Jace Johnson photo

Jace Johnson.

Jace Johnson, 18, of Kamiah, and Christopher Jones, 12, of Boise, were named Idaho’s top youth volunteers of 2021, by The Prudential Spirit of Community Awards, a national youth recognition program based exclusively on volunteer service.

As state honorees, Johnson and Jones will each receive a $2,500 scholarship, a silver medallion and an invitation to the program’s virtual national recognition celebration in April, where 10 of the 102 state honorees will be named America’s top youth volunteers of the year. Those 10 national honorees will earn an additional $5,000 scholarship, a gold medallion, a crystal trophy for their nominating organization and a $5,000 grant for a nonprofit charitable organization of their choice.

“Jace has spent countless hours making Kamiah a better and safer place for local teens,” said Kamiah High School Principal William McFall, who nominated Johnson for the award, and was “extremely pleased” about the honor. “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.”

According to the nomination:

Johnson, a senior at Kamiah High School, played a leadership role in opening a teen center in his small rural community to provide local youth with a safe, fun alternative to substance abuse. Johnson said his volunteering, “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, he 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 said.

So in 2017, he and fellow 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. Then 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 has hosted almost 500 youth events, including concerts, game nights, movies, theme park trips and tournaments. It also has provided classes in a wide range of activities from cooking to budgeting to sewing, subjects not offered in the area’s school. Moreover, younger kids are able to spend time at the center on summer mornings to attend arts and crafts classes. Most importantly, data compiled by local law enforcement has shown a marked decrease in drug, alcohol and tobacco use among teenagers, said Johnson.

The Prudential Spirit of Community Awards, conducted annually by Prudential Financial in partnership with the National Association of Secondary School Principals (NASSP), honors students in grades 5-12 for making meaningful contributions to their communities through volunteer service.