With 23 outstanding nominees, the 2014 annual Garfield County Humanitarian Service Awards were among the most competitive in the organization’s 25-year history.
At a sold-out banquet at the Grand River Health Ballroom in Rifle on Monday night, eight people were selected for seven awards. Anika Neal, Lauren Martin, Peyton Armstrong and his mother Jessica, Debbie Ann Moeller, Judy Martin, Amelia Shelly and Alice Jones were recognized.
Each nominee was also recognized at the event, and there was a stack of letters of support, recounting their service and extolling their virtues.
Peyton Armstrong was 10 years old when he was diagnosed with acute lymphocytic leukemia in October 2010, and he completed his most recent treatment in January. He has not only overcome the disease for three and a half years, he has used the time to help raise money and awareness.
“Peyton’s strength of character throughout the past three years is exemplary enough,” wrote Kelly Mcgregor, National Director of CureSearch for Children’s Cancer in a nomination letter. “That he thought to dedicate his precious energy to benefit others battling cancer is worthy of this honor.”
Peyton has raised nearly $5,000 for CureSearch through sales of “Peyton’s Potion,” a nontoxic cleaning solution he and his mother Jess developed. He also folded 1,000 paper cranes for other kids struggling with cancer after receiving a similar gift himself, and organized a parade to raise awareness.
“Peyton is a light and inspiration to anyone that has been touched by cancer, actively making a difference in his community and beyond,” wrote Jennifer Flentge, Valley View Hospital Foundation development coordinator.
Peyton’s mother, Jessica, was originally nominated separately but received the Inseparable Courage Award in tandem with her son.
“The demands on her have been incredibly heavy at times, emotionally and physically,” Peyton’s father Noel wrote in a nomination statement, “but she has been an incredible inspiration to me of unfailing, unwavering commitment to always be there for her son and her family.”
“Jess not only held the light for her son and family, she too threw herself into the cause to help others,” wrote Lynn Kirchner. “To say she challenged this diagnosis is an understatement. She met it face to face and stood it down with determination, research, action and compassion.”
The pair mounted the podium together to accept the award. Peyton had to adjust the microphone to speak.
“I hope to continue to help and serve as long as I live,” he told the crowd.
“I knew that we lived in an amazing place, but I had no idea how amazing so many people are,” Jessica added.
Amelia Shelley has been the Garfield County Public Library District Director seven years. She’s overseen the construction of a host of new libraries and, as one letter recalled, “has cooked and served green eggs and ham to children while dressed as the Cat in the Hat.”
In accepting the Legacy Award, Shelley showed her humble side.
“I was overwhelmed with the feeling that I couldn’t possibly measure up to all of you,” she said to the crowd of nominees. “What this says to me is that libraries still matter in this digital age.”
Shelley also has roles in the Rifle Rotary, Garfield County Human Services Commission and Cradle to Careers and Literacy Outreach. Martha Fredendall, executive director of Literacy Outreach, called her “a visionary business leader who understands the rural community here in Garfield County.”
Matt Sturgeon, Rifle city manager, wrote, “Amelia’s leadership and compassion has made the libraries of Garfield County hubs for community dialogue, resources of the unemployed, places of literary learning for families, and venues to expose all citizens to art, history, music, science, and so much more.”
“We are a more literate and culturally enriched community as a result of her work,” added Rick Blauvelt, executive director of Raising a Reader.
Debbie Anne Moeller
Debbie Anne Moeller and the Castle Valley Children’s Clinic (CVCC) provide free sports physicals for students regardless of whether they can pay. In her acceptance speech, she reminded the crowd that she has “a special passion for kids with special needs.” In presenting her the Heart of Gold award, Drew Gorgey also referenced the clinic’s monthly cleanup of a stretch of Highway 6 & 24.
“Without her generosity we would have students not able to play in sports,” wrote Re-2 Superintendent Susan Birdsey. “We know that many students stay in school because of athletics,” she added.
Carey E. Levin, MD, medical director for CVCC, told the commission that Moeller “has made her life’s work keeping the clinic open and available to all and ensuring kids in our community receive the highest standards of care. … If Debbie Anne had not been willing, dedicated and skilled, our clinic would have closed years ago, leaving a gap in pediatric care within the county, especially for underserved children.”
Anika Neal teaches kindergarten and first grade at Sopris Elementary. In that capacity alone, she has gained recognition.
“Anika has single-handedly changed the lives of several of our young learners (and their families) by building confidence, self-love and respect for themselves and others around them,” wrote Kathy Whiting, principal of SES.
She also created the Glenwood Springs chapter of the National Alliance for Mental Illness (NAMI). She has personally led the 12-week Family to Family course for the program four times.
“Anika’s passion and commitment is infectious, and she has inspired others to join the call to advocate for those affected by mental illness,” wrote Jacqueline Skramstad, program director for Mind Springs Health.
In her acceptance speech, Neal made it clear why she received the Inspiring Hope Award.
“I believe that one candle can light a dark room, and one person can make a difference,” she said.
Michelle Muething, executive director of the Aspen Hope Center, opted for a different metaphor in describing Neal.
“Anika has a ‘big picture’ view of the needs, yet knows how to take a small, well-planned-out step to make an impact,” she observed. “Others know the path to walk because she is not afraid to walk it first.”
“I just can’t believe it,” Alice Jones of the Silt Historical Society exclaimed in her brief speech on Monday night. Her many supporters were likely less surprised at her Super Senior Award.
“Alice Jones is a credit to our community, and I commend her for her actions,” Silt Chief of Police Levy E. Burris Jr. assured the committee. In addition to her duties at the Historical Society, Jones also volunteers at the VA nursing home, and helps maintain the Divide Creek Cemetery, and has been serving senior lunches nearly every Wednesday since 1998.
“Alice’s kind manner relaxes folks and helps them feel at ease at the nutrition site, and her personality makes it feel like a family that gets together on a weekly basis,” wrote Judy Martin, senior programs director for the Rifle Senior Center. “Her laugh is infectious, and she is always there to give a touch or hug to those who need them.”
Judy Martin was also an award winner for her work helping to serve lunches, taking seniors to special events, tending and harvesting the senior gardens, and arranging Sunday matinees for the Mountain Madrigal Singers Christmas program.
“She puts in many hours beyond what her job calls for,” wrote Mary Elder. “She works tirelessly to improve the lives of the seniors, going above and beyond to make their lives better,” added Bobbie Dungan, kitchen supervisor at RSC.
All that extra effort earned Martin the title of Tireless Champion. She doesn’t see her service to seniors as a burden. “Open your heart, give it to them,” she told the crowd. “They will cherish it, and it will come back to you tenfold.”
The title for Pastor Lauren Martin’s Reckless Kindness award came from a letter written by his daughters.
“He recklessly spreads kindness to others, regardless of what they can do for him,” Mike Samson recited to the packed room. “Our daddy is notorious for picking up hitchhikers, giving homeless people jobs, and helping us track down loose dogs so they can be returned to their owners.”
Martin, who initiated a project to create quilts for the families of the firefighters killed during the Storm King fire in 1994, was initially speechless in accepting his Reckless Kindness award.
“This preacher has no idea what to say,” he admitted. He soon found his voice, and summed up a sentiment echoed by many of the awardees. “No one who ever gets to stand here stands here because of themselves,” he observed.
Chaplain and Bereavement Coordinator Sean Jeung observed how much support Martin gave in return.
“He creates opportunities for people to be successful, contributing members of our community,” she wrote, “and he does it all with unparalleled and quiet compassion.”
Jeung also opened the evening with a reminder that Monday’s winners and nominees are not the only people serving the community. “There are many individuals in our community that so quietly make a positive impact that they never receive the recognition they deserve,” she said.
The Garfield County Humanitarian Awards have been handed out since 1989, when three individuals were selected as representing outstanding volunteer spirit and community effort.