Last week, the local Volunteer Center honored some of McDowell’s finest during the annual volunteer awards ceremony.

With April as National Volunteer Month, McDowell County recognized those folks and groups that do so much to help others. The McDowell Volunteer Center held the 2014 McDowell Volunteer Awards Ceremony and Reception on Thursday at the Senior Center in Marion.

“We did have a record turnout for our event,” said Volunteer Director Gloria Burrow. “The Senior Center was filled to capacity and it was a truly inspiring and wonderful evening.”

McDowell County Commissioners Randy Hollifield and David Walker and Marion Mayor Steve Little were all present for the event and helped with the Governor's Award presentations.

“We had three guest speakers, and each one shared inspiring messages with everyone to encourage the spirit of volunteerism,” said Burrow.

The guest speakers included Tim Blenco, who is the vice president of operations for the YMCA of Western North Carolina and chairman of the McDowell Health Coalition. McDowell Chamber of Commerce Director Steve Bush and Jerry Lewis, pastor of Grace Community Church, were also guest speakers. Charles Gaffigan, principal of East Junior McDowell High School, was the master of ceremonies.

During the ceremony, the top three Governor's Volunteer Award recipients were honored. They are Hilda Dean, Charles and Ruth Sander and Milton Viggers.

“The Governor’s Award for Volunteer Service is an important part of the proud history and tradition of volunteerism and community service in our state,” reads a statement about the award. “For thirty-six years, the program has honored the true spirit of volunteerism in our state by recognizing individuals, groups, and businesses that make a significant contribution to their community through volunteer service. Over 17,000 North Carolinians have been recognized for their service.”

Each year, the McDowell Volunteer Center appoints a nomination selection committee to conduct a blind review of all volunteer nominations submitted. The top finalists are selected to receive this honorary award.

The following are profiles of the three Governor’s Volunteer Award recipients:

• Hilda Dean (nominated by Doreen Reynolds). Dean has been a volunteer with Hospice of McDowell County for six years. She was nominated to receive special recognition for numerous reasons; top three being her compassionate heart, her dependability, and her expert delivery of service. During the six years Dean has served Hospice, her level of service has not waivered and the amount of time donated has gradually increased. She has donated in excess of 150 hours in the year 2013 alone. “She has consistently stepped forward to accept new assignments, always with a smile and a soft spoken, ‘Yes, I can do that,’” reads her nomination. “Hilda graciously accepts her assignments. Ms. Dean not only visits patients, but also participates in all fundraising efforts, donating her own hand-crafted items and baked goods, working to slice and package desserts for the annual spaghetti dinner fundraiser, and stuffing handout bags for Mountain Glory Festival. Hilda participates in most all in-service opportunities and her documentation is always timely and expertly done.” Dean also participates in numerous church activities that require hard work and dependability. She serves on the Church Benevolent Committee, and she is a Family Night Supper Volunteer, and a choir member at the First Baptist Church of Marion. In addition to her kitchen duty, she also makes handcrafted prayer shawls and other needlework items as gifts to others. Dean is no longer able to drive due to a visual impairment and walks several blocks to visit her patients, many times in bad weather. She has also provided caregiver respite to families outside of walking distance when transportation is available.

• Charles and Ruth Sander (nominated by Molly Sandfoss). They have been volunteers with the North Carolina Cooperative Extension – McDowell County Center Master Gardener program for 12 years. “They are truly the backbone of the association,” reads the nomination. “There are a limited number of volunteers, but many obligations. Ruth and Charlie never fail to step up to the plate in order to meet those obligations. They truly understand the mission of the North Carolina Cooperative Extension Service and the role of the Extension Master Gardeners to assist that organization.” Overall, the Sanders volunteered 250 hours valued at $5,062.50 for 2013 through the McDowell County Center for the community. They have helped to meet a tremendous demand for sound gardening advice, information, and demonstrations. They lead the Extension Master Gardener Volunteer Association as board members, instructor and facilitator for Agriculture Awareness Field Days, coordinators for West Marion Elementary School Greenhouse, community garden, community outreach, and scholarship fund raising. The Sanders are so committed to volunteering that they must maintain a calendar with their schedule, even though they are retired, due to the many volunteer activities they are involved with. Charlie and Ruth Sanders are also active members of the First United Methodist Church of Marion. They serve on the Staff Parish Committee, Boy Scout Committee, Methodist Men, Family Services Committee, Parsonage Committee, and board members of Sunday School Class. The Community Garden at the YMCA was constructed due to the planning, expertise, and organizational skills of the Sanders. In 2013, 400 pounds of fresh, healthy produce were grown in 10 beds and donated to local shelters, soup kitchens or the Senior Center. They took the lead with the West Marion Elementary School Greenhouse committee. They grow annual flowers each year for a Mother’s Day sale. The Sanders also coordinate with local businesses for donations and other elementary schools in the county to be included in school beautification projects. “Charles and Ruth took the lead in organizing a public workshop where McDowell County citizens gained knowledge and skills on gardening and growing food,” reads their nomination.

• Milton Viggers (nominated by Nancy Hodges). He volunteers three times per week to deliver hot meals to homebound clients for the McDowell Senior Center. Viggers has learned most of the 14 routes and is willing to volunteer if another driver cannot make it. “Milton truly cares for all the clients and their personal well being,” reads his nomination. “He also takes the time to train new volunteers and they comment how much they appreciate his friendliness and knowledge of the home delivered meals program and insight of those individuals that are served. Mr. Viggers also collects cans from neighbors, other drivers, and some of his clients. He recycles the cans and then donates the money to the Senior Center dining room Special Needs fund. Milton is Mr. Dependable! He moved from Burke County three years and did not know anyone. He says he was led by God to the McDowell Senior Center and he has been blessed in so many ways beyond measure.”

In addition, the 12 McDowell County Volunteer Service Award winners were announced.

April is the month dedicated to volunteer service in action. Each year, the McDowell Volunteer Center uses this opportunity to honor outstanding volunteers in our community. The McDowell Volunteer Service Awards are an important part of honoring those outstanding individuals and groups who make a significant contribution in our community.

The McDowell County Volunteer Service Award winners are:

• Pamela Blanton (nominated by Stella Brewer). Blanton has been a faithful volunteer at Nebo Elementary School for over five years since her retirement. She tutors students in reading, writing, and math. Blanton creates flash cards and questions for reading passages. She helps students complete homework that otherwise would not have help. Blanton spent over 34 years teaching at the Nebo Elementary school and has been faithful to continue to teach two days each week in multiple classrooms, without compensation. In addition to these tasks with students, She takes any extra time to complete clerical work for the teachers. She is an active member of Pleasant Hill United Methodist Church and has been their pianist for more than thirty years. She also volunteers for the American Red Cross and the Meals on Wheels program.

• Vanessa Lee Camp (nominated by Kimberly Doalson). As an Exceptional Children’s classroom volunteer, Camp helps in organizing, directing, and controlling everyday operations at Old Fort Elementary School. She has 27 years experience as an educator and has shown dedication and competence in developing an environment conducive to learning. Her willingness to help others is portrayed in her countless contributions. As a mentor to other volunteers, she provides endless support and innovative assistance. Camp inspires students to excel and reach for their highest level of academic potential. Her passion for student success is reflected in her dedication to volunteering at Old Fort Elementary.

• Ann Carr (nominated by Sherry Caron). Carr works as a full-time volunteer Foster Grandparent at Old Fort Elementary School. She is dependable, reliable, and committed to the students. She has the ability to positively interact with students helping them with academics as well as their emotional well being on a daily basis. She consistently works with children in order to build their self-esteem which helps them to better focus their attention in the classroom. Carr takes her work with the students seriously, monitors students’ progress and phrases their efforts, all impacting student success. Carr volunteers every day without exception. She has a special way of reaching out to struggling readers while working one on one. Carr works with autistic children, and other children with exceptional or special needs. She builds a trusting relationship with these students and enables them to be very successful in a mainstream environment.

• Eleanor Woods (nominated by Linda Davis Green). Woods was nominated for her dependability, commitment and service in volunteering and tutoring young children in the Champs Program. The Champs After School Program is a joint tutoring program between a local church and Old Fort Elementary School that serves students in grades three through six in math and reading homework. Woods is committed to helping children become successful in their education. She is an exceptional role model, as she maintains a 4.0 grade average and had the honor of being inducted into the Phi Theta Kappa at McDowell Technical Community College on March 28 of this year. She is mature for her age and demonstrates this through her commitment and reliability to volunteerism. She is well organized, flexible, and is sensitive of the children’s needs. She is quick to help where and when needed.

In addition to those, eight volunteers from the Marion Davis Memorial Old Fort Branch Library were nominated for the Volunteer Service Award by Library Director Dee Daughtridge. The eight volunteers from the Old Fort library are:

• Millie Banks, who volunteers to shelve all areas and all materials. She works reading shelves and also helps with the telephone and library patrons.

• Jane Davis, who volunteers with homebound outreach transport by delivering books to shut-ins in the Old Fort area.

• Samuel Duncan, who volunteers to supervise easy, junior, and young adult sections. He also shelves books, reads shelves, and organizes materials.

• Barbara Monteith, who volunteers shelving all areas, reading, telephone, patron help, and the computer area. She also trains new volunteers.

• Kayla Morris, who volunteers at the reading shelves, shelving books, second check-in, answers telephone, picks up mail, organizes books and magazines on cart.

• Debra Padgett, who volunteers at reading shelves, non-fiction collection and shelving books.

• Hazel Stine, who volunteers with the homebound outreach program. She picks up books to deliver to homebound residents.

• Sally Willis, who volunteers shelving books, reading, and helping answer the telephone. She also trains new volunteers.

In addition, awards were presented for the annual Make a Difference Day event. The Make a Difference Day for 2013 was held on Saturday, October 26. The McDowell Volunteer Center sponsored a fashion show fundraiser at East McDowell Junior High School. At this event, the center raised $817 to benefit the Endowment Fund of the Public Schools of McDowell County.

“These resources were used to enhance students’ performance in school, and assist them in becoming responsible members of society and the workforce,” reads a statement from the Volunteer Center.

The Endowment Fund supports direct services for our students, including school supplies, health & fieldtrip assistance and to enhance education. More than 40 area agencies, businesses, and more than 80 individual citizens helped contribute to the success of our Make a Difference Day project. In addition to the Fashion Show, several classes at West Marion Elementary School also took on numerous projects for this special day. The students collected money and food for the needy. One class made cards and a gift back for a second-grade student at another school who lost both of her parents in an accident last year. A sixth-grade class wrote letters to troops in the 846th Transportation Unit stationed in Afghanistan.