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Once-homeless girl among top youth volunteers

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A formerly homeless girl who led a high-school project to write and publish a book of stories about homeless people is among 10 students from across the country who were named America's top 10 youth volunteers for 2009.

The middle- and high-school students were honored in a ceremony last week at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce headquarters, capping the 14th year of The Prudential Spirit of Community Awards.

The honorees received awards of $5,000, engraved gold medallions, crystal trophies for the schools or organizations that nominated them, and $5,000 grants from The Prudential Foundation for the charities of their choice.

Among this year's winners is Shardy Camargo, 18, of Orlando, Fla., a senior at Maynard Evans High School. She led a group of 40 high-school students in writing and publishing a book about homeless people after experiencing homelessness herself a few years earlier.

"During my freshman year in high school, we lost everything we had, and my mother took me out of school until she could find a stable place to live," said Shardy. Soon after, she began volunteering at the Coalition for the Homeless in Orlando.

"I wanted to truly help the families at the coalition and I knew I had to inspire others to really make a change,” Shardy said.

As part of her effort to raise awareness of homelessness, she and about 40 other student authors went to the homeless shelter to interview 30 adults, and then attended two writing workshops with University of Florida professors.

Shardy spent several months editing the students’ chapters, and the book, “Everyone Has a Story to Tell,” was published in 2007.

Also among the top honorees is Jeremy Bui, 18, of Enfield, Conn., a senior at Enfield High School, who co-founded the Viet-Sun Foundation and has raised nearly $2,000 to fund scholarships for poor children in Vietnam. His parents grew up in Vietnam and escaped its poverty to become successful in America.

Jeremy's foundation so far has awarded six elementary-school scholarships. The foundation also has purchased a year’s worth of textbooks and school supplies for four other Vietnamese children.

The other top honorees are: Brittany Bergquist of Norwell, Mass.; Amanda LaMunyon of Enid, Okla.; Colin Leslie of Rye, N.Y.; Morgan Mariner of Douglas, Wyo.; Melissa Monette of Mililani, Hawaii; Sean Nathan of Shreveport, La.; Shelby Romero of Hutto, Tex.; and Beatrice Thaman of Toledo, Ohio.

Conducted in partnership with the National Association of Secondary School Principals, the Prudential Spirit of Community Awards were created to encourage youth volunteerism and reward young role models.