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The TruStage® Community Spark Awards

Drum roll, please...

Presenting our Community Spark Award winners!

We’re thrilled to present the 20 winners of the 2018 TruStage Community Spark Awards. This competition celebrates a major milestone with more than 20 million members across the U.S. protected by TruStage insurance products.

It’s important for people to protect their family’s future, which includes the communities where they live. That’s why the 2018 TruStage Community Spark Awards recognizes young people from coast to coast who are actively taking strides to improve their communities through volunteer and community activities. In reviewing the many nominations, our spirits were uplifted by countless stories of feeding and clothing the less fortunate, providing recognition for veterans, increasing opportunities for the disabled, preserving historic cultures, finding better homes for animals, and more.

From this group of more than 150 exemplary individuals, our award winners were selected by a panel of their peers from the Boys & Girls Club of Dane County, serving the Madison area of Wisconsin. We’re honored to make a $1,000 donation to their charity of choice.

To our 2018 Community Spark Award winners and all our entrants, thank you for being your amazing selves – and for making a difference in your community. We’re honored to highlight the great work you’ve done!

TruStage Community Spark Award Winners:

Tandi Ankrum
Age: 17
Location: Rio Grande, NJ
Charity: Family Promise of Cape May County

Tandi’s been busy since the beginning of 2018 – clocking over 150 volunteer hours for several organizations and programs in her New Jersey community. She especially loves working with a local organization that helps homeless families get back on their feet through finding them shelter. In addition to her work with that organization, she does many other things to lend a hand in her community, including assisting at the local food pantry, running blood drives, placing flags on the graves of veterans, and helping find hosts for families in need during the holidays. She does all of this while battling Type 1 diabetes and gastroparesis, saying, “It is really important to show we care. You never know what someone else is going through.”

Brandon Beduhn
Age: 8
Location: Cody, WY
Charity: Food 4 Kids

What started out as a simple lemonade stand has been making a big difference in Brandon Beduhn’s community of Cody, WY. For three years, Brandon’s Lemonade Stand has been raising money for Food 4 Kids, a program that discreetly delivers food to needy children in the area. Brandon first learned about the program when he was in preschool, where he worked on packaging supplies for Food 4 Kids with his grandmother. This year, Brandon began an online fundraiser to supplement his work with the lemonade stand, allowing more friends and community members to donate to the program. He says he’s the happiest when he knows he makes others happy – and that helping is one way he can be kind to others.

Rayann Bracken
Age: 12
Location: Oklahoma City, OK
Charity: Citizens Caring for Children

When Rayann’s family took in three foster children and they arrived at her house without socks, it broke her heart – and gave her an idea. She went on to found Cold Cans 4 Warm Socks, an initiative that partners with businesses to collect cans for recycling. The funds from these cans are used to purchase socks and donate them to organizations that support foster children and the homeless in Oklahoma. For Rayann, the effort is doubly helpful: socks are the number one item requested by the homeless and the least donated, and by recycling the cans, she’s helping Mother Earth. Her motto is, “helping foster children, Mother Earth, and the homeless – one can at a time.”

Cash Daniels
Age: 9
Location: Chattanooga, TN
Charity: 1 Piece Each

A passion for marine animals and fish is what prompted Cash Daniels to study the effects of pollution in our rivers and oceans. Ignited by what he learned, he now hosts monthly river clean-ups in his community and leads environmental movie nights at local restaurants and universities to educate others on sustainability, pollution, and single-use plastics. That education has also taken the form of writing letters to several local and chain restaurants, encouraging them to reduce their plastic waste. A few local spots – and one high-profile spot called Wahlburgers – have listened and have changed to more sustainable products or are looking into alternatives. He’s also a young entrepreneur, having started his own business selling reusable straws and straw pouches made from recycled materials.

Cruz Anthony Herrera
Age: 12
Location: Palmdale, CA
Charity: Team Lilly Foundation

Cruz is involved in wide variety of activities in his Palmdale, CA community. He participates at his local church both by volunteering his time to play drums for church services as well as being part of several fundraisers to help the needy. He has also helped at a local event, “Tea for Titania”, whose proceeds benefit the American Family Foundation Dog Therapy through Children’s Hospital Los Angeles. Cruz has done all of this in addition to maintaining an excellent GPA and being active in the National Junior Honors Society. Despite some trying times for Cruz – losing a dear friend to brain cancer and helping his mother as she also battled with the disease – he strives to be a positive force and focuses on serving as a role model.

Emily Herrmann
Age: 17
Location: Clarkston, MI
Charity: Clarkston SCAMP

Inspired by a student in her choir class with Down syndrome and his positive, emotional reaction to the music, Emily took it upon herself to research the effects music has on individuals with special needs. She then spent several months raising funds to pay for musical instruments designed for individuals of all abilities. The instruments were recently installed in downtown Clarkston’s Depot Park, and her hope is that this musical playground can be used as a learning tool for the ASD (autism spectrum disorder) teachers at Clarkston Schools – and that it will bring joy and a love of music to all the residents in the Clarkston community.

Sam Jackson
Age: 13
Location: Red Springs, NC
Charity: Highlander Academy

Sam wears many hats when it comes to volunteering. He spends much of his time working in the yards of elderly people in his community – cutting down trees, trimming hedges, and helping with additional yard work. When a recent hurricane hit his community, Sam was out the next day cutting trees off houses. He was also inspired to create a flood pantry in his church that he filled with flood buckets, hygiene kits, and other supplies others may need during the days following a disaster. An active Boy Scout, Sam acts as a mentor to younger scouts and will soon receive his Eagle rank.

Zachary Kirkland
Age: 16
Location: Winter Haven, FL
Charity: Silly Sock Saturdays

In middle school, Zachary was given an assignment by a middle school teacher: come up with a project that would make a difference in his community. He realized he wanted to give children in hospitals a bit of joy and something to look forward to while they were there – and the idea of Silly Sock Saturdays was born. Silly Sock Saturdays is now a 501(c)3 non-profit corporation and visits local hospitals on the second Saturday of each month, delivering silly socks, coloring books, activities, and toys to children staying at the hospital. Zachary’s been making deliveries through Silly Sock Saturdays since April 2017 and hopes that this effort gives children something to look forward to or helps to take their mind off an upcoming treatment or procedure.

Emma Kirby
Age: 17
Location: Menomonee Falls, WI
Charity: Falls Area Food Pantry

Emma recognized that there wasn’t a lot of participation among her peers when it came to donation drives at school – and realized a bit of motivation might be in order. She received approval from her school to start EC4Charity – a program where any student who brings in a donation to the school’s quarterly donation drives receives a raffle ticket for a chance to be awarded extra credit points in one of their classes. Students can also volunteer at the local food pantry to receive a raffle ticket. Although the extra credit points are usually minimal, teachers have noticed that students are motivated to help others in the community, and participation in these donation drives has increased.

Kaitlyn Martinez
Age: 15
Location: Tolleson, AZ
Charity: Backpacks 4 Kids AZ, Inc

A junior at Phoenix Coding Academy, Kaitlyn is the youngest person serving on the City of Phoenix’s Youth and Education Commission Board and runs her own non-profit, Backpacks 4 Kids AZ. Kaitlyn started Backpacks 4 Kids AZ when she was 11 years old, after she learned a friend didn’t have school supplies. Knowing that kids need school supplies to be successful in school, Kaitlyn started with a school supply drive – and was able to give 175 kids school supplies in her first year. Backpacks for Kids AZ (complete with a website designed by Kaitlyn at a 24-hour coding event!) has now provided over 4,000 backpacks with school supplies to disadvantaged kids and 700 “Love Bundles” to kids entering foster homes and shelters.

Sofia Martinez
Age: 17
Location: Prosser, WA
Charity: Sofia's Shining Stars

After being diagnosed with Batten disease, a rare and fatal genetic disease, Sofia was determined not to let the illness run her life. Her love of dressing up and pageants led to some research – and an interesting finding: Sofia couldn’t find a pageant in Washington state designed for participants with special needs. In her mind, there was a simple solution. Why not create one? Miss Shining Star held its first pageant for differently-abled girls in 2015. 2019 will mark the organization’s fifth pageant, which has expanded into two shows featuring over 40 participants. The pageants also have a community service component – collecting new pajamas that are donated to children’s hospitals around the state.

Jayruh Miller
Age: 14
Location: Fort Walton Beach, FL
Charity: Catholic Charities of NWFL – FWB Food Pantry

When Hurricane Harvey devastated Houston and the surrounding areas, Jayruh decided to start a collection at her school to aid the victims of the storm. Through Catholic Charities of Northwest Florida, she was able to get non-perishable food and hygiene kids to Harvey refugees, and she’s continued her work with this organization in her community of Fort Walton Beach, Florida. When Hurricane Michael hit neighboring Panama City and Mexico Beach, Jayruh devoted her time to helping families in need – traveling to Panama City to distribute food, water, cleaning supplies, tarps, and toiletries to anywhere from 3,000 to 5,000 people a day.

Marlon Miller Jr.
Age: 12
Location: McDonough, GA
Charity: Deuce Hands, Inc.

Marlon (aka “Deuce”) started his own nonprofit organization, Deuce Hands, Inc., in the summer of 2017 with a simple, yet important mission: to help people in need in his community. With the help of volunteers and donations, he’s been able to assist over 1,000 individuals – at-risk girls, runaway teens, battered women and children, veterans, and homeless children and families—by giving away compassion bags, groceries, toys, and school supplies. He does all of this while maintaining an “A” average in school, playing soccer, and being active in several school groups and activities.

Kholton Perry
Age: 14
Location: Dover Foxcroft, ME
Charity: The JD Foundation

When an elderly family friend took his own life in 2015, Kholton knew he wanted to do something to help prevent suicide in his community. He quickly began raising money for The JD Foundation, a suicide-prevention foundation that offers support and educational classes. From going door-to-door asking for donations to collecting bottles and cans that can be redeemed for funds, he’s raised nearly $8,000 for the organization – all while being very active on his school’s student council and math team in addition to choir and several sports.

Aidan Peterson
Age: 12
Location: Ardmore, PA
Charity: Bugles Across America

Since 2015, Aidan has been the youngest live “Taps” bugler for Bugles Across America, Taps for Veterans, and Youth Trumpet and Taps Corps. Each year, at his own expense, he travels thousands of miles each year so our veterans can be put to rest with proper military honors. Aidan is also the driving force behind Pennsylvania Senate Bill 540 which gives student musicians an excused absence from school to play at military events. In addition to the trumpet and bugle, he also plays the cello as a volunteer in the music therapy program at the Philadelphia VA Medical Center – playing bedside for veterans.

Chandler Plante
Age: 13
Location: Camp Verde, AZ
Charity: Verde Valley Special Olympics

Chandler’s love for his Arizona community can be seen in the many activities he’s spearheaded. He most recently raised over $5,800 to bring a swing for the disabled to his local park – an initiative that he started by asking for his town council’s approval. He’s also collected over 50 bicycles each year for the past two years through Recycle Your Bicycle, an organization who gives bikes to foster children. In addition to these two initiatives, Chandler is involved with several organizations and programs, including volunteering weekly at a local food pantry, offering a free lawn service for the handicapped and elderly, and organizing food and clothing drives to help the homeless and families in need.

Reilly Trainor
Age: 14
Location: Santa Rosa, CA
Charity: Redwood Empire Food Bank

Since the age of three, Reilly has helped with her older brother’s food and funds drive to benefit the Redwood Empire Food Bank. Her brother is now in college, and Reilly is conducting the drive on her own. Last year, Reilly’s neighborhood route of over 600 homes contributed over 2,000 pounds of food and an additional $2,000 in donations. This year, she has her sights set on exceeding last year’s numbers.

Benjamin Trofemuk
Age: 16
Location: Macon, GA
Charity: The Academy for Classical Education

Benjamin works tirelessly to help people of all ages. He recently raised money to provide new school uniforms for the third-grade class at L.H. Williams Elementary, a school that serves children below the poverty line. Benjamin has also worked to launch a Science Field Day for fifth-grade students at nearby Sonny Carter Elementary. The Field Day brought a nationally-known educator and entertainer to the school to help students learn their science standards – and it’s contributed to the school’s state test scores improving.

Brittany VanHook
Age: 15
Location: Tampa, FL
Charity: Epilepsy Services Foundation

As a young person living with epilepsy, Brittany understands the specific needs of others who are going through a similar situation. To help kids with epilepsy who need to use a diastat kit, she invented an epilepsy blanket, completed with a built-in pillow and pockets for medications and a change of clothes. The discreet blanket, created so kids didn’t feel alone or embarrassed about their use of diastat kits to stop seizures, fits into a small bookbag, making it easy for a child to carry. In 2015, Brittany was awarded the Tampa Bay Lightning Community Hero for her blanket. Since the age of seven, she’s given out 15,000 epilepsy and regular blankets to children’s hospitals as well as homeless shelters.

Josie Webb
Age: 7
Location: North Little Rock, AR
Charity: Project Zero

At seven years old, Josie is already a big advocate for helping children in foster care. Two years ago, Josie came up with the idea to host a garage sale to raise money for Walk for the Waiting, an annual fundraising event for three foster care-focused organizations in Arkansas. Last year, she collected spare change at her school for the same event, and this year, she’s been making bracelets and selling them in her neighborhood to raise funds. Her efforts – and her desire to help children in need – have led to a total of $6,000 raised for the organization.