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Oxford student Luke Kelly selected as Mississippi’s top youth volunteer

By Kelly Graeber

Oxford School District

Oxford High School student Luke Kelly, a junior at Oxford High School, is one of Mississippi’s top two youth volunteers of 2017 by The Prudential Spirit of Community Awards, a nationwide program honoring young people for outstanding acts of volunteerism.

As a state honoree, Kelly 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 the top two honorees from each of the other states and the District of Columbia for four days of national recognition events. During the trip to the nation’s capital, ten students will be named America’s top youth volunteers of 2017.

Kelly was nominated by the Lafayette County 4-H Club for leading an effort to improve a scenic hiking trail in Oxford and design an educational activity to enhance walkers’ enjoyment of the pathway. When the University Museum at Ole Miss asked Kelly’s Boy Scout troop to work on a forest trail that runs from the museum to the historic home of William Faulkner, he volunteered to head the project.

“I wanted to do something important that I knew everyone could benefit from,” Kelly said. “Everyone needs to be outside getting exercise and public spaces are free, so I decided to improve a public space.”

After meeting with the museum’s staff, Kelly drew up a plan for sprucing up the Bailey’s Woods Trail and designed a nature scavenger hunt that children and families could participate in while walking along the quarter-mile path.

Over the course of a year, Kelly and his fellow scouts spent countless hours trimming branches along the trail, improving signage, digging post holes, and building a bench to sit on. For his scavenger hunt, he created laminated cards and installed boxes to hold them at both ends of the trail.

Since the completion of the project, thousands of community members, college students and visitors have enjoyed the trail, and his Boy Scout troop has made a long-term commitment to maintain it, said Luke.

The Prudential Spirit of Community Awards, now in its 22nd year, is conducted by Prudential Financial in partnership with the National Association of Secondary School Principals.

“Prudential is honored to recognize these young volunteers for their exemplary service,” said Prudential Chairman and CEO John Strangfeld. “We hope that their stories inspire others to consider how they, too, can volunteer their time and talents to improve their communities.”

“These service-minded young people have brought meaningful change to communities at home and abroad, and it’s a privilege to celebrate their work,” said JoAnn Bartoletti, executive director of NASSP. “Congratulations to an exceptional group of middle level and high school students.”