha began volunteering two years ago at a local literacy center and quickly saw that many children did not have the educational opportunities she took for granted. One little boy told her his mother worked three jobs and struggled to get him extra help with reading. “That’s when I decided I would do everything in my power to provide equal opportunities in education for all students,” she said.

Isha envisioned an organization in which students could share opinions and ideas about a variety of societal problems, and then work to advance legislative solutions in the state capital. The group has focused initially on increasing childhood literacy rates in Connecticut by organizing legislative workshops, lobbying state officials, and conducting book drives and reading events. Isha sees her group tackling other issues in the future, including cyberbullying and school climate.

Nominated by Hillcrest Middle School — Rachel Weintraub, an eighth-grader at Hillcrest Middle School, started an anti-bullying initiative to draw attention to the plight of bullied children in her community through speeches, special events, and the arts. Like so many kids today, Rachel was once the victim of a bully. “I didn’t know what to do,” she said. “But I came to find out that many of my friends had been bullied as well.” Rachel wanted to put a stop to this kind of behavior at school and give voice to all students who are afraid to talk about what is happening to them, so she came up with the “Words Can Soar” initiative.

Rachel began by speaking in classrooms about the issue. She then created flyers and recruited volunteers to help spread the word, organized anti-bullying events, solicited corporate donations, painted an anti-bullying mural at her school, and even wrote a song about bullying. Her biggest event was a cabaret in New York City that featured fellow Broadway actors and raised more than $5,000 for anti-bullying efforts. In addition, Rachel has made public service announcements denouncing bullying, sought coverage by news media, and appeared at numerous venues to raise awareness and funds to fight this pervasive problem.