Jace Johnson, 18, of Kamiah was named “Idaho’s top youth volunteer of 2021” by The Prudential Spirit of Community Awards, America’s largest youth recognition program based exclusively on volunteer service.
As the State honoree, Johnson will receive a $2500 scholarship, a silver medallion and an invitation to the program’s virtual national recognition celebration in April where ten of the 102 State honorees will be named America’s top youth volunteers of the year.
National honorees will earn an additional $5000 scholarship, a gold medallion, a crystal trophy for their nominating organization and a $5000 grant for a nonprofit charitable organization of their choice.
Kamiah High School Principal William McFall, who nominated Johnson, said he was extremely pleased that Johnson received the award. “Jace has spent countless hours making Kamiah a better and safer place for local teens. I applaud his service, as well as the service of all the other youth who volunteer with the community’s local Youth Advisory Board and Teen Center. They definitely make Kamiah a better place for our students and citizens,” McFall stated.
Johnson, a senior at Kamiah High School, played a leadership role in opening a Teen Center in Kamiah to provide youth in the Clearwater Valley with a safe, fun alternative to substance abuse. Johnson said his volunteerism “sprouted from watching my community slowly deteriorate into a town riddled with drugs, crimes and everything in between.”
As president and a founding member of the town’s Youth Advisory Board, Johnson knew that with only a four-day school week and few extracurricular activities it was too easy for young people to slip into drug and alcohol abuse. “I realized that not only did teens need activities to partake in, they needed a safe place to go,” he stated.
In 2017, he and fellow Youth Advisory Board members decided to start raising money to open a Teen Center, primarily by hosting lunches and applying for grants. It took about a year to collect enough funds to rent space, furnish it, pay for utilities and buy supplies. Community members donated a pool table, televisions, furniture, games and other items.
Since opening in September 2019, the Center has recorded thousands of teen visits and the staff has hosted almost 500 youth events, including concerts, game nights, movies, theme park trips and tournaments. Classes such as cooking, budgeting and sewing—subjects not offered in area schools—have been presented. Moreover, younger students are able to spend time at the Center on summer mornings to attend arts and crafts classes which are often led by older students.
The effort has paid big dividends. According to Johnson, data compiled by local law enforcement has shown a marked decrease in drug, alcohol and tobacco use among area teenagers in recent years.
The Prudential Spirit of Community Awards, conducted annually by Prudential Financial in partnership with the National Association of Secondary School Principals, honors students in grades 5-12 for making meaningful contributions to their communities through volunteer service.
In addition to the youth volunteer award, Johnson will receive the President’s Volunteer Service Award which recognizes Americans of all ages who have volunteered significant amounts of their time to serve their communities and their countries.