Nebraska’s top youth volunteers of 2020 honored with $2,500 donation for local COVID-19 response | Nebraska

Prudential Financial, Inc.

LINCOLN, Neb., May 4, 2020 /PRNewswire/ — Nebraska’s top two youth volunteers of 2020, Madeline Hudnall, 18, of Columbus and Sawyer Zeece, 14, of Lincoln, were recognized this weekend for their outstanding volunteer service during the 25th annual, and first-ever virtual, Prudential Spirit of Community Awards national recognition celebration.

In recognition of the spirit of service that they have demonstrated in their communities, Madeline and Sawyer – along with 100 other top youth volunteers from across the country – were also each given $2,500 to donate toward the local COVID-19 response efforts of a nonprofit organization of their choice. These funds come in addition to the $1,000 scholarship and engraved silver medallion they earned as Nebraska’s top youth volunteers of 2020.

The Prudential Spirit of Community Awards program, sponsored by Prudential Financial in partnership with the National Association of Secondary School Principals (NASSP), named Madeline and Sawyer Nebraska’s top high school and middle level youth volunteers in February.

“Over the past 25 years, this program has honored students spanning three generations, and the common thread between them has been the determination of young people to respond to the challenges of the moment,” said Charles Lowrey, chairman and CEO of Prudential Financial. “Who better than this group of young leaders from all over the country to help identify and direct resources to community needs arising from COVID-19?”

As State Honorees, Madeline and Sawyer also earned an all-expense-paid trip to Washington, D.C. for the program’s annual national recognition events; the trip, however, was canceled due to COVID-19 and changed to a three-day online celebration this past weekend. In addition to remarks and congratulations from actress Kristen Bell, honorees had opportunities to connect with each other through online project-sharing sessions, learn about service and advocacy from accomplished past Spirit of Community honorees, hear congratulatory remarks from Lowrey and NASSP Executive Director and CEO JoAnn Bartoletti, and more.

“We admire these young leaders for their ability to assess the needs of the communities they serve and find meaningful ways to address them,” said Bartoletti. “At a time when everyone is looking for optimism, these students are a bright light for their peers and the adults in their lives.”

About the Honorees

Madeline (pictured left), a senior at Columbus High School, has raised more than $72,000 for childhood cancer research in the 12 years that she’s been hosting an annual lemonade stand. She also recently co-chaired her seventh youth philanthropy project, providing bedding for 33 children in need in her school district, and has helped clean up debris after a devastating flood and been an active participant in other 4-H service projects. Madeline said she’s been inspired by her parents, teachers, coaches and mentors who do so much to make her town a good place to live. “What I’ve realized through volunteer work is how much of a ripple effect comes from volunteering,” said Madeline. “This ripple can be witnessed by watching people feel loved, supported, inspired and connected.”

When she was 6 years old, Madeline held her first “LemonSmiles Lemonade Stand” in her front yard after a friend was diagnosed with neuroblastoma. She now sells lemonade at three locations for three days at a time, with the help of her partner and sister Lillian, family members and her 4-H club, and with guidance from Alex’s Lemonade Stand Foundation (ALSF). Madeline has formed relationships with lemonade distributors, solicits stores for cookies and supplies, and secures sponsorships for T-shirts, caps, signage and materials. Last year alone she raised $17,300 for ALSF. In addition, Madeline was part of a group that applied for and won a $1,000 grant to purchase air mattresses, bedding and pillows for students who don’t have their own beds. As a 4-H leader, she also volunteered to clean up a local farm after harsh weather last year, and has organized projects at a local homeless shelter, the county fair and a day camp.

Sawyer (pictured right), an eighth-grader at Lux Middle School, volunteered last year at the summer camp of a local children’s museum where she mentored a 6-year-old boy who is on the autism spectrum. Sawyer, who has always loved children, was looking for a way to occupy her time during the summer and at the same time do something that would make a difference in someone’s life. So when she heard about the museum’s camp, “I couldn’t wait to fill out the application,” she said. Her first day on the job, Sawyer noticed a quote painted on the museum’s wall that would become the cornerstone of her time there: “Making one person smile can change the world – maybe not the whole world, but their world.” By the end of the first day, “I set a goal for myself: to make one kid smile each day,” she said.

Most of Sawyer’s duties at the camp involved working with one child, with whom she developed a close bond. A typical day consisted of playing with the boy. Sometimes he would become overstimulated if the light was too bright or the noise level too high, so Sawyer had to learn techniques for calming him down. During their summer together, Sawyer read a lot about autism and began to develop a better understanding of how to accommodate the child. “There is no better feeling in the world than knowing you had a positive impact on someone’s life,” she said. Sawyer also volunteers for the museum during the school year, assisting with after-school clubs at several elementary schools and providing childcare services during special events.

About The Prudential Spirit of Community Awards

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 25 years, the program has honored more than 130,000 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 For more information about the National Association of Secondary School Principals, visit For more information about Prudential Financial, visit

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