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Vance Tomasi of Tampa, Florida named one of America's top 10 youth volunteers of 2019

WASHINGTON, May 6, 2019 /PRNewswire/ -- Vance Tomasi, 13, of Tampa, Florida, was named one of America's top 10 youth volunteers of 2019 today by The Prudential Spirit of Community Awards during the program's 24th annual national award ceremony at Union Station's East Hall. Selected from a field of more than 29,000 youth volunteers from across the country, Vance has earned the title of National Honoree, along with a personal award of $5,000, an engraved gold medallion, a crystal trophy for his school, and a $5,000 grant from The Prudential Foundation for a nonprofit charitable organization of his choice.

Also honored this week in Washington, D.C., was Stacey Gringauz, 17, of Parkland. Vance and Stacey were named Florida's top youth volunteers in February, and were officially recognized last night at the Smithsonian's National Museum of Natural History along with the top two youth volunteers in each other state and the District of Columbia. At that event, each of the 102 State Honorees for 2019 received $1,000 awards as well as personal congratulations from award-winning actress Viola Davis. The honorees each also earned engraved silver medallions and all-expense-paid trips with a parent to Washington, D.C., for this week's recognition events.

Stacey was unable to attend the Washington events and was recognized in absentia.

Vance, a seventh-grader at Farnell Middle School, has worked with a friend to collect and donate more than 90,000 books to families, schools, group homes, hospitals and libraries over the past two years. The oldest of four boys, Vance loves to read and could not imagine life without access to books. When his younger brother was struggling to read, he saw how much he improved after attending a summer reading camp at school. "But I worried about kids who didn't own books," said Vance. "We learned that kids who own books do better in school, but in struggling areas, only one in 300 kids actually owns their own books."

Vance and his friend began by conducting a drive that brought in 500 books for homeless families. But they knew they could do more, so the boys set up a website and social media accounts and partnered with the local school system to redistribute old books. Then they began organizing book drives with Boy Scout troops, sports teams, school clubs and other groups; placed donation boxes around town; and recruited volunteers to sort and box the books they received. In addition to book drives, Vance bought 25,000 books with a grant he obtained, and found a book company willing to donate thousands of additional books. Since its inception, Vance's nonprofit organization has donated more than 90,000 books in all 50 states and as far away as Africa. He estimated that these efforts have placed books in the hands of over 18,000 kids.

Stacey, a senior at North Broward Preparatory School, has made and sold personalized bracelets with two friends over the past three years and donated the proceeds each month to a different charity, including $130,000 for victims of the Marjory Stoneman Douglas shooting and their families. Stacey grew up watching her mother play a major role as a volunteer for a large foundation. She, too, wanted to make a difference, but "I wanted to create my own path and find a way to donate money to others in the community," she said.

Stacey and her two friends named their charity "3 Heart Strings," and with the help of their mothers, they applied for nonprofit status, created a website, and ordered beads, custom fabrics and business cards. They then went to work cutting fabric, beading, packaging and shipping bracelets out to customers for $5 apiece. Each month, the girls would research charities and decide where to distribute their proceeds. Then came the mass shooting at nearby Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School on Feb. 14, 2018, which killed 17 people and wounded 18 others. Within two days the girls had posted a picture of a bracelet honoring the victims with the initials MSD spelled out in beads. It wasn't long before orders started coming in, and within a short time, they had sold tens of thousands of bracelets and raised $130,000. The girls then held two private ceremonies to present the shooting survivors and the families of the deceased each with a check for $3,800. To date, 3 Heart Strings has raised and donated more than $200,000 for various charities.

The Prudential Spirit of Community Awards is a national youth recognition program sponsored by Prudential Financial in partnership with the National Association of Secondary School Principals (NASSP).

"We're impressed and inspired by the way these honorees have identified problems facing their communities and stepped up to the challenge to make a difference," said Charles Lowrey, chairman and CEO of Prudential Financial, Inc. "It's a privilege to celebrate their leadership and compassion, and we look forward to seeing the great things they accomplish in the future."

"These students have not only done important work in support of people in need – they've also shown their peers that young people can, and do, create meaningful change," said Christine Handy, president of NASSP. "We commend each of these young volunteers for all they've contributed to their communities."

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