Hadley Gray, 11, of Surprise was recently named one of Arizona’s top two youth volunteers of 2021 by The Prudential Spirit of Community Awards, America’s largest youth recognition program based exclusively on volunteer service.
Hadley earned a $2,500 scholarship, a silver medallion and an invitation to the program’s virtual national recognition celebration in April, where 10 of the 102 state honorees will be named America’s top youth volunteers of the year.
Hadley is a sixth grader from Paradise Honors Middle School in Surprise.
She asked for donations instead of gifts for her ninth birthday to support local homeless and pet shelters, and two birthdays later, collected more than 100 pieces of luggage for children in foster care.
Hadley began volunteering at age 5 by helping her mother organize 5K races for kids with cancer. She said she had so much fun that as she got older, she wanted to start her own service projects.
Last year, Hadley learned that many children in foster care have to use garbage bags to carry their personal belongings when they move between homes.
“This really affected me,” she said. “The thought of those poor kids carrying their prized possessions like garbage was heartbreaking.”
She recalled how successful her ninth birthday had been, and decided to conduct another donation drive for her 11th
birthday. Only this time she would collect luggage for foster kids. To start, she distributed fliers, made a video for social media, posted signs at her school, and persuaded a local coffee shop to promote her effort and serve as a dropoff site.
Since some people donated money instead of luggage, Hadley
purchased additional duffel bags along with hygiene items, coloring books, crayons and a “ton” of stuffed animals to accompany the 100+ pieces of luggage that she ended up delivering to the Maricopa County Department of Child Safety.
These awards, conducted annually by Prudential Financial in partnership with the National Association of Secondary School Principals, honors students in grades five to 12 for making meaningful contributions to their communities through volunteer service.
“We created the Prudential Spirit of Community Awards 26 years ago to highlight and support the work of young people taking on the challenges of a changing world – a mission that rings truer than ever given the events of last year,” said Charles Lowrey, Prudential’s chairman and CEO. “We are proud to celebrate the vision and determination of Spirit of Community’s Class of 2021, and all the ways they’re making their communities safer, healthier and more equitable places to live.”