Community

Benton County girl receives Spirit of Community award for volunteer efforts

Cedar Rapids teen also honored for community service

Jojo Whilden/jojowhilden.com

Raegan Junge of Keystone, shown here attending the Nickelodeon HALO awards last November, as now been named one of Iowa’s top youth volunteers.
Jojo Whilden/jojowhilden.com Raegan Junge of Keystone, shown here attending the Nickelodeon HALO awards last November, as now been named one of Iowa’s top youth volunteers.

A 14-year-old Benton County girl was named one of Iowa’s top youth volunteers of 2019 by the Prudential Spirit of Community Awards program earlier this month.

Raegan Junge, 14, of Keystone, received $1,000, an engraved silver medallion and an all-expense paid trip in May to Washington, D.C., according to a news release. She will join other top nominees from across the country for four days of national recognition events. The nationwide program honors young people for outstanding acts of volunteerism. During the Washington, D.C. trip, I0 students will be named America's top youth volunteers of 2019.

Junge, an eighth-grader, was nominated for the award by her school district, Benton Community Schools. She has raised nearly $50,000 over the past seven years to send relief supplies to victims of natural disasters across the United States and overseas, and to provide homeless veterans with basic items and an annual Christmas party.

When Junge was 6 years old, she saw an elderly couple on television who lost their home in a tornado in Joplin, Mo.

“I felt that I had to do something to help,” Junge said in a statement.

She also started making beaded bracelets and would take them to local stores to solicit donations for the victims of the storm.   

After Junge raised $1,600, she and her family drove for eight hours to deliver the money to the homeless couple in Missouri.

“I knew this was something I wanted to continue,” she said after seeing the destruction and despair in Joplin.

Junge then went home and started up her bracelet initiative again and raised additional funds by getting sponsors on board and hosting garage sales and other fundraising activities, according to a news release. She wasn’t alone in her efforts — she gained support from friends, classmates, her fellow 4-H and community members.

Junge started collecting hygiene items, flashlights, batteries, gloves, diapers, clothes and other items and then began shipping packages to areas that had experienced natural disaster. Any leftover money was used to buy blankets, hand warmers, shoes and other items for veterans living on the streets or in shelters.

Junge said she also throws a holiday party for local veterans each year, complete with gift bags and a traditional Christmas dinner.

The awards program also recognized four other Iowa students as Distinguished Finalists, including one teen from Cedar Rapids, Akash Gururaja, 17, a senior at Linn-Mar High School. Gururaja and the others each received an engraved bronze medallion for their “impressive” community service.

Gururaja co-founded "Camatic for a Cause,” an organization that has raised more than $24,000 for community causes since 2015 by organizing a series of performances featuring young artists, according to Prudential officials. The initiative, which featured 75 performers at events in five cities, has benefited causes ranging from a local women’s and children’s center to flood victims in Chennai, India.

The Prudential Spirit of Community Awards represents the largest youth recognition program solely based on volunteer service in the United States. All public and private middle level and high schools, as well as all Girl Scout councils, county 4-H organizations, American Red Cross chapters, YMCAs and affiliates of Points of Light's HandsOn Network, were eligible to select a student or member for a local award.

The local honorees were then reviewed by an independent judging panel and chosen based on criteria including persona initiative, effort, impact and personal growth.   

l Comments: (319) 398-8318; trish.mehaffey@thegazette.com

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