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April 9, 2013
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Garfield County humanitarians honored at annual banquet

RIFLE, Colorado - Garfield County has so many active senior citizen volunteers, the Humanitarian Service Awards committee might just have to start handing out two senior awards every year - starting this year.

Twila Stephens, a volunteer for LIFT-UP for the past four decades, and Mimi Baldwin, a retired nurse, Hospice of the Valley volunteer and leader of the "Wednesday Wanderers" senior hiking club, were both honored as the co-winners of the annual Senior Humanitarian award at the 2013 Garfield County Humanitarian Service Awards banquet Monday.

"I just feel really humbled, and I do it for the Lord, not to be rewarded for it," said Stephens, who is described by LIFT-UP Director Mike Powell as the organization's "lead volunteer."

In addition to having cooked hundreds of meals for people in need, she is now a server at the Sunnyside Retirement Center dining facility.

"Humble, giving, faithful, loving woman with a heart of gold," wrote Stephens' neighbor and friend Susie Speranza in nominating her for the award.

Wrote Hospice of the Valley volunteer coordinator Wendy Steckler in nominating Baldwin, "Mimi consistently shows her deep compassion and gentle kindness."

And fellow nurse Annette Roberts-Gray wrote of Baldwin: "We who live in Glenwood Springs have benefited in so many ways from Mimi's energy and enthusiasm, her caring, kindness and generosity."

On the other end of the age spectrum, Glenwood Springs High School student Diana Banks is so busy with her many humanitarian efforts at school and in the broader community, she couldn't quite be in two places at once.

Banks was introduced as the lone nominee in the Youth Humanitarian category Monday before zipping off to Carbondale to accept one of the 5Point Film Festival's Dream Project scholarships.

As a winner of the Youth Humanitarian award, Banks "rises above daily demands to perform beyond herself and give back to her community," noted Garfield County Commissioner Mike Samson in presenting the award to her parents on her behalf.

"As leader of the Glenwood Springs High School Key Club, Diana has brought vitality and philanthropy to the organization, creating opportunities for the club to give back time and again on a weekly basis," Samson said, who also acknowledged Banks' work with YouthZone and numerous other organizations.

Joining the youth and senior award winners at the banquet, held at the Grand River Health Ballroom in Rifle, were honorees in four other categories, who were selected out of a total of 23 nominees.

The other award winners were:

• Adult Humanitarian, Paul Carlson, founder of Project Graduation.

• Staff Humanitarian, Diane DeFord, Colorado Mountain College Learning Lab

• You Are My Sunshine Award, Tish Filiss, teen mother counselor, Family Visitor Program volunteer and Garfield County Human Services Commission member.

• Visionary Leader, Mary Meisner, longtime director of Garfield County Public Health.

Carlson, in receiving his award, credited the group of parents he was part of 26 years ago when Project Graduation was started as a way to provide a safe, alcohol-free celebration for graduating high school seniors.

"It was all of us together who decided that Glenwood Springs need to lose its party-town reputation on graduation night," Carlson said.

Carlson's model was replicated in other communities, including Carbondale, and his efforts to keep the program going for the past quarter century are widely acknowledged.

"While everyone saw a problem with graduation after parties, Paul stepped up and took action by creating a safe event that offered an alternative," Glenwood Springs Police Chief Terry Wilson wrote in nominating Carlson for the award.

Fillis believes that "babies and their mothers are the heart of the community," County Commissioner Tom Jankovsky said in presenting the special "You Are My Sunshine" award.

Wrote one of her teen mom students at Yampah Mountain High School, "She is selfless. She educated, supported, respected and encouraged so many young moms, including me. I am deeply honored to express my gratitude."

In addition to her work with the teen mother's program and Family Visitors, Fillis was also a co-founder of Habitat for Humanity in Garfield County and is a classroom reader for the Raising a Reader program.

DeFord and Meisner have been instrumental in leading their respective departments at CMC and Garfield County for several decades.

"We are paid back in the lab 10-fold every day," DeFord said of the many people who are looking to earn their General Education Development (GED) equivalency through CMC.

Wrote a student of hers: "Diane helped me along my educational path by building up my inner strengths as she gently pushed and quite often carried me through uncomfortable situations in order to reach my educational and personal goals."

Meisner will be retiring this spring after nearly four decades as a public health nurse.

"As my father told me, leave the world a little bit brighter place," she said in accepting the Visionary award.

Meisner was credited for helping to start Garfield County Environmental Health program, and was one of the "original champions" for starting the Mountain Family Health Centers in the county and throughout the Western Slope.

"These clinics now provide care to over 10,000 medically underserved residents in the region," Commissioner Jankovsky said in presenting the award. "Mary has been sometimes visible, many times behind-the-scenes, but she is always a strong advocate of access to health care and resources for all."

jstroud@postindependent.com

GLENWOOD SPRINGS, Colorado - Seven nominees were picked to take home awards at last night's 24th annual Garfield County Humanitarian Service Awards Dinner, for their work in 2012 to help others.

Below are short descriptions of the seven winners, with a complete list of the 23 nominees at the bottom of the story.

Diana Banks, winner of the Youth Humanitarian award this year, was described by those nominating her as "dedicated, trustworthy, compassionate, gifted, inspiring and a true leader."

A senior at Glenwood Springs High School, she has been leader of the Key Club, a group of young professionals, for the past two years. While at the helm of the club, Banks has achieved "record numbers of involved students and created a lasting impact in the school and community," according to information provided by the Garfield County Human Services Commission, lead sponsor of the event.

During her work with the club, Banks has made a mark in various groups and agencies around the Roaring Fork Valley, including Campus Kids, the Lions Club, Sunnyside Retirement Center, Valley View Hospital, Kiwanis Club, Special Olympics, Windwalkers Equine Therapy, UNICEF, Salvation Army and the Glenwood Springs Elementary School, among others.

Two of her nominators declared that, in all their years of working with youths, they had not met as strong a leader, or one as compassionate and caring as Banks.

The winner of the Adult Humanitarian award this year is Paul Carlson, founder of Project Graduation.

Project Graduation is an annual rite of passage that was started 25 years ago as a way of providing a safe, alcohol-free alternative celebration for graduating seniors at Glenwood Springs High School, which happens to be Carlson's alma mater.

GSHS Principal Paul Freeman wrote that Carlson has been "an outstanding role model for the students," and former GSHS student Rachel Sobke wrote that she first heard of Project Graduation when she was a freshman and looked forward to it for her entire senior year.

A longtime educator at Colorado Mountain College, Diane DeFord has worked with hundreds of adults in Garfield County to improve their academic skills and advance their education, whether they were in search of a GED or boosting their job prospects by enrolling in college classes.

Besides helping students fill out applications for financial aid or apply for scholarships, DeFord also helps to raise scholarship funding by donating her time to "Spellabration," a fundraising program she helped create. And, for students who have difficulty getting a ride to class, DeFord has been known to pick them up herself to make sure they get there.

One nominator noted that "many students that come into our learning lab feel they are not worthy ... when they walk out the door, Diane has inspired a spark of hope."

From her work counseling teen moms at Yampah High School, to her work with the Family Visitor Programs; from her help in launching the local Habitat for Humanity affiliate, to her 10 years as Citizens' Rep on the Garfield County Human Services Commission, Tish Filiss has developed a reputation for connecting with people that in some ways cannot be explained.

"Like love, it's just magic," was the description issued as part of the script for the awards banquet.

Filiss also regularly reads stories to preschoolers as a volunteer for Raising A Reader.

And, of course, she has devoted countless hours to the annual Humanitarian Awards celebration, including the table decorations and goodies that graced the tables at last night's event.

This award, it is said, is meant to honor "an outstanding individual who has devoted an entire career to serving the people of Garfield County," according to a prepared statement about the awards. Meisner, the county's longtime director of the Public Health Department, retires soon after nearly four decades of such service. She is credited with having a hand in creating Garfield County's Environmental Health department, and with being an early champion of bringing the Mountain Family Health Centers to the Western Slope in 1999. The Centers' clinics now reportedly provide medical care to more than 10,000 otherwise underserved residents of the region. Her strong advocacy of access to health care and resources for all citizens has sometimes put her at the front of policy discussions, but often has been a "behind-the-scenes" endeavor aimed at improving services with little acclaim.

The Humanitarian Service Awards Committee had a hard time deciding between two deserving nominees for this category, so they opted to give the award to both of them.

Mimi Baldwin, a retired nurse, continues her devotion to caregiving by volunteering for area hospice services. Sean Jeung, chaplain for HomeCare and Hospice of the Valley, wrote of Baldwin, "Because of her nursing background and because of who she is, Mimi understands the benefit of companionship during end of life. She will sit bedside with a dying patient, she will bring a meal, she will sew a remembrance bear, she will knit a prayer shawl or she will offer to sit with a bereaved family member, but she always says 'Yes' if she can when we call."

She is credited with helping to create the Wednesday Wanders women's hiking club, and was praised in a note from June Robinson as "an encourager, steadfast in her love of the outdoors and a leader of this great group."

In the words of Annette Roberts-Gray, a friend and fellow clinician to Baldwin, "We who live in Glenwood Springs have benefited in so many ways from Mimi's energy and enthusiasm, her caring, kindness and generosity."

Twila Stephens is well-known for nearly 30 years of volunteer service to Lift-Up, helping to schedule other volunteers and keep things running smoothly, stocking food shelves and handling registration for the Angel Tree program.

In fact, she has been called the organization's "lead volunteer" by Lift-Up director Mike Powell.

She also has volunteered for the Helping Hands group at her church, preparing baskets filled with food and other items for families in need or in sorrow, or simply to celebrate the birth of a baby.

Her friend Donnalyne LaGiglia wrote that "Twila has cooked hundreds of meals for people in need and probably a zillion cookies for any function she participates in."

Highlighting her commitment to helping others is the fact that, as her eyesight began to deteriorate in recent years, she adapted to her new reality. She asked others to be her "eyes" as she continued to work for Lift-Up, took on the role of server at the Sunnyside Retirement Center dining facility, and attends volunteer meetings to lend her experience and wisdom to the cause.

There were 23 people in all nominated for this year's award ceremony, in two categories.

The 14 Volunteer Humanitarian nominees are JoAnne and Ed Anderson, Mimi Baldwin, Diana Banks, Christine Bergstrom, Paul Carlson, Tish Filiss, Marsha Hutson, Debbie Martin, Nancy Rayfield, Ida Lynn Roe, Twila Stephens, Larry Sweeney and Gabe Wooley.

The nine Staff Humanitarian nominees are Lucas Curry, Diane DeFord, Mary DesOrmeau, Lisa Detweiler, Jackie Herrera, John Hier, Mary Meisner, Karen Peppers and Jill Ziemann.


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The Post Independent Updated Apr 9, 2013 01:59AM Published Apr 9, 2013 01:48AM Copyright 2013 The Post Independent. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.