A North Little Rock student earlier this month was one of two Arkansas youths who received awards for outstanding volunteering during a ceremony held in Washington, D.C.

Riley Strube, 10, of North Little Rock was honored in the nation’s capital for outstanding volunteer service during the 19th annual presentation of The Prudential Spirit of Community Awards. Rachel Deeds, 16, of Fayetteville and Riley – along with 100 other top youth volunteers from across the country – each received $1,000 awards and personal congratulations from Academy Award-winning actor Forest Whitaker at an award ceremony and gala dinner reception held at the Smithsonian’s National Museum of Natural History.

The Prudential Spirit of Community Awards program, sponsored by Prudential Financial in partnership with the National Association of Secondary School Principals (NASSP), named Rachel and Riley Arkansas’ top high school and middle level youth volunteers in February. In addition to their cash awards, they each received an engraved silver medallion and an all-expense-paid trip with a parent to Washington, D.C., for four days of recognition events.

Riley, a fifth-grader at Cabot Middle School South, helps a young girl with autism learn and perform routines during a weekly dance class for children with special needs. Riley volunteered to be a "dance buddy" four years ago when her mother’s dance studio organized a class for children with disabilities. She quickly discovered the importance of the class. It helps kids with disabilities including autism, Down syndrome, spina bifida, and cerebral palsy to gain confidence, improve balance, acquire social skills, and make new friends, said Riley.

Each week, Riley attends the 45-minute "I Can! Dance" class and helps her dance student learn new steps, follow directions, communicate with other dancers and develop the confidence to perform on stage. She also helps other students put their shoes on, find their spots, stay in line and take turns. To accommodate the growing number of students, Riley recruited friends to volunteer in the class, too. "This activity has changed the lives of so many children," said Riley. "I think the buddies are the ones who are impacted the most, though. I have learned that people are all special, no matter what difference they may have."