Educating People About Tourette Syndrome (TS)

Who: Jennifer Zwilling
Age: 17
What: 2008 Prudential Spirit of Community Award Winner

This week’s Believe In Youth article is about a young woman that used a challenge she was presented with to change the lives of many people with similar stories. She has educated thousands to make a difference across the country. Story courtesy of the Syosset/Jericho Tribune.

Jericho Student Named
Top Youth Volunteer

Jennifer Zwilling, 17, of Brookville and Kara Houppert, 12, of Webster were named New York’s top two youth volunteers for 2008 by The Prudential Spirit of Community Awards, a nationwide program honoring young people for outstanding acts of volunteerism. The awards program, now in its 13th year, is conducted by Prudential Financial in partnership with the National Association of Secondary School Principals (NASSP).

Zwilling was nominated by Jericho High School and Kara was nominated by Willink Middle School in Webster. As State Honorees, each will receive $1,000, an engraved silver medallion and an all-expense-paid trip in early May to Washington, D.C., where they will join the top two honorees – one middle level and one high school youth – from each of the other states and the District of Columbia for several days of national recognition events. Ten of them will be named America’s top youth volunteers for 2008 at that time.

Zwilling, a senior at Jericho High School, founded and implemented the Youth Ambassador Training program of the National Tourette Syndrome Association, a nationwide program that trains teens to educate other young people about Tourette Syndrome (TS). Zwilling was diagnosed with the neurological disorder at the age of 7. “Although my mom and I attempted to educate my school, I found that people were not as tolerant, understanding or knowledgeable regarding TS as one would hope,” she said. She soon discovered that other kids with TS had the same experience and decided something had to be done.

She began helping local families of children with TS advocate for themselves and started speaking in schools. When requests for her presentations grew too numerous to handle, Zwilling contacted the National Tourette Syndrome Association to see about launching a program that could train other young people to replicate her activities. Zwilling developed a training manual, presentation handouts and a PowerPoint presentation on a DVD and began recruiting teens to be trained as youth ambassadors. So far, she has trained more than 100 teenagers from all over the U.S., spoken at 56 schools and testified four times before Congress. She estimates that more than 3,000 students, teachers and academic advisers have received accurate information about TS through her program. “I have learned from experience that knowledge is power,” she said. “Knowledge about TS gives classmates the power to accept, understand and be supportive.”

“Over the past 13 years, we’ve seen an incredible number of young Americans who have selflessly devoted their time and energy to helping others in their communities,” said Arthur F. Ryan, chairman of Prudential Financial. “The volunteer work of this year’s honorees is as inspiring as any we’ve seen and we are honored to recognize the amazing contribution they’ve made to their neighborhoods, cities and nation.”

“Congratulations to this year’s state winners in The Prudential Spirit of Community Awards,” stated Gerald N. Tirozzi, executive director of the National Association of Secondary School Principals. “The hard work and determination that these students have exhibited in trying to make a difference in the lives of others is remarkable.”

All public and private middle level and high schools in the country, as well as all Girl Scout councils, county 4-H organizations, American Red Cross chapters, YMCAs and Volunteer Centers, were eligible to select a student or member for a local Prudential Spirit of Community Award this past November. Nearly 4,500 Local Honorees were then reviewed by state-level judges, who selected State Honorees and Distinguished Finalists based on criteria such as personal initiative, creativity, effort, impact and personal growth.

While in Washington, D.C., the 102 State Honorees will tour the capital’s landmarks, attend a gala awards ceremony at the Smithsonian’s National Museum of Natural History and visit their congressional representatives on Capitol Hill. In addition, 10 of them – five middle level and high school students – will be named National Honorees on May 5 by a prestigious national selection committee. These honorees will receive additional $5,000 awards, gold medallions, crystal trophies and $5,000 grants from The Prudential Foundation for nonprofit, charitable organizations of their choice.

Co-chairing the national selection committee will be U.S. Senators John Kerry of Massachusetts and Chuck Hagel of Nebraska and Arthur Ryan of Prudential. Also serving on the committee will be actor Richard Dreyfuss; Alma Powell, chair of America’s Promise – The Alliance for Youth; Michelle Nunn, president and CEO of the Points of Light & Hands On Network; Amy B. Cohn, director of Learn and Serve America at the Corporation for National and Community Service; Kathy Cloninger, CEO of Girl Scouts of the USA; Donald T. Floyd Jr., president and CEO of National 4-H Council; Kathryn Forbes, national chair of volunteers, American Red Cross; Neil Nicoll, CEO of YMCA of the USA; Michael Cohen, president and CEO of Achieve, Inc.; Barry Stark, president of NASSP; and two 2007 Prudential Spirit of Community National Honorees: Kelly Davis of West Bath, ME and Kelydra Welcker of Parkersburg, WV.

In addition to granting its own awards, The Prudential Spirit of Community Awards program will be distributing President’s Volunteer Service Awards to nearly 2,800 of its Local Honorees this year on behalf of the President’s Council on Service and Civic Participation. The President’s Volunteer Service Award recognizes Americans of all ages who have volunteered significant amounts of their time to serve their communities and their country.

The Prudential Spirit of Community Awards represent the United States’ largest youth recognition program based solely on volunteer service. The program is part of a broad youth-service initiative by Prudential that includes a youth leadership training program administered by the Points of Light & Hands On Network; a free booklet of volunteer ideas for young people offered through the Federal Citizen Information Center; and a website featuring profiles of outstanding youth volunteers, volunteer tips and project ideas for students, an electronic newspaper on youth volunteerism and more ( The Spirit of Community Awards program also is conducted by Prudential subsidiaries in Japan, South Korea, Taiwan and Ireland.

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


~ by PJ on February 17, 2008.

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