Eagle Ridge Middle School student Shrey Pothini was honored as Minnesota's top middle level youth volunteer of 2018 at a ceremony in the nation's capital on April 29 for his outstanding volunteer service during the 23rd annual presentation of The Prudential Spirit of Community Awards. Shrey received $1,000 awards and personal congratulations from Olympic gold medalist and World Cup champion Lindsey Vonn at the ceremony and gala dinner reception held at the Smithsonian's National Museum of Natural History.
An eighth-grader, Shrey has organized an annual citywide "day of service" for the past three years to mobilize community members to help others. He has been passionate about community service ever since he collected new bath towels for a local homeless youth shelter when he was 5 years old. That effort led him to start a service club at Harriet Bishop Elementary School, and then to encourage volunteerism throughout his entire city. "I wanted children and families in my city to be exposed to the needs in our community and learn how to make a difference while having fun," said Shrey.
Shrey took his idea for a "Service Day Saturday" to the city's mayor, city council and city administrator. After receiving permission, he put an ad in the local paper letting people know about the event and then formed a planning committee. He also talked to the city fire, police and communications departments; the local library; every school in the area; and local businesses and nonprofits. On the day of the event, residents were encouraged to conduct their own volunteer projects or participate in one of 12 that Shrey had organized. More than 1,500 people participated in last year's Service Day Saturday, collecting 4,000 pounds of food, donating 2,000 books to nonprofits, decorating 4,000 lunch bags for Meals on Wheels, assembling 500 bracelet kits for hospitalized kids, putting together 375 dental kits for homeless youth, and raising money to purchase 20 goats for families in Kenya.
"I'm so grateful that people listened to my ideas and didn't think I was just being a silly child," said Shrey. "I would tell other young people to never let anybody tell them they cannot make a difference."
"These honorees exemplify something we've known for a long time – that young volunteers have the power to bring meaningful change to their communities," said John Strangfeld, chairman and CEO of Prudential Financial, Inc. "These students have shown leadership and determination well beyond their years, and it's a privilege to celebrate their service."