Lawrence Teen Honored as Top State Youth Volunteer
Ellen “Nelle” Evans, a Lawrence Middle School eighth-grader who, among other things, has organized many food and clothing drives, has been named one of New Jersey’s top two youth volunteers by The Prudential Spirit of Community Awards.
In her 13 years of life, Ellen “Nelle” Evans has done more to help the community than most people three times her age.
Currently an eighth-grader attending Lawrence Middle School, Nelle has – among other things – organized several “Souper Bowl of Caring” food drives, spearheaded the creation of the library at the Lawrence Nature Center, organized multiple collections for charity and volunteered with HomeFront to help local homeless families.
In recognition of her tireless efforts to better the community and her willingness to lend a hand to help those less fortunate, Nelle yesterday (Tuesday, Feb. 5) was named one of New Jersey’s top two youth volunteers of 2013 by The Prudential Spirit of Community Awards, a nationwide program that honors young people for outstanding acts of volunteerism.
Sharing the honor with her is 16-year-old Zachary Certner, a Morristown High School junior who co-founded a nonprofit organization that conducts free sports clinics for children with special needs, along with sensitivity training to help other students understand the challenges they face.
Now in its 18th year, the Prudential Spirit of Community Awards program is conducted by Prudential Financial in partnership with the National Association of Secondary School Principals (NASSP).
As state honorees, Nelle and Zachary each will receive $1,000, an engraved silver medallion and an all-expense-paid trip in May to Washington, D.C., where they will join the top two honorees from 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 2013.
“I have known Nelle for years. She is the epitome of kindness and generosity,” said Connie Mercer, founder and executive director of HomeFront, the Lawrence Township-based nonprofit that fights homelessness in the area. “She has donated her time, her effort, her smiles and her compassion to our families for many years.
“We have been granted a young angel in Nelle, and I hope that other young people follow her lead,” Mercer continued. “Our success is tied to the outpouring and care of the community. Nelle understands this and she pays it forward over and over again. Her commitment to ease the pain and lessen the hardships on our hardworking families is realized through her tireless food drives and clothing drives. Her compassion and dedication to helping those in need is extraordinary.”
Following the examples set by her mother, Pepper Evans, and her older sister, Mariefred, Nelle learned early on about the importance of giving back to the community. It’s no wonder that Nelle and Mariefred were both featured as Lawrenceville Patch “Whiz Kids” back in 2011.
Through girl scouting Nelle had many opportunities to make a difference, but she still wanted to do more. “Once I got started volunteering, I always looked for the next good idea,” she said. “I feel proud when I have finished a service project or when I see that my help and skills have made a difference to others.
“I would tell someone who hasn’t volunteered yet how good it feels to know that even though you are young, you have the power to make a difference,” Nelle added.
In her role as a “Souper Bowl of Caring” student ambassador for the past three years, Nelle has recruited volunteers, engaged the community and publicized the annual food drive. In building the library at the Lawrence Nature Center, she collected more than 150 books from around town.
"What can I say about Nelle? I have known Nelle since she was in kindgergarten. Our paths have crossed many times during the past nine years through sports, schools, environmental education, girl scouts and the Lawrence Nature Center. She was always a pleasure to talk to or work with," said Rick Dutko, volunteer naturalist at the Lawrence Nature Center.
"I taught Nelle in a before-school environmental club years ago at Lawrence Intermediate School and she was a model student; very knowledgeable and eager to participate," he continued. "Nelle is determined to excel in everything she sets her mind to and I have watched her mature into a confident and independent young woman. Nelle was instrumental in obtaining books for the nature center's library. I have no doubt that she will continue with these strong attributes for years to come."
Nelle was the first young person chosen as Volunteer of the Year by HomeFront. That prompted Nelle to organize a clothing drive at school that collected 342 pairs of jeans for teens who couldn’t afford to buy them.
“Nelle Evans is a remarkable and caring young lady. She has had a profound impact on local teens and families in need,” said Christine Lee, HomeFront’s director of the Lawrence Community Center on Eggerts Crossing Road. “Her unwavering commitment to help feed families in need by hosting several canned food drives that have benefited our food pantries and fed hundreds of families, and her desire to assist our hard-working moms by providing their teens with ‘super cool’ clothes has had a direct and very positive impact on our kids’ self esteem.
“She organized a ‘jeans for teens’ drive that generated hundreds of beautiful, gently-used jeans that would never be financially obtainable to our families,” Lee continued. “Our teens get that someone cares and that that someone is their age really impresses them! Nelle is a shining example of what someone can do to help others. I see her as one of our future great leaders and I am so grateful that she has selected our organization as the benefactor of her philanthropy.”
Nelle has also signed up families for Lawrence Township’s reverse 911 emergency notification system, run several bicycle drives for the local Boys and Girls Club, worked with kindergarteners Lawrence Township’s annual Safety Town camp for the past four summers, and helped coached a youth soccer team.
“Being a teammate and friend of my daughter’s, I’ve watch Nelle volunteer countless hours seeking no accolades in return,” said Delaine Jodoin of the Lawrence Hamnett Soccer Association. “She was not only a girl scout and a safety town instructor, but back in intermediate school she began the Souper Bowl of Caring – collecting soup cans for the Trenton Soup Kitchen. More recently, she took on a jean collection drive at the middle school and also helped volunteer coach a 5-6-year-old soccer team with me. For someone so young, she has a great spirit of giving and has such a strong passion of ‘what else can I do or how I can help.’ She truly is an amazing young lady and is a huge asset to our community.”
Similarly, Rob Radice, director of the Safety Town program, had this to say: “Nelle is extremely kind and nurturing to the kindergarten-aged children and always builds a bond with them. She serves as a great role model and is an excellent counselor.”
Six other New Jersey students were recognized by The Prudential Spirit of Community Awards program as distinguished finalists and bronze medal winners for their community service activities:
- Paige Alenick, 17, of Woodcliff Lake
- Salvatore Dragone, 18, of Mullica Hill
- Matthew Horbacz, 18, of Ocean Township
- Joseph Mandes, 18, of Brigantine
- Michael Mandes, 18, of Brigantine
- Christopher Rim, 17, of Paramus
“Prudential is proud to honor these students for making meaningful contributions to their communities,” said Prudential Chairman and CEO John Strangfeld. “We hope that shining a spotlight on their initiative, creativity and compassion inspires others to consider how they, too, can make a difference.”
“Through their volunteer service, each of these young people has made his or her mark on at least one person, school or community,” said JoAnn Bartoletti, executive director of NASSP. “When you consider the collective impact of each of these individual acts, it’s clear that young people can be a major force for good.”