2015 awardees

Gov. Rick Snyder today announced the 40 finalists for the 2015 Governor's Service Awards. The finalists have been selected from more than 160 individuals, businesses and nonprofit organizations statewide for their commitment to volunteer service.

“Michigan has a rich tradition of volunteerism, with neighbors helping neighbors, businesses donating goods and services, and volunteer programs working to have a positive impact on the state,” said Snyder. “I am pleased to honor these 40 finalists who have gone above and beyond, given selflessly of themselves, and made a difference in their communities. It is an honor to thank them for their service.”

The Governor’s Service Awards finalists will be honored during a special ceremony titled "An Evening with the Stars" Monday, June 29 at Frederik Meijer Gardens in Grand Rapids. During the ceremony, an overall winner in each category will be announced. The event also will feature musical entertainment by Main Street Dueling Pianos.

The 40 outstanding volunteer finalists are being honored in one of eight different categories that reflect the diverse nature of volunteers throughout Michigan. The award categories are: Governor George Romney Lifetime Achievement Award; Corporate Community Leader Award; Mentor of the Year Award; Volunteer of the Year Award; Senior Volunteer of the Year Award; Youth Volunteer of the Year Award; Outstanding National Service Program Award; and Outstanding Volunteer Program Award.

The Governor's Service Awards ceremony is an annual statewide recognition event acknowledging the contributions made by Michigan volunteers. This celebration is made possible only through the generous contributions of its sponsors. To date those sponsors include: AT&T, Comer Holdings / Lear, Consumers Energy, Council of Michigan Foundations, Delta Dental, Diplomat Pharmacy, Dow Chemical Company, DTE Energy Foundation, Farmers Insurance, Firekeepers Casino, Ford Motor Company Fund, Goodwill Industries of Greater Detroit, Greenstone Farm Credit Services, Jackson National Life Insurance, MASCO, Meijer, and Wolverine Worldwide.

The event is coordinated by the Michigan Community Service Commission (MCSC), the state’s lead agency on volunteerism. The MCSC strives to engage all Michigan residents in volunteerism to address critical community challenges. It is part of the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services.

The 2015 award finalists, in alphabetical order, are:

Governor George Romney Lifetime Achievement Award 

This award, the most prestigious of the Governor's Service Awards, honors an individual who has taken his or her volunteer service to the highest level - year after year. It honors an individual, usually a senior citizen, who has demonstrated a lifelong commitment to community involvement and volunteer service. Individuals nominated in this category have made service a way of life for many, many years. The finalists are:

Lorraine Knuth of Hopkins began a life of service at a young age. Throughout her 89 years, she has dedicated countless hours to others. She never settled on one way to serve, she found several. For 21 years Lorraine served as a 4-H leader. For 18 years, she volunteered at the Allegan General Hospital, helping with blood drives, fundraisers and other projects. She served at Bronson Hospital, helping care for Intensive Care Unit babies. Lorraine and her husband have volunteered at the Allegan Historical Society for 21 years and counting. She has also contributed time to Loaves and Fishes, Meals on Wheels and has helped mentor Vietnamese families, shopped for the elderly, served various roles at her church and mentored elementary school children. Lorraine has impacted so many lives, the hours are hard to count. She received a 4,000 hour pin from Allegan General Hospital, contributed 300 hours to ICU babies, and served 4,000 hours shopping and delivering for the elderly. However, it’s not about numbers for Lorraine.  Asked about how many hours she’s served, how many people she has helped or the money she has invested in others, she humbly responds, “Oh, I don’t know. I don’t keep track of that stuff.”

Diana Langshaw of Augusta has been volunteering for more than 60 years, providing assistance to youth and families, adults and senior citizens, along with local and state government through more than 46 different organizations. An avid 4-H supporter, Diana gives much of her time and talents to developing youth and improving the community. She has volunteered an impressive 55,000 hours, given more than $20,000 from her own pocket, and donated $10,000 worth of animals from her family farm to the 4-H program. Diana also has been leading a major fundraising effort to support the Barry County Fair, especially the animal facilities. In addition to 4-H, Diana spent 10 years as a foster parent for 27 teens and hosted 25 international students, has served four terms as a Ross Township Trustee, makes in-home visits and runs errands for senior citizens, and is involved in a variety of agriculture and horticulture committees.

Jack Salter of Royal Oak has an insatiable desire to meet the needs of his community. The Korean War veteran has been setting the volunteer standard in Royal Oak for nearly six decades. Jack started volunteering with the Boys & Girls Club in college. His experience led him to start the Boys Club in Royal Oak in 1958, which expanded to the Boys & Girls Club in 1980 and later expanded to serve Oakland and Macomb Counties. Under Jack’s leadership, the club founded a community service program for youth who commit petty crimes and the model program is now used nationwide. He has been a member of the Royal Oak Optimist Club since 1958, helping change children’s lives through a variety of programs. Jack helped establish the Support Our Youth Task Force in response to a growing heroin program in the community and spearheaded anti-bullying campaigns and suicide prevention efforts. Jack has also served with the YMCA, Salvation Army, Royal Oak Youth Assistance and the Royal Oak Community Coalition. Jack has served 5,000 hours a year and helped raise $50,000 for children’s programs.

Elaine VanLeeuwen of Portage is “mom” or “Grandma” to more than 500 Michigan residents. For more than 50 years, Elaine has served as a foster parent, providing support and love for children. When it comes to helping children, Elaine has never said no. She took in her first foster child at age 30. In the 1960s, Elaine and her husband fostered newborns until they were adopted; in the 1970s they began fostering preschoolers and school-aged children. In the 1980s, her home became licensed as a group home for special needs children and for children requiring intensive care. She also developed a support group for foster families that continues today. After more than 50 years of fostering, the last foster child left Elaine’s home in 2014. The Michigan Federation of Private Child & Family Agencies named her Foster Parent of the Year in 1991 and the Michigan Foster Care Review Board bestowed her the same honor in 2010. “Don’t give up on them (kids),” Elaine said. “I’ve seen too many people do that. I have never done that. I guess I’m just stubborn.”

Samuel Wells of Flint Township is a man that leads by example. He has led efforts to help young men become the next the generation of leaders through the Alpha Esquire Mentoring and Leadership Program, which includes predominantly African-American young males from Flint and Genesee County. Sam helped develop the program, which was founded in 1997, and serves as the director. The Esquires enroll 40 members annually and stress education, community service, life skills and character building. Sam coordinates several events and workshops each year to help the young men in the program develop. He has also added a scholarship component, which awarded $20,000 to 20 graduating seniors in 2014. It also provides luggage, dorm microwaves, refrigerators and computers to students. To his peers, Sam has proven he will do anything he can to mentor the young men of the program and make sure they are successful in life.

Senior Volunteer of the Year

Seniors have a wealth of experience to share with their community. That is why an older adult who is taking action to make his or her community a better place is honored with this award. Nominees in this category are ages 65 or older. They may be involved with many activities or given significant time to one particular cause. The finalists: 

Jim Bennett of Hamburg has been on a 20-year mission to bring a smile to thousands of children hospitalized each year. Starting in 1995 as a one-man operation, Jim began making wooden toys for C.S. Mott Children’s Hospital after learning many children had little to do to pass the long hours while receiving treatment. His effort led him to found Bennett’s Beavers, a nonprofit with 24 volunteers who make and ship 50,000 wooden toys annually to 23 hospitals across the U.S. and Central America. Jim has given more than 20,000 hours of time, driven more than 30,000 miles, and raised thousands of dollars for his organization to allow all the toys to be provided free of charge. He ships the toys undecorated, allowing the children to personalize them. Bennett’s Beavers also makes memory boxes, wooden boats with candles, bird houses and wooden footprints for special projects at various hospitals. Jim also is active in his community, serving as a member of the Hamburg Township Parks and Recreation Board, as well as previously being a volunteer township fireman and board member of the Livingston County Conservation Club.

Harry “Dan” Dewey of Lake Orion accidentally started a tradition in 2006 while accompanying his father during a chemotherapy treatment at St. Joseph Mercy’s Michigan Cancer Institute. Heading to Starbucks for a coffee, he asked the nurses, patients and others in the room if he could get them anything. A decade later, Dan’s Coffee Run is still going strong and has expanded to the Rose Center in Royal Oak and the CARE House of Oakland County, where he brings 20-40 drinks to each location weekly. Dan figures he’s spent around $10,000 of his own money and purchased 16,000 coffee drinks for the patients, staff, clients, volunteers and visitors at the three locations. In addition to coffee, Dan takes flowers to the staff each Valentine’s Day, knowing that the smallest gestures can have the greatest impact. As a result of his dedication, Dan was invited to meet the CEO of Starbucks, Vice President Joe Biden and appear on the Queen Latifah Show, where he was presented with an oversize Starbucks gift card worth $10,000 to continue his coffee runs.

Pam Jackovich of Marquette is willing to do “whatever is needed” when it comes to helping at the D. J. Jacobetti Home for Veterans. For 20 years, Pam has been an active and enthusiastic supporter, being many things to many members of the Home, including a cribbage partner, food server, visitor, letter reader, comforter, and even the last person some of the veterans spend time with on this earth. She has logged 9,162 hours of service at the Home, including 282 hours in the No Veteran Left Alone program. On Wednesdays, you can find Pam at the Home for at least 11 hours, operating the haberdashery in the morning (where members can choose new clothing), overseeing bingo in the afternoon, and running cribbage game night (which she started). She is the Department of Michigan VFW Auxiliary Jacobetti Home Deputy Representative and is also active with numerous other veterans organizations. Having grown up working hard on a dairy farm, Pam has dedicated herself to working hard her entire life, evident by how her time at the Home has made the veteran’s lives better.

Louie Tortorelli of Kalamazoo was known as “Mr. Lou” to the students and teachers he worked with through the Foster Grandparent Program. Louie passed away this spring from cancer, but not before making a huge impact on more than 225 children. Originally given a grim prognosis in 2002, Louie wanted to make his last couple years count and signed up for the program. That couple years turned into 13 and, despite more cancer treatments, Louie continued to spend 30 hours a week tutoring and mentoring elementary school children. His out-of-the-box thinking and playful spirit allowed him to connect with kids who were struggling and having a hard time opening up, many times establishing rapport through his artistic talents, sketching favorite characters or objects for the students. When not at a school, you could always find Louie volunteering at Portage’s Curious Kids, recruiting other volunteers, and educating legislators and community leaders about the Foster Grandparent Program.

Clarenda Webb of Detroit has been working to improve her community since moving to North Rosedale Park in 1976. Since retiring in 2008, she has devoted a minimum of 30 hours a week to the Grandmont Rosedale Development Corporation (GRDC). GRDC’s mission is to preserve and revitalize five Detroit neighborhoods, and Clarenda plays a critical role as co-chair of both the Crime Prevention and Vacant Property task forces. She organizes monthly neighborhood meetings, coordinates community cleanups, builds relationships between partner organizations, fundraises, and advocates for code enforcement. In 2014, Clarenda led her teams to document 150 vacant properties, organize 211 clean-ups of abandoned homes, successfully advocate for demolition of 30 dangerous structures and provide foreclosure prevention outreach to 130 homeowners. Her greatest strength is connecting people with the resources they need. She is the first to greet new neighbors, publishes her cell phone so neighbors can call with concerns, and keeps up to date on the best tactics in property maintenance and crime prevention. By helping residents help themselves, Clarenda is making sure her neighborhood will remain self-sustaining for generations.

Volunteer of the Year

When it comes to solving community problems, individuals really make things happen. These everyday citizens are very special people who go the extra mile for their community. This award is reserved for an individual who strives to improve the lives of neighbors, friends, community, or congregation.  Individuals nominated for this award could be adults, national service members, educators, and more. The finalists are:

Michael McFarlen of Battle Creek is a chef who makes sure his food doesn’t just go to paying customers. The Firekeepers Casino and Hotel Chef participates in a wide variety of events to help feed children, first responders and the hungry. Chef McFarlen and his staff put on an annual cooking competition for the Boys and Girls Club of Greater Kalamazoo that has raised more than $60,000 in the last four years. Michael initiates the distribution of 1,000 turkeys to local food banks during the holidays. During catastrophes, he jumps into action, coordinating meals for first responders and victims. Chef McFarlen regularly volunteers with SAFE Place, a shelter for victims of domestic violence. He helped develop a business plan, menu and start-up for a downtown Battle Creek restaurant to be operated by SAFE Place to create income for the shelter. Chef McFarlen doesn’t hesitate to give back and recently put on a cooking demonstration for a special education class at an elementary school. “One of the most gratifying things for me personally, is the look on someone’s face who has received unsolicited and no strings attached assistance,” Michael said.

Bonnie Raffaele of Sault Ste. Marie lost her 17-year-old daughter, Kelsey, in a texting-related car crash in 2010. Since the terrible tragedy, she has been on a mission to educate teens about the dangers of distracted driving. Bonnie created the Kids Driving Responsibly (KDR) Challenge and travels to schools across Michigan telling teens about Kelsey’s story. She also fought to get “Kelsey’s Law” passed in Michigan, which makes it illegal for teen drivers with a level 1 or 2 license to use their mobile phone for texting or talking while driving. Bonnie has worked with national organizations on driver’s safety, telling her story at national events, including the Lifesavers Conference in Nashville, Tenn. She has also organized a KDR Challenge 5K neon night run/walk, had Kelsey’s story featured in several publications, and has been a “mom on a mission” to try and save as many lives as she can.

Moraima Ruiz of Grand Rapids grew up amid poverty, chaos and violence in the Bronx. She moved to Michigan, earned a degree in Psychology and emerged from the struggle in a position to help others, something she has dedicated her life to. Moraima often preaches “circumstances do not determine who you are.” She serves as a volunteer Court-Appointed Special Advocate (CASA), helping children whose lives have often been filled with adversity, pain and loss.  Moraima examines case reports and helps family court judges determine the wisest and most human course for improving a child’s life circumstances. She has helped children acclimate through parental termination, transitioning foster families and other highly-complex issues. In three years, Moraima has served 500 hours as a CASA. She often  works late hours to make up for meetings with foster parents, teachers or children. “There are so many kids who fall through the cracks,” she said. “It’s nearly impossible to hold yourself at a professional distance…kid’s lives hang in the balance.”

Susan Schooner of Ann Arbor often felt like an outsider as she consistently moved during her youth because of her dad’s service in the Army. When she created the nonprofit organization Girls Group in 2004, she wanted to help young girls who may feel disconnected from their surroundings.  The group has assisted young women who have dealt with poverty, trauma and emotional, physical and sexual abuse. Girls Group started as a small program assisting 10 girls, but through Susan’s guidance the organization now serves 250 young women. The group aims to empower participants to work on their internal history and conflicts, while also increasing interactions and encouraging them to take advantage of opportunities vital to their success. Susan has helped young woman avoid pregnancy, drug abuse and in-school fighting, all while helping improve their self-esteem and preparing them for success in life and in the classroom. She has devoted more than 60 hours a week to the group for 11 years.  “We are all connected at the heart level,” Susan said.

Debra Howe-Wierenga of Saranac finds no greater reward than helping families with children find housing.  She started volunteering by hosting homeless families in her own home, but discovered she could do more.  Debra started working with organizations and made connections with landlords to advocate for families that needed a home, but who often had poor credit and housing history. Since December 2013, Debra has helped place 25 families into permanent housing and said nothing brought her greater joy than seeing children running around their new home with excitement. She didn’t stop there, however, as she also provides mentoring to help families adjust to their new lives. Debra has served 2,610 hours in various roles of homeless housing programs. Through Debra’s service, the Partners in Housing program purchased and rehabbed nine homes. She also worked with her church to raise money for an additional five homes. “It’s so rewarding and such an exhilarating experience knowing and seeing the difference I can make in the families’ lives,” Debra said.

Youth Volunteer of the Year

Volunteer service that begins at an early age is often carried forward throughout life. That is why a young person who is taking action to make his or her community a better place is honored with this award. Nominees in this category are ages 21 and younger. They may be involved with many activities or give significant time to one particular cause. The finalists are:

Cameron Doan of Ludington believes every child deserves a bedroom they can be proud of. After hearing about a ministry providing beds to low-income families, Cameron, 17, wanted to take it a step further. He realized that while the group provided beds, the bedroom was not always in the best condition. Cameron submitted “A Bedroom of Their Own” proposal to the ministry because he knew that children having a special place of their own could help them build self-esteem. The group accepted the proposal and Cameron manages the bedroom remodels from start to finish. He has completed five projects during the past three years and has another one in the works. Each project requires about 75 hours of Cameron’s time and costs $150-$200. He manages a handful of volunteers and is responsible for collecting donations and materials for each project. Cameron has also participated in mission trips with his church, assisted in hurricane disaster relief, helped feed the homeless at the community shelter and mentors youth.

Robby Eimers of New Haven is on a mission to help the homeless. After his grandmother took Robby, 12, to a Detroit warming shelter in 2011 to pass out coats and blankets, he said they needed to do more to help those in need. He started visiting the facility every other month, but decided that wasn’t enough either and now makes the trip every week.  Robby gathers supplies on Friday to “share” with his “friends” on Saturday. He serves an average of 200 meals each weekend, totaling 10,400 meals each year. Robby and his younger sister even save their money from chores and holidays to bring hot meals and clothing to the homeless. He also works to educate his peers about the homeless problem in Detroit and reaches out for their support. Robby established The Eimers Foundation, a nonprofit organization, to assist his efforts. “Any little thing can save a person’s life. If a person’s dehydrated, if you even just give them a water, that will save their life. Or if somebody is starving, then a hot dog can save their life.”

Hunter Gandee of Temperance watched as his younger brother, born prematurely at 32 weeks, struggled with Cerebral Palsy. Hunter, 15, knew he wanted to help him and anyone else who had the neurological disorder. Hunter made it his mission to raise awareness. First, he ordered and sold green wristbands for Cerebral Palsy Awareness Day at his school to raise $350, which he donated for research at the University of Michigan. Then in June, he decided to carry his 8-year-old brother, Braden, 40 miles from Temperance to Ann Arbor to help raise awareness of the disorder He marketed the event to get the community involved and recruited others to walk with him. The brothers struggled with fatigue, blisters, heat and rain during their two day hike, but made it to the University of Michigan with a large crowd cheering them on. The NBC Nightly News covered the walk, and the story of the event received 1.6 million views online. Because of the walk, $15,000 has been donated to U of M’s Cerebral Palsy Research Consortium on Hunter and Braden’s behalf.

Christina Okezie of Bloomfield Hills always knew she was gifted in math. It came easy to her. She also realized, however, that it didn’t come so easy to her fellow students. She started tutoring high school math students as a sixth-grader when she was dual-enrolled. Christina started a peer-to-peer math tutoring program at the high school. She has also initiated and presented seminars and workshops on effective tutoring.  The Bloomfield Hills High School senior, who placed first at a Wayne State University math competition, has participated in the district’s discussion on decreasing disparities in academic achievement. She has provided more than 1,700 volunteer tutoring hours in more than eight years of helping teach math, impacting more than 200 students. Christina has also helped students at other schools as a tutor for the Bloomfield Township Public Library. She has also served on the New Detroit Youth Planning Committee. Christina says it makes her “really happy when a student understands and can solve complex math problems.”

Alicia Monteith of Grand Rapids knows the recovery from sexual assault can be a long and difficult road. Part of her path after a sexual assault at age 11 has been to help others who have been victims of the crime. The 17-year-old has helped raise $55,000 for the Children’s Assessment Center, a nonprofit agency that helped her recover and prosecute her abuser. She started running in 5K races and soliciting sponsors to raise money. Alicia continues to speak about her experience in attempts to empower others. In 2014, she organized the Inspire Ball, a fundraising dinner for 200 guests that raised $9,000. She is making plans to attend Grand Valley State University and study nonprofit leadership and counseling so she can one day lead a “safe haven” for abused children and adults. “There are no words to explain how good it felt to not have to hold that in anymore,” Alicia said.

Mentor of the Year

Mentors change lives. They give of themselves personally to a child month after month, year after year. This award honors an individual who has made a significant difference in a child's life through mentoring. For the purpose of this award, mentoring is defined as a structured and trusting relationship that brings a young person together with a caring individual who offers guidance, support, and encouragement. As a result, the mentee experiences improvements in grades, behaviors, social interactions, etc. The finalists are: 

Tom Hickman of Nunica was paired with Jake in 2010 after both reached out to Big Brothers Big Sisters of the Lakeshore. The pair has been together ever since, meeting every week over sweet tea and cola at the local McDonalds, attending athletic events, participating in community service projects, going to movies and appearing on TV to help recruit mentors. Before meeting Tom, Jake was shy, overweight and mostly kept to himself playing video games. Now, Jake is active in football and track, mentors a younger football player, and has changed his outlook on life.  When sports became more important than grades, Tom explained that education comes first and helped Jake raise his grades from D’s to A’s and B’s. Tom attends Jake’s games and teacher conferences, and helps whenever needed. Says Jake, “Tom is not my Big, he is my best friend and the nicest, most caring person I’ve ever met. Every kid needs a man like Tom.”

Wyatt Jones of Detroit learned at a young age that many males in his city were without fathers or positive role models to support them through life. After graduating college, he landed a job at his alma mater, Loyola High School, knowing he had something to offer to change lives and get students on the right track. Throughout his tenure there, Wyatt has supported hundreds of young men by showing them alternatives to negative behavior, checking in on them during the day, providing tutoring, encouraging them do community service, and more. To involve more people in mentoring, he created the Dream Chasers Mentoring Group to establish quality relationships between youth and adult volunteers through one-on-one mentoring, educational guidance and preparation for post-secondary education. His mentees know they can call him anytime for advice. Says mentee Eddie Peterson, “Without Mr. Jones, I cannot imagine where I would be. I don’t have any men in my life that talk to me or are willing to listen. He is always there.”

Jessica MacVane of Zeeland first met her mentee, Jaden, in 2010 when Jessica was a college freshman and Jaden was 7. Now, Jaden is 11 and Jessica is a graduate student, but the pair is still going strong, because both of them have made a difference in each other’s lives and have become friends. Being autistic, Jaden has trouble bonding with people, but he bonded to Jessica quickly, and they are now inseparable. Her goal for him is to experience a variety of activities, including going to the museum or library, craft projects, fishing, making snowmen, playing at the park, going to the circus and ice skating. Since being mentored, Jaden’s grades have improved, he is more outgoing, and knows he has a stable person in his life. Jessica’s mentor experience has helped shaped her career path, leading her to do a research project regarding mentoring to help change the lives of all children involved in mentoring. According to Jaden’s mom “having Jessica as a mentor is so good for Jaden, and his improvements because of her involvement are many.”

Holly Rider-Milkovich of Ann Arbor began mentoring in 2009 through the University of Michigan Blavin Scholars Mentor Program. Blavin Scholars pairs students who have experienced foster care with a faculty or staff member. Having siblings who joined her family as foster children, this was a program dear to Holly. Since 2009, Holly has been paired with two mentees. The first, Missy, has since graduated, but the two have continued their mentor relationship post-graduation. The second, Sam, is a sophomore who Holly introduces to activities Sam wouldn’t normally experience, such as farmers markets and cultural events, in addition to having Sam over for meals, going ice-skating and shopping. Sam also accompanied Holly to a professional conference in order to experience dressing up and being in a professional setting. All these activities have helped Sam be more comfortable in class, share ideas more willingly, and feel more positive. Sam reflected, “Holly supports you and is a great role model, she helps you grow so that you don’t have to be just like her, you can be your best you.”

Diane Rouse of West Bloomfield has watched her mentee, Elizabeth, grow from an uncooperative 5-year-old to a lovely 14-year-old who loves dance. As a former teacher and social worker, Diane is eager to support challenged youth, evident in her relationship with Elizabeth, who requires special education support. Diane has participated in Elizabeth’s educational planning meetings and helps improve coordination between home and school. She is helping Elizabeth prepare for high school next fall and has helped her learn to take responsibility for her school work and grades, as well as her behavior. For fun, the pair says their favorite activities include picnics, plays, community service, sewing lessons, museums, art fairs, swimming, putt-putt and seeing movies. Diane also paid for Elizabeth to take dance classes and involved her in community service projects like packing food at Gleaners Food Bank and church volunteer projects. Elizabeth’s mom says, “I cannot say enough good things about Diane. She has always been there for Elizabeth. She has put so much time and love into their relationship and it has enriched Elizabeth’s life in ways that are unmeasurable.”

Outstanding Volunteer Program Award

The extraordinary work volunteers accomplish in communities is often driven by an organization or club. This award acknowledges the importance this support can make in community life. The nominees in this category strive to make communities better places to live through a variety of activities or by focusing on one issue of primary importance in their community. Schools, faith-based organizations, national service programs, nonprofit organizations, and service clubs are potential nominees. The finalists are: 

826michigan in Ann Arbor is a nonprofit organization dedicated to supporting youth in the development of creative and expository writing skills and helping teachers inspire students to write. Relying on more than 2,000 volunteers, 826michigan provides in-classroom assistance, after-school tutoring, field trips to its writing center, writing workshops, and professional publishing opportunities to more than 3,000 students each school year in Ann Arbor, Ypsilanti and Detroit. The volunteers include authors, professors, college students, engineers, scientists, teachers and more - all who help provide one-on-one attention and mentoring to students throughout the year. Through the in-school and tutoring programs alone this school year, volunteers are working individually with 500 students in 15 classrooms. Since September 2014, volunteers have served 4,000 hours, or around 14 hours per volunteer, through the various programs 826michigan provides.

Beaumont Children’s Hospital Parenting Program in Royal Oak has been providing a safe environment for new parents to share experiences and learn about being a family for 35 years. Focusing on community outreach and preventing child abuse and neglect, the Parenting Program’s 300 trained volunteers provide education and support to more than 5,000 families each year, including visiting new parents at the hospital and at home, making follow-up phone calls, and leading support groups. Specialty services include postpartum depression assistance, specialized attention for families with neonatal intensive care or special needs infants, CPR instruction and car seat installation. During 2014, volunteers: gave more than 25,000 hours of support; made 8,925 follow-up contacts through home visits, email and phone calls; made 805 NICU hospital visits; and led 1,000 families in parent support groups. More than 50 percent of the volunteers are past program recipients who feel honored to give back to the program that supported them.

Benzie Area Christian Neighbors (BACN) has been providing assistance to residents of Benzie and northern Manistee counties since 1982 to help alleviate the effects of poverty and other challenges. In a community where finding year-round work is difficult and wages are low, many residents rely on BACN for the food pantry, clothing center and computer lab, along with transportation assistance, utility bill assistance, GED training and tutoring. BACN utilizes more than 120 volunteers to greet and register residents, help families access the appropriate services, operate the food pantry and clothing center, and organize special events such as food drives and fundraisers. In 2014, BACN served more than 1,500 families (encompassing 4,144 individuals and 1,373 children), distributed 368,455 pounds of food and 14,981 bags of clothing. Volunteers contributed 11,534 hours to BACN and the community.

Friends of Grand Rapids Parks (FGRP) is a citizen-led organization dedicated to identifying park projects, mobilizing residents and generating resources to protect, enhance and expand Grand Rapids’ 1,900 acres of parks and public spaces. Since its founding in 2008, FGRP has engaged more than 7,100 volunteers – including local neighborhood groups, park-users, large and small businesses, schools, churches, city agencies and other non-profits – to clean up parks, install amenities, plan special events, fundraise and more. The volunteers have planted 400 trees, built and repaired playgrounds, resurfaced basketball courts, removed invasive species, built ice rinks, built two outdoor fitness centers, and organized a winter festival. In summer 2014, FGRP partnered to host a free summer movie series in a local park, generating attendance of more than 19,000 throughout the series. During 2014, 969 volunteers served 3,992 volunteer hours on 38 park projects.

Sexual Assault Services (SAS) of Calhoun County provides comprehensive services and advocacy to survivors of sexual violence, including a 24-hour response and crisis hotline. Community volunteers take turns being on-call and meet survivors at hospitals and police agencies to offer emotional support, an ear to listen, and most importantly believing the survivor. SAS volunteer victim advocates also talk to the survivors and their families about what they may experience in the upcoming months and provide referral information for further assistance. Each advocate receives 30 hours of training, attends monthly meetings and receives continuing education. SAS averages 25-35 volunteer victim advocates, ranging in age from 21-77. During 2014, the volunteers donated 7,675 hours to assist 114 survivors and 197 family and friends of survivors. For 19 years, volunteer victim advocates have responded to crisis calls that happen at all hours of the day and night, on weekends and holidays, helping to fulfill the needs and facility recovery for sexual assault survivors. 

Outstanding National Service Program Award

National service programs commit themselves to making a difference in the communities they serve. These include programs such as AmeriCorps*State, AmeriCorps*VISTA, AmeriCorps*National, Senior Companions, Foster Grandparents, and RSVP. This award honors an extraordinary program or organization that provides a high-quality national service program that yields a significant impact on their Michigan community. The finalists are:

Goodwill Industries of Greater Grand Rapids has been providing employment assistance to individuals with significant employment barriers in eight Michigan counties since 1966. Goodwill supports those with disabilities, returning citizens, newly returning and homeless veterans, at-risk youth and others with disadvantaged conditions. AmeriCorps members play an essential role in providing quality employment services to meet the needs of the vulnerable population. They provide intensive services that enhance participants’ abilities to prepare for, find, and keep a job, including a GED program, income support services, mock interviews and services through Goodwill’s Career Center. As a result of AmeriCorps members’ service in 2013-2014, 1,893 individuals received job placement services. A total of 757 individuals were placed in employment, while 367 people received financial literacy training. AmeriCorps members also recruited 97 volunteers who served 4,485 hours.

Huron Pines AmeriCorps is a program designed to place highly-skilled individuals with local organizations around northern Michigan that are striving to conserve natural resources. The Huron Pines project has grown from nine AmeriCorps members in 2007, to 20 members this year serving with 15 conservation organizations. Each year Huron Pines AmeriCorps members engage volunteers in local service projects, educate youth and adults on the importance of environmental conservation, and conduct conservation projects improving acres of land and miles of stream. In 2014, 1,188 volunteers contributed 6,468 hours through removing invasive species, building trails for recreational use, and planting native species. Members also educated 8,144 youth and 4,621 adults on conservation topics through workshops and events. Huron Pines AmeriCorps members helped enhance 527 miles of river and restore 303 acres of public land.

The Michigan Foreclosure Prevention Corps (MFPC) works with homeowners who are on the verge of, or in, mortgage or tax foreclosure. The statewide program is focused around foreclosure prevention and intervention activities including foreclosure intake and triage, marketing and outreach, education and tracking, and mitigating neighborhood impacts of foreclosure. MFPC members have been successful at creating partnerships to extend the group’s capacity and spreading the word about the resources it offers. During the 2013-2014 program year, MFPC members served 5,382 new, at-risk homeowners. They also engaged 24,296 individuals in outreach efforts through the foreclosure prevention programs. Those helped by the program say its greatest contribution is simple, non-judgmental discussions and advice.

Power of We Consortium is a health-based AmeriCorps program sponsored by the Ingham County Health Department. In 2009, officials decided that healthier food systems, greenways, and non-motorized forms of transportation were priorities in reducing the alarming rates of obesity in Ingham County. The program serves low-opportunity neighborhoods of Ingham County and focuses on three goals to reduce chronic diseases: education about healthy lifestyles, reducing obesity and promoting affordable exercise options. Power of We has 22 AmeriCorps members serving at 12 different sites throughout Ingham County. The program engaged 4,963 children and 5,051 adults in nutrition education, during the 2013-2013 service year. AmeriCorps members served 2,257 individuals through salvaged food distribution. The program also engaged 1,318 residents in community gardening programs and 1,239 adults received support in growing their own fresh produce in home or community gardens.

The Wayne State University Center for Urban Studies AmeriCorps Urban Safety Program of Detroit has been helping make Detroit a safer place since 2010. AmeriCorps members use Detroit Police Department crime data to identify hot spots of criminal activity and the group determines ways to make improvements to those areas. One of the program’s main pieces is the Safe Pathways to Schools initiative, which identifies walkways frequented by students and improves them by boarding up abandoned houses or improving lighting. The program has helped reduce crime in Midtown Detroit by 44 percent, saving $3.25 million in the overall cost of crimes. In 2014, members canvassed 1,000 city blocks, engaged 13,448 residents in neighborhood guardianship and improved public safety discussions. Members boarded up 255 vacant homes and marked safe pathways for school routes, impacting 7,144 students.

Corporate Community Leader Award

Corporations and businesses that excel in community involvement are honored with this award. This kind of commitment is made by all employees, both hourly and salaried, and can take many forms including, but not limited to, corporate volunteer programs, monetary contributions, in-kind gifts, and employee-driven volunteer service. The finalists are: 

General Motors Foundation has been providing grants to Michigan organizations since 1976 with a focus in recent years on the resurgence of Detroit. In 2014, GM split $1 million among three Detroit charities: Capuchin Soup Kitchen, Habitat for Humanity Detroit and the Coalition on Temporary Shelter. They also joined with other Detroit auto leaders to pledge $5 million to sustain the Detroit Institute of Arts and donated $50,000 to the Detroit Water Fund to help residents with water bills. GM Foundation is committed to education, pledging millions to United Way of Southeastern Michigan to help increase graduation rates in seven Detroit high schools, awarding scholarships for students pursuing STEM careers, and providing financial support for programs that reinforce math and science in Detroit schools. GM Foundation also is committed to health and has donated millions to the Karmanos Cancer Institute for research, hundreds of thousands to Gleaners Food Bank and Forgotten Harvest, and donated 50,000 child safety seats to Michigan families. GM employees also donate their time through teamGM Cares, giving 54,000 hours of service in 2014 to such groups as Habitat, Forgotten Harvest, Life Remodeled, and local schools.

Grande Mere Inn in Stevensville is a family-owned and operated restaurant in the business of providing food not just to paying customers but to various local organizations and events. They began sharing food and the talents of their 45 staff members as a way to be involved in the community after opening in 1980. Ongoing donations include: prepare and serve a full dinner to the Juvenile Center Christmas Party, host the annual meeting of the Child and Family Services of Michigan, prepare and deliver Thanksgiving dinner for both the local soup kitchen and a runaway shelter, and donate a three-course lunch for students in the Alternate Education Program followed by a tour of the restaurant and discussion of the restaurant business as a career choice. They also host a yearly fundraiser for the Readiness Center – opening on their day off, donating the food and drinks, and with staff donating their service. This event has raised $536,000 over 17 years. Grande Mere Inn also donates food, staff labor or gift certificates to many other organizations each year. Other donations have included toys, mattresses and even a “Choking Charlie” Heimlich maneuver practice mannequin.

Farmers Insurance in Grand Rapids is committed to community involvement at the corporate and employee level. A sampling of the organizations employees raised funds for or donated volunteer hours to include: Kids Food Basket, Meals on Wheels, Safe Haven, Camp O’Malley, American Red Cross, Toys for Tots, DeVos Children’s Hospital toy drive, Family Promise, Junior Achievement, March of Dimes, Special Olympics, United Way and Habitat for Humanity, among many others. Farmers also offers a Volunteer Incentive Program, providing employees four hours of paid leave to volunteer in the community as well as earn $250 for an organization by volunteering at least 25 hours in a year. The company also donated $64,510 in corporate contributions to local community organizations during the past year.

MSU Federal Credit Union in East Lansing has more than 640 employees that live by the organization’s philosophy of “people helping people.” Ninety-three percent of employees donate thousands of volunteer hours and financially support hundreds of organizations annually. MSUFCU employees participate in charity committees to plan fun events for employees to fundraise for local charities, such as dress down day, ladder ball and euchre tournaments, bake sales, parking spot raffles, bowling nights and more. In 2014, $128,480 was raised internally. In November, MSUFCU celebrated its 77th anniversary by paying it forward with $7,700 worth of free items and random acts of kindness to the community and local businesses. Employees regularly donate their time to Junior Achievement, Arbor Day tree planting, MSU Campus tree planting, Ele’s Place Children’s Garden planting, American Red Cross Blood Drives, WKAR pledge drives and several 5K races. Committed to financial education, MSUFCU provides financial presentations annually to thousands of individuals of all ages. Most recently, MSUFCU created a leadership scholarship to provide tuition at MSU for a low-income student.

NSF International in Ann Arbor supports many causes throughout Michigan as part of its mission to protect public health and safety. Every employee is encouraged to live the mission by serving the community, evident in 2014 when its 500 employees served more than 5,400 volunteer hours. A major benefactor is the United Way, to which employees donate money, time and resources. In 2014, employees donated $147,500 to United Way of Washtenaw County in addition to participating in the United Way Day of Caring. NSF employees also volunteer at local schools and organizations that support STEM fields such as Maker Faire, career days and Ann Arbor Hands on Museum. The company also donates fresh produce from an on-site, employee-run garden, donating 2,100 pounds since 2009 to a local food bank. Other organizations that benefit from NSF employee volunteering include: American Red Cross, local public schools, HIV Aids Resource Center, reading programs and food banks.