Reagan Norwood, 17, of Biloxi and Jonah Holland, 14, of Belmont today were named Mississippi'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. Reagan was nominated by Biloxi High School in Biloxi, and Jonah was nominated by Tishomingo County 4-H in Iuka. 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 (NASSP).
Reagan, a junior at Biloxi High School, has collected more than 500 pairs of shoes and socks for homeless people over the past four years through her project, “S.O.S. (Shoes or Socks) for the Homeless.” Reagan first became aware of the problem of homelessness by listening to stories her grandfather told about working at a shelter in Washington, D.C. Then, one Christmas, Reagan’s family took toys to a local mission. “We were allowed to drop off the items, but were not allowed in because my sister and I were minors,” said Reagan. She wondered how children and teens could get involved, and found the answer when a family friend mentioned that there was a real need for shoes and socks at homeless shelters.
In eighth grade, Reagan launched her first drive to collect shoes and socks at her school. Since then, she has held drives at other junior high schools, elementary schools, her high school and a local military base. She created a logo for S.O.S. and a Facebook page to acquaint people with homelessness and publicize her mission. She monitors newsletters and updates from agencies that work with the homeless and passes along information about the current needs of the homeless in her community and state, and ways to help. “S.O.S. is not a program that will save the world,” said Reagan, “but by going through our closets and donating shoes, we can truly make a difference in someone’s life.”
Jonah, a home-schooled eighth-grader, led his 4-H club in raising money to purchase reusable shopping bags that local merchants can use to cut down on the number of plastic bags that end up in landfills. Jonah’s 4-H club had been looking for ways to implement a community-wide recycling program, but because his town is not near a recycling center, a cost-effective solution proved elusive. “It was very discouraging and would have been easy to simply forget about it,” said Jonah. But he wouldn’t let the idea drop. Jonah continued to do research online and joined several forums where people exchange ideas. “One day while shopping, it hit me that so many merchants offer reusable shopping bags,” Jonah said. He wondered, why couldn’t the stores in his community do the same thing?
Jonah presented a plan to the city council that could reduce plastic bag use and promote recycling awareness at no cost to the city. With the town’s endorsement, Jonah and fellow 4-Hers put up a “road block” to ask drivers to donate their change to the cause, and in three hours they raised more than $400. The group then ordered reusable shopping bags in the local school colors and distributed them to local merchants, who sell them to customers for $2 apiece. Not only is the project expected to save merchants money and reduce plastic bag waste, but the $1 profit on each bag sold will be donated to benefit wounded servicemen, said Jonah.
As State Honorees, Reagan and Jonah each will receive $1,000, an engraved silver medallion and an all-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.