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Jenks Named Iowa Youth Volunteer of 2017 Finalist

The Prudential Spirit of Community Awards honors student with $1,000, medallions and a trip to nation’s capital.

LMHS Senior Jennifer Jenks

Jennifer Jenks, 17, was named one of Iowa’s two, top 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, Jennifer will receive $1,000, an engraved silver medallion and an all-expense-paid trip in early May to Washington, D.C. where she 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 2017.

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 (NASSP).

Jennifer, a senior at Linn-Mar High School, developed a program in which students from several high schools interview senior citizens in a residential care facility about their lives, and then write up their stories for portfolios that are presented to the families of patients and shared with other residents, visitors and staff members. “After volunteering in Mercy Medical Center’s gift shop for an extended period, I witnessed the debilitating effects of mental and degenerative ailments on individuals and their loved ones,” said Jennifer. She wanted to do something to preserve the memories of elderly patients and share their unique experiences and perspectives with others.

After meeting with hospital staff members, Jennifer and a classmate created the idea of a writing-based therapy program they called, “Mercy Storytellers,” but then it took nine months of weekly meetings and late-night work sessions to flesh out the details. Once the plan was in place, Jennifer began recruiting fellow high school students to interview the nursing home residents and prepare their life stories. When each story is completed, it’s placed in a portfolio for the patient and his or her family. These stories are then featured in a collective “community story binder” for staff members and visitors to read. Jennifer hopes to expand her program to include more patients, more student volunteers and perhaps more hospitals in the future.

For information on all of this year’s Prudential Spirit of Community State Honorees and Distinguished Finalists, visit or