Two Kentucky students were named among America's top 10 youth volunteers of 2014 on Monday by The Prudential Spirit of Community Awards.
Anti-bullying advocate Morgan Guess, 11, of Paducah and motivational speaker Kinsey Morrison, 17, of Goshen received the recognition during the program's 19th annual national award ceremony at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce.
Selected from more than 30,000 youth volunteers from across the country, and then from 102 state honorees, Kinsey and Morgan have each earned the title of National Honoree along with personal awards of $5,000 and $5,000 grants from The Prudential Foundation for nonprofit charitable organizations of their choice.
Kinsey and Morgan, who in February were named Kentucky's top youth volunteers of the year, were also recognized along with the top two youth volunteers from each other state and the District of Columbia at an award ceremony held at the Smithsonian's National Museum of Natural History. At that event, each of the state honorees received $1,000 as well as personal congratulations from Academy Award-winning actor Forest Whitaker.
Morgan, a fifth-grader at Lone Oak Intermediate School, has worked with her mother, Susan, to focus local, state and national attention on the problem of bullying through a variety of measures. When Morgan was bullied at her school, she suffered in silence and became clinically depressed until telling her mother, who encouraged her to become part of the solution.
Morgan began by sharing her story on a YouTube video. She and her mother then started the Guess Anti-Bullying Foundation to spread awareness of the problem. They arranged for "Bully" to be screened in Paducah, and invited author Jodee Blanco to speak to 6,000 students in grades 4-12. Morgan co-authored an opinion piece for the Huffington Post, was featured in two anti-bullying shows on the statewide educational television station and started a "Kids for Kindness" Facebook page.
"The beauty of this work is that it isn't about me," Morgan said. "It is about my story, and that story has kept the conversation alive and is bringing people together."
Kinsey, a senior at St. Francis High School, has given 50 speeches on a variety of topics and helped raise more than $500,000 for 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. That speech launched her quest to tell her story with the goal of raising money for health charities and inspiring audiences.