Caroline Whisonant, 18, of Winnfield has been named High School State Honoree recipient for Louisiana’s top youth volunteers of 2020 by The Prudential Spirit of Community Awards, a nationwide program honoring young people for outstanding acts of volunteerism. As a State Honoree, Caroline will receive $1,000, an engraved silver medallion and an all-expense-paid trip in early May to Washington, D.C., where she and Middle Level State Honoree Kierce Smith, 12, of Baton Rouge 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, 10 students will be named America’s top youth volunteers of 2020.
According to an article on Yahoo Finance website, Caroline, a senior at Winnfield Senior High School, was nominated for the award by Winn Parish 4-H. She is recognized for developing an educational program to teach elementary school children about the danger of opioid drugs and help them develop the skills to avoid all forms of substance abuse. Caroline was motivated to start her program after a classmate died from an opioid overdose. “Seeing the empty seat next to me in my math class where [he] sat, I felt it was important to take immediate action in educating children at an early age on the opioid epidemic,” she said.
Caroline began by researching the epidemic and kid-friendly educational activities. She recruited fellow 4-Hers to help her plan a curriculum, and then met with first-, second- and third-grade teachers to arrange times to work with their students. In 45-minute sessions, Caroline leads the kids in hands-on activities, role-playing scenarios, and games and songs, all designed to teach them skills in goal-setting, conflict resolution, problem-solving, and decision-making. Approximately 200 kids have taken part in the program so far. “Ultimately, I want students to learn that a drug is a chemical used to treat, cure or prevent sickness, but some drugs can make you sick if you abuse them,” said Caroline. She also drafted a piece of state legislation that would address the role of education in combating the opioid epidemic. In addition, Caroline is planning a summer day camp for young students, and a pill drop-off box in her community so that unused drugs can be disposed of safely.
The Prudential Spirit of Community Awards, now in its 25th year, is conducted by Prudential Financial in partnership with the National Association of Secondary School Principals (NASSP).