Jenna Dewey has been selected as one of two young Delawareans to receive the Prudential Spirit of Community Award

Postlethwait Middle School student Jenna Dewey is an eighth grader with a heart as big as her smile.

That caring heart, plus a lot of work, has made Jenna one of two recipients of the prestigious Prudential Spirit of Community Award for Delaware. Presented annually by Prudential Financial, the award recognizes middle- and high-school volunteers in each state.

Maricruz Contreras of Wilmington was the First State’s other honoree.

A native Delawarean, Jenna lives in Felton with her parents and older brother. She became interested in volunteering while looking for a project for her Girl Scout Silver Award, the highest honor offered by the Scouts.

Jenna and mom Angel Dewey considered any number of ideas before deciding she would create a children’s library at The Shepherd Place shelter in Dover. The shelter, on South Governors Avenue, provides a safe haven for homeless women and children.

“I always loved reading as a child and getting lost in books,” Jenna said. “I wanted to let other kids have the same effect I had when I was reading.”

“We went there and had a meeting with the executive director and I told her my idea, and she was really excited,” Jenna recalled. “That really motivated me.”

But Jenna learned the thrill of helping others wouldn’t be enough to gather the number of books she wanted. After two weeks of canvassing other Postlethwait students, she’d collected only 100 books.

She then went straight to the top, contacting CR School District Superintendent Kevin Fitzgerald and asking to expand her project district-wide.

“He was on board, and said, ‘If you can do it, I’m OK with it.’”

That’s all Jenna needed. She put up fliers and drop boxes throughout every district school.

“By the time it was over, I had about 1,460 books,” she said. “It was very fulfilling, half our garage was filled with books!”

Jenna feels she’s helped make a difference in her community.

“This wasn’t something I decided that I had to do, it was something I wanted to do,” she said. “It was something inspiring and a chance to leave a lasting impact.”

Jenna’s next stop will be April 28 when she attends the four-day national awards program in Washington, D.C. to receive a $1,000 award and learn if she’s one of 10 National Honorees.

What is leadership?

Leadership is taking charge but not by being overbearing and learning to accept help from others when necessary.

How would you define caring?

It’s about someone who understands that not everyone is perfect and then being willing to help others when they need it. It’s knowing they need to be there to help, and then always being there. You learn to understand how others feel and you’re there to help them.

You’ll be attending Caesar Rodney High School next year. What are your plans after college?

I want to be a lawyer because I love arguing. And I like defending others when needed.

Who is your inspiration?

My mom. She’s a nurse and motivates me and tells me not to give up.