By James Hanlon
Leader Staff Writer
Alex VanHaren, 14, of Oxford was recognized this month for his outstanding volunteer service at the 25th annual, and first-ever virtual, Prudential Spirt of Community Awards.
Over the past five years, VanHaren donated more than 7,500 hats, gloves and scarves to 22 schools and more than 20 charitable organizations through his Scarves 4 Cozy Kids charity.
VanHaren, an eighth grader at Oxford Middle School, earned an all-expense-paid trip to Washington, D.C. for the program’s annual national recognition events. The trip, however, was canceled due to COVID-19 and changed to a three-day online celebration.
Along with 100 other top youth volunteers from across the country, he connected with fellow honorees through online project-sharing sessions, learned about service and advocacy from past Spirit of Community honorees and was congratulated by actress Kristen Bell.
In addition to the $1,000 scholarship and engraved silver medallion he earned as Michigan’s top youth volunteer of 2020, VanHaren was given $2,500 to donate toward the local COVID-19 response efforts of a nonprofit organization of his choice.
He chose to split the $2,500 evenly between two local foodbanks he supports throughout the year, Oxford-Orion FISH and Good Samaritans in Lapeer.
“Over the past 25 years, this program has honored students spanning three generations, and the common thread between them has been the determination of young people to respond to the challenges of the moment,” said Charles Lowrey, chairman and CEO of Prudential Financial. “Who better than this group of young leaders from all over the country to help identify and direct resources to community needs arising from COVID-19?”
The Prudential Spirit of Community Awards program, sponsored by Prudential Financial in partnership with the National Association of Secondary School Principals, named VanHaren Michigan’s top middle level youth volunteer in February.
Beyond winter apparel, his drives have collected more than 40 pounds of pop tops for Ronald McDonald House, and over 400 pairs of glasses for the Lions Club, plus building materials for Habitat for Humanity, blankets and towels for an animal rescue organization, used books for a children’s charity, and personal hygiene items for an agency serving victims of domestic violence.