Connor Archer, 17, of Stillwater, was named this week as one of Maine’s top two youth volunteers of 2016 by The Prudential Spirit of Community Awards, a nationwide program honoring young people for outstanding acts of volunteerism. Connor was nominated by Old Town High School in Old Town. The Prudential Spirit of Community Awards, now in its 21st year, is conducted by Prudential Financial in partnership with the National Association of Secondary School Principals (NASSP).

Connor, a senior at Old Town High School, works to educate the public about autism and the challenges faced by people with autism like himself, and has raised more than $12,000 for organizations that help people with special needs. Connor was diagnosed with autism when he was 3 years old. Luckily, he said, his parents were tireless advocates for him and searched until they found a preschool that could help him develop his full potential. As he grew older, he wanted to give back to the school that had helped him so much, so he created “sensory learning gardens” for the children there. In 2014, Connor decided he wanted to do more for kids with special needs and founded The Courageous Steps Project.

The project’s initial event was a walk-run fundraiser to benefit local schools that help children with special needs. The first one raised nearly $4,000, and a second one brought in more than $6,000. Other fundraising activities, such as a benefit dinner at a local restaurant, have pushed Connor’s total to more than $12,000. Much of that money has been donated to benefit organizations that have played a key role in Connor’s own development, and other groups that work with kids with autism. Connor also has awarded scholarships to three graduating seniors who have overcome their own challenges, purchased iPads and a sound system for his former preschool, and conducted two drives to collect supplies for area schools.

“Strong communities begin with individuals who have the support to take their own courageous steps,” he said.

As a state honoree, Connor will receive $1,000, an engraved silver medallion and an all-expense-paid trip in early May to Washington, D.C., where he will join 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 2016.

Archer was surprised to receive the award.

“When I got the UPS Express package, I had no clue know what it was when I opened it,” said Archer, who also was selected as selected the WLBZ and WCSH Teens Who Care Award Winner for the months of December 2015 and January 2016. “I was surprised that I received an award like this.”

OTHS Principal Scott Gordon, however, said the award was well earned.

“Connor is an amazing individual for a 17 year old,” said Gordon. “There are not many teenagers out there that are this focused on helping other people.  He asks nothing in return.  His story is truly inspirational, and I have no doubt that the Courageous Steps Foundation with Connor’s leadership will help many more people for years to come.”

Archer hopes his trip to Washington D.C. will allow him to promote the Courageous Steps Project, to a totally different audience, and start expanding his efforts and education about the challenges of autism, along with other challenges, nationally.

The Prudential Spirit of Community Awards represents the United States’ largest youth recognition program based solely on volunteer service. All public and private middle level and high schools in the country, as well as all Girl Scout councils, county 4-H organizations, American Red Cross chapters, YMCAs and HandsOn Network affiliates, were eligible to select a student or member for a local Prudential Spirit of Community Award. These Local Honorees were then reviewed by an independent judging panel, which selected State Honorees and Distinguished Finalists based on criteria including personal initiative, effort, impact and personal growth.

While in Washington, D.C., the 102 State Honorees – one middle level and one high school student from each state and the District of Columbia – will tour the capital’s landmarks, meet top youth volunteers from other parts of the world, attend a gala awards ceremony at the Smithsonian’s National Museum of Natural History, and visit their congressional representatives on Capitol Hill. On May 2, 10 of the State Honorees – five middle level and five high school students – will be named America’s top youth volunteers of 2016. These National Honorees will receive additional $5,000 awards, gold medallions, crystal trophies and $5,000 grants from The Prudential Foundation for nonprofit charitable organizations of their choice.

Since the program began in 1995, more than 115,000 young volunteers have been honored at the local, state and national level. The program also is conducted by Prudential subsidiaries in Japan, South Korea, Taiwan, Ireland, India, China and Brazil. In addition to granting its own awards, The Prudential Spirit of Community Awards program also distributes President’s Volunteer Service Awards to qualifying Local Honorees on behalf of President Barack Obama.

For information on all of this year’s Prudential Spirit of Community State Honorees and Distinguished Finalists, visithttp://spirit.prudential.com or www.nassp.org/spirit.


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