The Prudential Spirit of Community Awards announced Delaware’s top two state honorees of 2018 in a youth volunteer awards program honoring students in fifth through 12th grades for outstanding volunteer service.

Maricruz Contreras, 16, of Wilmington, a junior at Delaware Design-Lab High School, plays a leadership and advocacy role in several organizations to support LGBTQ youth and educate the public about the challenges facing lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people.

“Seeing and experiencing first-hand the lack of knowledge and support for the LGBTQ community, I realized that it had to change, and that was when I knew that the idea of me being an advocate was key to my personal growth as a gay adolescent,” said Maricruz.

Maricruz has served as a mentor and leader in her high school’s Pride Club, teaching staff and students about the difficulties faced by LGBTQ students and how to foster a more supportive school environment. As a member of the national student council of the Gay, Lesbian and Straight Education Network, she writes blog posts, plans and assists with yearly events and led the network’s Latinx Heritage Month activities in 2017. Maricruz also is involved in educational outreach in conjunction with LGBTQ History Month and promotes safe-sex education as a member of Planned Parenthood of Delaware’s teen council. Most recently, Maricruz helped teach lessons at an annual anti-bullying conference and performed a stand-up comedy routine on LGBTQ stereotypes.

“I take pride in who I am, and want to instill that in others,” said Maricruz.

Jenna Dewey, 13, of Felton, an eighth-grader at Postlethwait Middle School, collected nearly 1,500 books and several pieces of furniture to create a new children’s library at a local homeless shelter. Wanting to make a “strong, lasting” impact on her community, Jenna sent an email to her school principal asking if she could conduct a book drive at the school to benefit kids at a family shelter in Dover.

“After hearing my idea, she gladly allowed me to share the plan with staff and students at our school, and they embraced the challenge,” said Jenna.

Jenna made announcements to the student body and hung posters throughout the school, then created drop boxes to collect donated books.She expanded her drive to all of the schools in her school district after a positive response. As donations poured in, Jenna spent hours counting and labeling each book before packing them all up and delivering them to The Shepherd Place shelter. In addition to the 1,460 books that she provided, Jenna procured and painted three children’s chairs for the new library, and furnished three additional plastic chairs, a table and two bookshelves as well.

“I felt extremely proud knowing that the amount of effort I had put in was actually going to pay off and make a difference in my community,” said Jenna.

Each of the 102 state honorees will receive $1,000, an engraved silver medallion and an all-expense-paid trip in late April to Washington, D.C., for four days of national recognition events. During the trip, 10 of these students will be named among “America’s Top Youth Volunteer of 2018”; and will receive an additional $5,000 awards, gold medallions, crystal trophies and $5,000 grants from The Prudential Foundation for nonprofit charitable organizations of their choice. In addition to the state honorees, the program’s judges recognized 234 students nationwide as distinguished finalists for their community service activities. Each will receive an engraved bronze medallion.

For more,