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Two Connecticut youth honored for volunteerism at national award ceremony in Washington, D.C.

Award-winning actress Viola Davis pays tribute to Coventry and Torrington students

WASHINGTON , May 6, 2019 /PRNewswire/ -- Connecticut's top two youth volunteers of 2019, Nicholas Wesoloskie, 14, of Coventry and Anishka Perera, 13, of Torrington, were honored in the nation's capital last night for their outstanding volunteer service during the 24th annual presentation of The Prudential Spirit of Community Awards. Nicholas and Anishka – along with 100 other top youth volunteers from across the country – received a $1,000 award and personal congratulations from award-winning actress Viola Davis at an award ceremony and gala dinner reception held at the Smithsonian's National Museum of Natural History.

Award-winning actress Viola Davis congratulates Nicholas Wesoloskie, 14, of Coventry (center) and Anishka Perera, 13, of Torrington (right) on being named Connecticut's top two youth volunteers for 2019 by The Prudential Spirit of Community Awards. Nicholas and Anishka were honored at a ceremony on Sunday, May 5 at the Smithsonian's National Museum of Natural History, where they each received a $1,000 award.

The Prudential Spirit of Community Awards program, sponsored by Prudential Financial in partnership with the National Association of Secondary School Principals (NASSP), named Nicholas and Anishka Connecticut's top high school and middle level youth volunteers in February. In addition to their cash awards, they each received an engraved silver medallion and an all-expense-paid trip with a parent to Washington, D.C. , for four days of recognition events.

Nicholas, a freshman at Coventry High School, turned a school pajama day fundraiser into a statewide movement that in seven years has raised more than $625,000 to promote research into childhood cancer and assist young patients and their families. When Nicholas was a toddler, his newborn sister was diagnosed with a rare and aggressive cancer. "From a young age I witnessed her and so many other kids enduring grueling treatments," Nicholas said. "I resolved to help brave kids like her."

He came up with the idea of "PJ Day for Kids" in second grade. From spending so much time with his sister at the hospital, Nicholas knew that sick kids wore their pajamas most of the time, and thought it would be nice for him and his fellow students to show solidarity. So he asked classmates to wear their PJs to school on a designated day and donate a dollar for the privilege. The first PJ Day raised $500 for the Center for Cancer and Blood Disorders at Connecticut Children's Medical Center. Other schools in his district and in other school districts soon joined in, and Nicholas began publicizing his concept through speeches, news media interviews and a video. He also called on businesses to support his burgeoning effort financially. In 2017, Nicholas was invited to speak at the state capital in support of legislation to name PJ Day as an official day of awareness in Connecticut . Since that single fundraiser years ago, PJ Day has grown to include more than 325 schools across his state and 50 participating businesses, including 130 Dunkin Donuts stores. "This has become a tradition across Connecticut ," said Nicholas. "PJ Day is here to stay."

Anishka, an eighth-grader at Talcott Mountain Academy of Science, Mathematics & Technology, collected supplies to make 150 entertainment packages to brighten the days of children undergoing treatment for cancer in a Sri Lankan hospital. During a 2016 visit to Sri Lanka , where his parents were born, Anishka visited a government-run hospital that provides free care for the country's poor. In the children's ward, he noticed that there weren't many things to keep young patients entertained during long hospital stays. "I was saddened to see children waiting around for their treatment without much to occupy them," said Anishka.

When he returned home, Anishka began asking friends and acquaintances for donations of items such as coloring books, crayons, pencils, puzzles, board games and Play-Doh. Once the donations started coming in, Anishka categorized them by age level and started assembling his packages with the help of volunteers. Last August, he shipped the packages to Sri Lanka and then traveled again to the cancer hospital to distribute them. When he returned home, he posted a video on his website to update the more than 100 donors and volunteers who had participated in his project. Anishka said he plans on delivering more entertainment packages and would like to take on more projects to help sick children in Sri Lanka . "Certain things we consider to be basic things are luxuries for others," said Anishka. "Some of these kids had never even owned a pack of crayons!"

"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."

Youth volunteers in grades 5-12 were invited to apply for 2019 Prudential Spirit of Community Awards last fall through schools, Girl Scout councils, county 4-H organizations, American Red Cross chapters, YMCAs and affiliates of Points of Light's HandsOn Network. More than 29,000 middle level and high school students nationwide participated in this year's program.

The Prudential Spirit of Community Awards program was created in 1995 to identify and recognize young people for outstanding volunteer service – and, in so doing, inspire others to volunteer, too. In the past 24 years, the program has honored more than 125,000 young volunteers at the local, state and national level.

For more information about The Prudential Spirit of Community Awards and this year's honorees, visit http://spirit.prudential.com  or www.nassp.org/spirit .


The National Association of Secondary School Principals (NASSP) is the leading organization of and voice for principals and other school leaders across the United States . NASSP seeks to transform education through school leadership, recognizing that the fulfillment of each student's potential relies on great leaders in every school committed to the success of each student. Reflecting its long-standing commitment to student leadership development, NASSP administers the National Honor Society, National Junior Honor Society, National Elementary Honor Society, and National Student Council. Learn more at www.nassp.org .

About Prudential Financial

Prudential Financial, Inc. ( PRU ), a financial services leader, has operations in the United States , Asia , Europe , and Latin America . Prudential's diverse and talented employees are committed to helping individual and institutional customers grow and protect their wealth through a variety of products and services, including life insurance, annuities, retirement-related services, mutual funds and investment management. In the U.S., Prudential's iconic Rock symbol has stood for strength, stability, expertise and innovation for more than a century. For more information, please visit www.news.prudential.com .

Editors: For pictures of the Spirit of Community Awards program logo and medallions, visit https://spirit.prudential.com/resources/media .

For B-roll of Connecticut's honorees at the 2019 national recognition events, contact Prudential's Harold Banks at (973) 216-4833 or harold.banks@prudential.com.

The Prudential Spirit of Community Awards logo

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