Merrimack girl receives national honor for volunteerism

WASHINGTON, D.C. – New Hampshire’s top two youth volunteers of 2016 – Emma Williams, 17, of Merrimack, and Caitlin Shapleigh, 12, of Londonderry – were honored in the nation’s capital recently for their volunteer service during the 21st annual presentation of The Prudential Spirit of Community Awards.

Williams and Shapleigh, along with 100 other top youth volunteers from across the country, each received $1,000 awards and personal congratulations from Academy Award-winning actress Hilary Swank at a dinner reception at the Smithsonian’s National Museum of Natural History.

The awards program, sponsored by Prudential Financial in partnership with the National Association of Secondary School Principals, named Williams and Shapleigh New Hampshire’s top high school 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 recognition events.

Williams, a senior at Bishop Guertin High School, began organizing an annual basketball tournament at a nearby high school in 2011 to raise money to provide Christmas gifts for families in need in her community.

As a member of her school’s service group in eighth grade, Williams was challenged by the club’s adviser to think of ways to raise money for charity. At the time, she was an avid basketball player, so it didn’t take too long for her to propose a fundraising "Heart to Hoops" basketball tournament.

After obtaining permission to use the school gym for a weekend in November, Williams reached out to coaches and recruited eight teams. Then, with the help of her father, she lined up referees. The teams paid an entrance fee to play in the tournament, and additional money was raised by selling tickets to spectators, and conducting a raffle and shooting competitions. Williams also encouraged spectators to bring canned food to the tournament, which was donated to charity.

Williams’ annual tournaments have raised more than $10,000, enough to brighten the holidays of 80 families in her area.

"My favorite part is the kids," she said. "It’s amazing to see young basketball players become excited about doing something they love while making a difference in the world."

For more information about the awards and honorees, visit spirit.prudential.com or www.nassp.org/spirit.