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MidWeek Staff

Central Teens Named State’s Top Youth Volunteers At D.C. Ceremony

Actor Forest Whitaker congratulates Kayla Kawamura (center) and Hannah Button on being named Hawaii's top two youth volunteers for 2014 at The Prudential Spirit of Community Awards ceremony. Photo from Prudential Finance.

Actor Forest Whitaker congratulates Kayla Kawamura (center) and Hannah Button on being named Hawaii’s top two youth volunteers for 2014 at The Prudential Spirit of Community Awards ceremony. Photo from Prudential Finance.

Hawaii’s top two youth volunteers of 2014, Kayla Kawamura of Mililani and Hannah Button of Waialua, were honored May 4 in Washington, D.C., for their outstanding volunteer service during the 19th annual presentation of The Prudential Spirit of Community Awards.

Kawamura and Button – along with 100 other students from across the country – each received $1,000 and personal congratulations from Academy Award-winning actor Forest Whitaker at an award ceremony and gala dinner held at the Smithsonian Institute’s National Museum of Natural History.

The Prudential Spirit of Community Awards program named Kawamura and Button Hawaii’s top high and middle school 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 laudatory events.

A senior at Hanalani Schools, Kawamura launched a service project with a friend called “The Greatest Gift.” She and others assembled Christmas goody bags for children at a local homeless shelter and raised money to aid people in third-world countries.

“This experience has shown me that I have a desire to help others, and I now want to pursue a career where I can dedicate my life to assisting the less fortunate,” said Kawamura.

An eighth-grader at Trinity Lutheran School, Button initiated a project to provide holiday gifts for sick and injured soldiers and their families, and also helped raise money for an event that honored service members killed in combat since 2001.

Button helped establish dreamofabetterworld.org with her older brother and sister in 2007, after their mother was diagnosed with breast cancer. In the years since, they have raised more than $198,000 and have taken part in numerous activities benefiting children and families in need.

Last year, after witnessing a friend’s tearful reunion with her father upon his return from deployment, Button decided to start a project of her own: “Operation Holiday Heroes.”

She raised money to donate Christmas gifts to sick and injured soldiers, veterans and their families staying at Tripler Medical Center’s Fisher House. Button also raised money through a website and neighborhood events, and delivered 50 bags of gifts and household supplies to military families.

She also helped raise funds to supply American flags, drinking water and portable toilets for Fisher House’s “remembrance run” last fall, held to commemorate the 6,728 Americans killed in action since Sept. 11, 2001.

“These honorees are shining examples of what is possible when young people use their energy and initiative to help their communities,” said John Strangfeld, chairman and CEO of Prudential Financial Inc. “We are proud to recognize their accomplishments, and look forward to seeing the great things they achieve in the future.”

Youth volunteers in grades 5-12 were invited to apply for 2014 Prudential Spirit of Community Awards last fall through schools, Girl Scout councils, county 4-H organizations, American Red Cross chapters, YMCAs and affiliates of the HandsOn Network.

More than 30,000 middle level and high school students nationwide participated in this year’s program.

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