Zach Morgan, 12, of Denham Springs, and Anna Katherine Tollett of Ruston, 16, were named the state’s top youth volunteers of 2017, being awarded The Prudential Spirit of Community Awards.

As state honorees, both will receive $1,000, an engraved silver medallion and an all-expense-paid trip to Washington, D.C., where they will be joined by the top honorees from the other 49 states and the District of Columbia for four days of national recognition events.

During their stay in D.C., the awards program will name America’s top youth volunteers of 2017, an award recognizing the nation’s youth for their outstanding acts of volunteerism.

The Prudential Spirit of Community Awards is now in its 22nd year and is conducted by Prudential Financial in partnership with the National Association of Secondary School Principals.

Morgan, a sixth grade student at Live Oak Middle School, was the Middle Level State Honoree, having collected more than 5,000 hats and 2,000 toys for kids with cancer. He also secured a grant to fund a weeklong summer camp for children diagnosed with the disease after seeing a television commercial about childhood cancer.

“I felt bad for kids who had cancer,” he said. “I felt bad that it changed their childhood. I wanted to make them feel better.”

Already a baseball cap collector, Morgan began collecting them for kids who lose their hair due to chemotherapy treatments. His first cap drive at a local Walmart brought in 250 new caps and hats and with them in hand, the Live Oak Middle student hosted a pizza party at a local children’s hospital to give them to children with cancer.

“I have learned that even the smallest things, like a baseball cap, can put the biggest smile on a kid,” the thoughtful young man said.

Morgan also distributes toys through a program he named “Treasure Chests of Courage” he has placed at a number of cancer treatment facilities.

Subsequent cap drives have garnered more than 1,000 pounds of food for students who have little to eat on weekends.

The high school level honoree, Tollett, is a junior at Cedar Creek School and she has worked steadfastly over the past eight years on behalf of children who suffer from Type 1 diabetes, as does she. She has raised funds to find a cure, enhanced public awareness of the disease.

Tollett has also campaigned for legal rights and protection for students with diabetes and providing support to children newly diagnosed with diabetes and their families.

She says “managing this relentless disease combined with the often misinformed public perception of diabetes left me feeling overwhelmed and alienated,” but with “the support and guidance of family, friends and community, I became determined to reach out to those living with diabetes and challenge the public perception of the disease.”

Distinguished Finalists for the award include Nelson Gueho, 17, of Livonia, Miranda Hawthorne, 17, of Woodworth, Elizabeth Hughes, 14, of Coushatta, and 18-year-old Macy Wells of Loranger.

“Prudential is honored to recognize these young volunteers for their exemplary service,” said Prudential Chairman and CEO John Strangfeld. “We hope that their stories inspire others to consider how they, too, can volunteer their time and talents to improve their communities.”

“These service-minded young people have brought meaningful change to communities at home and abroad and it’s a privilege to celebrate their work,” said JoAnn Bartoletti, executive director of the National Association of Secondary School Principals. “Congratulations to an exceptional group of middle level and high school students.”

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Tommy Comeaux is the Lifestyle editor at The Livingston Parish News. He can be reached via email at TommyComeaux@gmail.com. You can also follow him on Twitter @tommycomeaux.

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