("Good Morning America" co-anchor Robin Roberts congratulates Evan Barnard, 17, of Johns Creek (center) and Carter Ries, 14, of Fayetteville (right) on being named Georgia's top two youth volunteers for 2015 by The Prudential Spirit of Community Awards. Evan and Carter were honored at a ceremony on Sunday, May 3 at the Smithsonian's National Museum of Natural History, where they each received a $1,000 award. [Photo: Zach Harrison Photography])Carter Ries, 14, of Fayetteville, Georgia was named one of America’s top 10 youth volunteers of 2015 by The Prudential Spirit of Community Awards during the program’s 20th annual national award ceremony at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce.
Selected from a field of more than 33,000 youth volunteers from across the country, Carter has earned the title of National Honoree, along with a personal award of $5,000, an engraved gold medallion, a crystal trophy for his school, and a $5,000 grant from The Prudential Foundation for a nonprofit charitable organization of his choice.
Also honored in Washington, D.C., was Evan Barnard, 17, of Johns Creek.
Evan and Carter were named Georgia’s top youth volunteers in February, and were officially recognized at the Smithsonian’s National Museum of Natural History along with the top two youth volunteers in each other state and the District of Columbia.
At that event, each of the 102 State Honorees for 2015 received $1,000 awards as well as personal congratulations from “Good Morning America” co-anchor Robin Roberts. The honorees each also received engraved silver medallions and all-expense-paid trips with a parent to Washington, D.C.
Carter, an eighth-grader at Konos Academy, created a weeklong educational curriculum with his younger sister that is teaching kids about the importance of reducing plastic pollution.
After watching TV coverage of the BP oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico in 2010, Carter and his sister, who had already been working on projects to save endangered species, spent four months collecting animal rescue supplies and then delivered them to a rescue center on the Gulf. While there, they were shocked to learn from a veterinarian that plastic trash in the oceans is an even greater threat to marine animals than oil spills.
“After hearing that, we knew we had to do something to educate communities about plastic pollution,” said Carter.
The two siblings spent the next five months educating themselves about the issue and decided to develop a program to teach their peers across the country “how bad the problem is and how they could be part of the solution,” he said.
They consulted community leaders and anti-pollution organizations, and then worked with teachers to create their “Plastic and Recycling Awareness Week” curriculum. In five one-hour lessons over the course of a week, it teaches kids about the dangers of plastic refuse, how to identify recyclable types of plastic, and how to “precycle” by using things like reusable water bottles and cloth shopping bags. After the program was tested successfully in Carter’s school, he and his sister began taking it to other schools and youth organizations around the U.S., and have introduced it in the United Kingdom as well.
The Prudential Spirit of Community Awards program was created in 1995 to identify and recognize young people for outstanding volunteer service – and, in so doing, inspire others to volunteer, too. In the past 20 years, the program has honored more than 100,000 young volunteers at the local, state and national level.