2019 WPS Volunteer Awards
Over 750 people attended the 31st Annual WPS Volunteer Awards, which were held on the morning of Thursday, April 18, 2019 at the KI Convention Center in downtown Green Bay. The awards program is the result of a partnership between Wisconsin Public Service and the Volunteer Center of Brown County. The WPS Volunteer Awards recognize and celebrate individuals and groups who volunteer in the community for a wide variety of nonprofits. Over 1,200 local volunteers were nominated for one of eight awards sponsored by local businesses. The event is the largest in Brown County that honors the impact that volunteers have in the community. The Greater Green Bay Community Foundation continued their support of the event with their Community Impact sponsorship, translating to award amounts of $1,000 for the recipients and $500 for the runners-up (these amounts are gifted to the nonprofits of the winners' choice). The Youth winners receive personal scholarships.
Here are the recipients and runners-up in each of the award categories!
Large Group Award Recipient
Habitat for Humanity
Build Site Crew
Imagine a world where everyone has a decent place to call home. By bringing people together to build homes, communities and hope through offering working families a hand up on the path toward homeownership, Greater Green Bay Habitat for Humanity works toward that mission. This would not be possible without the Build Site Crew. The Build Site Crew is a group of volunteers who join Habitat for Humanity at a work site every Wednesday, Thursday or Saturday to help build homes for families so they can realize their dream of home ownership.
Not only do they lend their time and talents to building homes, but they also work with a new group of volunteers every week as teams from corporations, churches or organizations participate on the build site. When a new volunteer comes to a build site, some don’t even know the difference between a nail and a screw when their day starts. A build site crew member is partnered with them to work side-by-side for the day, and by the end of their shift, the newbies are using tools, such as a nail gun, like an expert, all thanks to the patient guidance of the Crew members.
Habitat for Humanity builds 12 months per year, and many of these volunteers have been helping on a build site for several years – some have been with the organization for more than 10 years! Many of the Build Site Crew have joined Habitat’s Milestone Club – volunteering 1,000, 2,000 and even 3,000 hours with Habitat for Humanity! The need for affordable housing in the Green Bay area is great, and this group of volunteers helps build new homes for qualified buyers. Without their help, Habitat for Humanity would not be able to complete as many homes as they do – 112 homes in 31 years!
Large Group Award Runner-Up
Kids Pack of Parkview Middle School - Happily Ever After Animal Sanctuary
Small Group Award Recipient
Altrusa House Co-Chairs
Green Bay has been widely known as a regional center for excellence in healthcare. Each year thousands of patients travel significant miles to Green Bay for healthcare services. Many of these families and patients are faced with the added burden of choosing between spending an exorbitant amount of money on lodging or driving hours in the car to and from the hospital during a loved one’s treatment or recovery time. After researching hospital hospitality houses around the country, the Altrusa House Co-chairs, worked with local hospital leadership to find a solution. Collectively, Barb Moore, Nancy Stellpflug and Nancy Friebel have served as co-chairs of Altrusa House, President of Altrusa Club and Treasurer of the House. They have lead fundraising efforts for construction and ongoing operational expenses, and they have worn the hats of Human Resources, CFO, CEO and volunteers, all while creating a home away from home for patients and families as they travel to seek care.
Nancy Friebel joined the Altrusa Club in 1978, Nancy Stellpflug in 1980 and Barb Moore in 1981. Their passion and commitment is exemplified by the thousands of hours served for the development and management of the Altrusa House. Until the addition of an Executive Director in early 2019, each was still committing 20-30 hours per week to the house and its projects. In total, they have been serving the community as Altrusa Club leaders for 115 years, and all while working full-time jobs and raising families. These ladies embody the definition of altruism: the belief in or practice of disinterested and selfless concern for the well-being of others. They have led over 50 other volunteers to create a successful, debt-free, efficiently run non-profit that truly changes lives every single day. They are “angels on Earth.”
Small Group Award Runner-Up
Mary and Lee Sedlacek – St. John's Homeless Shelter
Arts & Culture Award Recipient
Children in our community and beyond need constant encouragement to develop their imaginations. This volunteer organization has provided live readers theater programs for libraries, schools, churches, community celebrations and many other places and events since March 1967. Children’s books and stories are read by four or more readers who often wear silly hats representative of the story—hence the name of the organization, Hatrack Storytellers. Young people learn to love books, reading aloud, how to be in an audience and use their imagination. The founder, organizer and cheerleader of this organization is Sally Semmes.
Sally schedules all program requests, recruits readers, chooses the stories for age appropriateness, stages rehearsals and directs the readers. She often introduces the program and interacts with the young audience on the day of the performance. Of late, this is all done from a wheelchair as Sally is in the late stages of Parkinson’s disease and lives in a nursing home facility. Not only has Sally volunteered her own time and talent to this effort for the last 52 years, she has also inspired hundreds of adults and even some children to volunteer their time as readers, directors, hat creators, board members and more. Being the sole impetus behind this effort, Sally even created a manual for others to follow that was published in 2006 titled, “How to Hatrack.”
Hatrack Storytellers doesn’t begin to tell Sally’s whole story. She is an accomplished actress, dancer, choreographer, theater director and teacher who has volunteered these talents to many organizations throughout her lifetime. Countless young lives have been changed because of their encounters with Sally.
Arts & Culture Award Runner-Up
Ruth Novak – Evergreen Productions, Inc.
Adult Award Recipient
Dean Ekberg has shared his construction expertise with Happily Ever After Animal Sanctuary as a volunteer since 2015 and his contributions have had an impact on all, whether they are an adopter, donor, community member, volunteer or companion animal. Dean was an integral part of renovating Happily Ever After’s new adoption center, which opened its doors in August 2016. After the center was completed, he helped to remodel their cat living quarters, dog meet-and-greet spaces, and volunteer and public spaces at the Marion, Wisconsin, facility. Downtime is not in Dean’s vocabulary.
He immediately followed these projects with a key role in the planning and construction efforts surrounding Happily Ever After’s collaboration with NWTC to construct overnight guest cottages for prospective adopters and an overnight foster sleepover program. Dean has served more than 1,000 hours with Happily Ever After. These hours are invaluable as they bring skills that many volunteer organizations would be faced with either contracting outside help with or forgoing altogether. Instead Dean makes these opportunities possible and looks for more ways to serve with every chance he gets.
Dean’s dedication to making the new Green Bay adoption center look its best helped Happily Ever After to facilitate many more adoptions than the previous location had. In 2018, adoption numbers were up 95% over 2016’s numbers. In fact, Happily Ever After just celebrated its 1000th adoption in the new adoption center this February. Dean’s work on the new adoption center, Marion cat spaces, and Marion cottages helped to make those spaces more inviting and friendly – a place where people and animals feel at home. This leads to more adoptions, greater community engagement and higher volunteer satisfaction.
Dean is an inspiration to all who meet him and the perfect example of a volunteer with spirit. In addition, Dean and his wife, Debbie, are extremely active with the American Red Cross, in both their disaster recovery efforts and through blood and platelet donations. Dean’s passion for his charitable endeavors is clear and an inspiration to anyone who has worked with him.
Adult Award Runner-Up
Tom Robinson – Golden House, Inc.
Youth Award Recipient
Theo Van Straten
Theo Van Straten certainly understands the opportunities and challenges to successfully tackling a fundraising campaign. This young man grew from a youth who benefitted from The Einstein Project’s science curriculum in his own middle school classroom to a student personally interested and invested in STEM. From his first time volunteering at The Einstein Project’s Science Expo, Theo evolved into a young man and leader who is spearheading Einstein’s initiative of sharing hands-on science experiments, known as makerspace experiences.
In May 2018, Theo met with Dennis Rockhill, The Einstein Project’s Director of Makerspace Strategy, to lay out plans to build a mobile makerspace. During the months before his senior year in high school, in an effort to learn more about makerspaces, Theo volunteered at Einstein’s Sandbox, The Einstein Project’s onsite makerspace, as part of its summer youth program. Beyond his volunteering at The Einstein Project’s events, Theo contributed exceptional fundraising efforts for donations, both monetary and in-kind, to secure the foundational items needed to make the mobile makerspace a reality.
In particular, Theo created a video and successfully launched a GoFundMe drive. To encourage donations and at his own expense, on August 24, 2018, Theo rode his bike across the state of Wisconsin from the Mississippi River in Dubuque, Iowa, to Lake Michigan in Kenosha for the first ever “Ride for Einstein.” He garnered media attention on the project by participating in a live radio broadcast covering more than two-thirds of Wisconsin. So far, Theo has secured just under $20,000 in donor funds and is currently seeking an additional $10,000 in funds.
The mobile makerspace idea was a distant vision for The Einstein Project. Theo’s genuine interest in Einstein’s success, and his ability to spot an opportunity and to take the necessary steps to capitalize on the opportunity, brought that distant vision to an immediate reality. Einstein’s professional development program will benefit teachers immediately, and new mobile programs for students will follow in the 2019-2020 school year. This simply would not have happened without Theo’s initiative and efforts.
Through Theo’s volunteerism, passion and personal perseverance, he proved to himself and others that success can follow one’s passion.
Youth Award Runner-Up
Raquel Quevedo – Scholarships, Inc – NEW Scholars Program
Education Award Recipient
Every student needs at least six positive role models in their life. Marita Pagel has been a constant role model in the classroom for Green Bay area elementary students for more than 20 years! She has been working in education her entire life, and she has a love for children and easily makes meaningful connections with them and their teachers. She has a teaching degree, worked as a paraprofessional in Wisconsin, and has been volunteering in the school district since 1997!
Marita has volunteered in many different capacities and at different schools. She began volunteering in Mrs. Lusso’s classroom in 2009 at Howe Elementary School, and a bond immediately grew between the pair. At 87 years young, Marita drives daily from the west side of Green Bay to Red Smith School on the far east side, where Mrs. Lusso now teaches.
Marita has a perfect balance of helping the teacher and working with the students. She helps with cutting, filing, and take-home envelopes, and she helps students with reading, math, and writing, both individually and in a group setting. Marita not only works with the students in an academic manner, but also as a positive role model and as someone they can connect and talk to. Students come to her with their personal problems and celebrations.
Marita’s impact in the classroom is unmistakable. Her work ethic is commendable, and her tender heart and love for helping children succeed are out of this world. She truly is heaven-sent and someone who brings daily cheer to the classroom’s learning. She sees the teacher’s needs, as well as the students’ social-emotional needs. She helps the students with their classwork and makes connections with them. The Green Bay School District’s mission is to educate students to be college-, career- and community-ready, inspired to succeed in our diverse world. Marita lives this mission every day.
Education Award Runner-Up
CJ Janus – Chappell Elementary School – Reading Coaches Program
Leadership Award Recipient
An outstanding leader often leads by doing. Janet Glime is an example of this. Not only is she the president of the Marinette and Oconto Counties Literacy Council, she is a tutor, a tutor trainer and the leader of the organization. Janet provides on-going supervision for her tutor and student matches by meeting with them to ensure the student’s progress toward their literacy goals will be met. She orders all of the materials for the tutors and students to use during their tutoring sessions, and discusses new literacy materials for tutors at their Tutor Time-Outs. She has tested and placed more than 40 adult students with tutors for literacy instruction.
Additionally, Janet has presided over Council meetings, which have included discussions about policy, bylaws and strategic planning. Nine years ago, when she was a home health nurse, Janet was motivated to address the low literacy skills of older adults when she encountered several elder clients who were unable to read and understand their medical instructions. She was surprised and maybe even shocked to learn there was no organization in Oconto County to lend a hand. Even the adjoining Marinette County had no way to assist. So, Janet researched what could be done and gathered together educators, an attorney and medical experts. Under her leadership, in March 2011, they formed the Marinette and Oconto Counties Literacy Committee, and later, a 501c3 non-profit council.
Since 2012, more than 55 adult tutors have been trained to teach more than 60 adult learners who come from 16 different countries, speak 11 different languages, and who reside in these two counties. The Council emphasizes cross-cultural awareness to empower adult learners to become self-confident, contributing members of their community, workforce and with their families. Truly, this is a testimony as to what a leader, with the help of others, can accomplish!
Leadership Award Runner-Up
Steve Meyer – Whatsoever You Do, Inc.
Heart of Gold Lifetime Achievement Award Recipient
The true definition of the Morgan Stanley Heart of Gold Lifetime Achievement Award is someone who dedicates his or her life to volunteerism. Gene Schuh has devoted the past 28 years of his retirement from IBM to Paul’s Pantry, putting in an impressive 16,800 volunteer hours. Even at the age of 90, he has a smile on his face each and every day!
Gene Schuh is the volunteer chairman for Paul’s Pantry. He is also involved in the managerial aspect of the Pantry. Gene set up the database that Paul’s Pantry still uses today. He maintains the database for the 4,000-plus families that are registered at the Pantry. He also keeps track of all of the volunteer service hours and the purchased food being distributed. He works very hard to keep the computer system at Paul’s Pantry running. Gene has been volunteering faithfully three days a week for the past 28 years.
Before Gene started at Paul’s Pantry, index cards were being used to register clients. Currently, the Pantry is open five days a week and serves 175 to 250 families per day, so it would be virtually impossible to check families in using index cards. Paul’s Pantry is so grateful for Gene’s work in creating and maintaining their client database.
Gene inspires the staff at Paul’s Pantry throughout the year! He is compassionate and goes out of his way to help the less fortunate each day. All of Gene’s efforts are focused on helping and uplifting clients during what can be a difficult time for them and their families. This man is so dedicated that even when we have inclement weather, he needs to be called and told not to come in. His dedication is truly an inspiration to all of us.
Heart of Gold Lifetime Achievement Award Runner-Up
Larry Baeten – Salvation Army, Freedom House, Kingdom Come Food Pantry, Operation Christmas Child
Check out our Facebook page for a full gallery of photos from this amazing event!
Thank You, Sponsors!
The following sponsors continue to be involved in this great event through their generosity and support. The Volunteer Center appreciates the sponsors' recognition of volunteerism within our community.