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Lone Oak student receives state-level volunteerism honor

Staff report

Two Kentucky students received accolades on Tuesday for their involvement in volunteer activities.

Morgan Guess, 11, of Paducah and Kinsey Morrison, 17, of Goshen were named Kentucky's top two youth volunteers of 2014 by The Prudential Spirit of Community Awards, a nationwide program honoring young people for outstanding acts of volunteerism.

Morgan, a fifth-grader at Lone Oak Intermediate School, has worked with her mother to focus attention on the problem of bullying. After Morgan was bullied at school, she became clinically depressed. When her mother found out about it, she "told me that bad things are going to happen in life and I could choose to ignore it, blame others, or be a part of the solution," Morgan said. After learning that Kentucky leads the nation in teen suicide attempts and that 160,000 kids skip school each day because they're afraid, Morgan chose to be part of the solution.

Morgan began by sharing her story on a YouTube video that's been viewed almost 4,000 times. She and her mother then started a foundation to spread awareness. They arranged for a movie on bullying to be screened in their community, and invited an author who had written a book on the subject to speak to 6,000 students in grades 4-12. Morgan co-authored an opinion piece for the Huffington Post, led an anti-bullying march around the local mall, and distributed anti-bullying bumper stickers and T-shirts. She also was featured in two anti-bullying shows on the statewide educational television station, started a "Kids for Kindness" Facebook page, and spoke about the issue at a college conference.

Kinsey, a senior at St. Francis High School, is a motivational speaker who has delivered more than 50 speeches on a variety of topics and helped raise money for dozens of charities. When Kinsey was 5, she was diagnosed with a rare bone marrow condition called aplastic anemia. Her parents were told she only had one month to live, but Kinsey beat the odds. When she was 6, while attending a luncheon to thank donors for the transfusions that helped save her life, she gave a five-minute impromptu speech in which she referred to her illness as the "dragon" and herself as a "dragon slayer." That speech launched her quest to tell her story with the goal of raising money for health charities.

Both will receive $1,000, an engraved silver medallion and an expense-paid trip in early May to Washington, D.C., where they will join the top two honorees from each of the other states and the District of Columbia for four days of national recognition events. During the trip, 10 students will be named America's top youth volunteers of 2014.

The Prudential Spirit of Community Awards, now in its 19th year, is conducted by Prudential Financial in partnership with the National Association of Secondary School Principals.

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