Special Photo Newton High School Principal Craig Lockhart, second from left, presented Ali Punjani, second from right, with a letter and certificate from President Barack Obama for the President's Volunteer Service Award. Pictured with the two are Newton County School System Superintendent Gary Mathews, left, and Eddie Johnson, chair of the Newton County Board of Education.
COVINGTON -- A Newton High School student has earned national recognition for helping others.
Ali Punjani, a junior at NHS, recently was honored for his above average volunteer service with a President's Volunteer Service Award.
The award, which recognizes Americans of all ages who have volunteered significant amounts of their time to serve their communities and their country, was presented by The Prudential Spirit of Community Awards program on behalf of President Barack Obama.
Punjani has accumulated over 300 volunteer hours since his freshman year, with over 165 this year alone.
He and best friend Jordan Moon created a community service club at Newton High called Up 2 Us. So far this year, they have provided a Thanksgiving dinner for residents of the Garden of Gethsemane Homeless Shelter, raised $500 by selling soft drinks and bought Christmas gifts for three children in Department of Family and Children Services custody.
"Ali represents what's good and decent about young people today," said NCSS Superintendent Gary Mathews. "His volunteerism certainly appeals to humanity's best instincts."
Additionally, the two students set a goal of raising $5,000 for Newton High School's Relay for Life team this year.
"I went to India during the summer of eighth grade and volunteered at the boarding school my mom went to. Ever since then, it's been important to me to give back to my community," Punjani said.
He said the kids at the school "didn't have very much," and definitely not any luxury items like most kids do.
"It really made me think about how we take a lot of things for granted," he said. "Now, I don't want too much unless I can get it and pay for it myself."
NHS Principal Craig Lockhart said that Punjani is an example of the "high quality students" he has at his school.
"Ali is a natural leader who understands that service to others is a moral responsibility that we all share," Lockhart said. "It is an honor to work with such a bright, caring young man."
Sponsored by Prudential Financial in partnership with the National Association of Secondary School principals, the awards program recognizes young people across America for outstanding community service activities.
"The recipients of these awards vividly demonstrate that young people across America are making remarkable contributions to the health and vitality of their communities," said John R. Strangfeld, chairman and CEO of Prudential Financial. "In recognizing these students and placing a spotlight on their volunteer service activities, we hope to motivate others to consider how they can also contribute to their community."
More than 345,000 young people across America have been considered for these awards since the program began in 1995.
"Demonstrating civic responsibility through community volunteerism is an important part of life," said NASSP Executive Director JoAnn Bartoletti. "These honorees practice a lesson we hope all young people, as well as adults, will emulate."
More information about the awards, community service ideas and applying for future awards is available at www.spirit.prudential.com. Students in grades five through 12 are eligible to apply.