Wayzata High School Junior Peter Larson was chosen as one of Minnesota's top two volunteers and honored as a 2011 Prudential Spirit of Community recipient.
Larson was nominated by staff members at WHS for sleeping outside in the frigid late-autumn air for more than 300 nights over the past six years to raise more than $275,000 to help prevent homelessness in the community.
When Larson was in first grade, his Cub Scout pack heard a presentation by the man who had started the "Sleep Out," and learned that for every $500 raised, he could help keep a needy family in their home for one month. "When I heard that number, it just clicked in my brain," said Larson. "It was as if someone told me this is what I should do."
For the next several years, Larson slept outside one night each year with his scout pack to support this cause. "By fifth grade, I knew I could do more, so I asked my parents if I could sleep out for the entire five weeks of the Sleep Out," he said. Since then, he has spent each night of the annual November-December Sleep Out in a cardboard box behind his house, sometimes enduring temperatures as low as 20 degrees below zero. Through media interviews, mailings, website appeals and speeches to church, scouting and school groups, he asks people to support him by making donations to Interfaith Outreach and Community Partners, which provides affordable housing and financial assistance to families in need. Larson also has persuaded local restaurants to pledge part of their profits from one day of his Sleep Out. "This is what I was called to do," said Larson, "because if I don't do it - who will?"
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As a state honoree, Larson will receive $1,000, an engraved silver medallion and an all-expense-paid trip in May to Washington, D.C., where he will join the top two honorees from each state and the District of Columbia for several days of national recognition events. Ten of them will be named America's top youth volunteers for 2011 during the national recognition. The top 10 students will receive an additional $5,000 award, gold medallions, crystal trophies and $5,000 grants from the Prudential Foundation for nonprofit charitable organizations of their choice.