The Prudential Spirit of Community Awards is one of America’s largest youth recognition programs based on volunteer service. Two students are selected at the high and middle level, for high school and middle school students, from all 50 states and the District of Columbia. In 2021, 102 state honorees were named the Top Youth Volunteers, including one Severna Park student.
Lily McCallister, an eighth-grader at Severna Park Middle School, was named Top Youth Volunteer at the middle level for her work with oyster restoration in the Magothy River and Chesapeake Bay. She is an active member of the environmental club and National Junior Honor Society at Severna Park Middle School.
Lily began working on the oyster restoration project in the sixth grade as part of her Girl Scout Silver Award. In school, she learned about pollutants in the Chesapeake Bay and wanted to make a change. She got in touch with the Oyster Recovery Program and the Magothy River Association (MRA) and set up cages with oyster shells and spat (babies) at two marinas on the Magothy River. Once a week, Lily visited the marinas in the rain, snow or shine to shake the cages, which prevents the young oysters from being smothered in the muck. The cages are heavy, so Lily invited her Girl Scout troop and National Junior Honor Society members to assist in shaking the cages.
At the end of the season, MRA member Brad Knoff assisted Lily with dumping the now mature oysters to a protected reef in the Chesapeake Bay, where they will continue to grow and filter pollutants. During the next oyster season, Lily started the process again with a new group of spat.
“My favorite part of my journey was when me and my best friend got to go out and dump the oysters on the protective reef,” Lily said. “It really felt like all my hard work actually served the bay’s health.”
Lily has also conducted research to learn more about oyster filtration. Her award-winning Oyster Versus Mussels project tested whether oysters, mussels, or oysters and mussels together filtered the water at a faster rate. She set up four fish tanks in her kitchen and tested the water once an hour for 19 hours. She learned that the two species worked better as a team.
“She is a very hard worker,” said Lily’s mother, Christine McCallister. “Even in the ice, she's out there shaking those cages. She is a go-getter and I’m very proud.”
Many people supported Lily along the way, but nobody more than Christine. Lily said her mom is the inspiration behind the entire project.
“My mom is a seventh-grade science teacher [at Magothy River Middle School] and she's also my Girl Scout leader,” Lily said. “She always had an impact on me with everything science-related and that got me interested.”
The Prudential Spirit of Community Award, which is conducted by Prudential Financial in partnership with the National Association of Secondary School Principals, awards a $2,500 scholarship and a silver medal. In April, 10 of the 102 students honored will be named America’s Top Youth Volunteers. These students will receive an additional $5,000 scholarship, a gold medal and $5,000 to donate to a charitable organization.
Although she is not sure if she will move on to the next round, Lily said she is just grateful to have been recognized at all and will continue to do her part in making Maryland’s waterways healthier.
“I plan to keep on doing this as long as I can,” Lily said. “I really enjoy going out there. I don't think I could stop.”