Millsboro Middle School student picked as a top youth volunteer

Millsboro Middle School student Will Kenney, 13, of Delmar and Micah Freer, 18, of Wilmington were recently named Delaware’s top two youth volunteers of 2016 by the Prudential Spirit of Community Awards, a nationwide program honoring young people for outstanding acts of volunteerism.

Kenney was nominated for the honor by school officials, while Freer was nominated by his school, Mount Sophia Academy in Newark. The Prudential Spirit of Community Awards, now in its 21st year, is conducted by Prudential Financial in partnership with the National Association of Secondary School Principals (NASSP).

Kenny is an eighth-grader at Millsboro Middle School, and he organized two carnivals that raised more than $15,000 to help fund medical research and benefit patients who have Sturge-Weber syndrome, a rare neurological disorder. A little girl he knows has the disease and inspired his project.

“I decided to have a carnival with activities for all ages, so that she could enjoy the fun,” he said.

After the first Will’s Carnival for a Cause in August 2014 was a success, Kenney said, he was more determined than ever to raise money and the public’s awareness of Sturge-Weber, with a more elaborate carnival.

For his second carnival, last September, Kenney gathered a core group of seven volunteers to help him plan. As chairman of the event, he organized monthly meetings, wrote emails and letters soliciting donations for game prizes and a silent auction, asked businesses to donate food and other items, and recruited fellow football players to help with logistics.

In addition to the auction and 23 games, the event included three rides, a petting zoo, food and refreshments, a dunking booth featuring football coaches and a county councilman, and an appearance by Miss Delaware.

To help people understand more about Sturge-Weber syndrome, Kenney distributed literature at the carnival and posted information on social media. Most of all, he said, the experience taught him the value of teamwork.

“One person cannot move a mountain, but a village can,” he said.

Freer, a senior at Mount Sophia Academy, spearheaded a yearlong effort to build a pavilion to be used by church, school and community groups, and by families and individuals who hike, bike and jog at an adjacent state park. In search of a project that would have a lasting impact on his community, he brainstormed with officials at his church and came up with the idea of building a pavilion where people could meet, sit and talk.

To begin, he drew up designs of the pavilion and began applying for permits from the city. He recruited volunteer engineers to review and give feedback on his plans, asked professional drafters to make blueprints, and consulted construction experts to ensure that the structure would be built correctly. Then he started fundraising, writing letters to individuals and businesses seeking money, materials and discounts.

When it was time to begin construction, Freer got hands-on help from 50 volunteers, including church members, Boy Scouts, friends and family. The total cost of building the 18-by-24-foot pavilion was a little over $15,000.

As state honorees, Kenney and Freer each will receive $1,000, an engraved silver medallion and an all-expenses-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 2016.

“Prudential commends each of these young volunteers for using their creativity and compassion to bring positive change to their communities,” said Prudential Chairman and CEO John Strangfeld. “We hope their stories inspire others to consider how they can make a difference, too.”

“We are pleased to honor these students not only for their exemplary acts of service, but for the powerful example they’ve set for their peers,” said JoAnn Bartoletti, executive director of NASSP. “Congratulations to each of the 2016 honorees.”