Garfield County humanitarians honored with return of live awards ceremony
Sally Brands, Carlos Cornejo, Gabe Cohen, Iliana Renteria the 2021 Human Service Award recipients
Sally Brands — Lifetime Impact Award
Carlos Cornejo — Community Force Award
Gabe Cohen — Warrior of Hope Award
Iliana Renteria — Wonder Woman Award
Other nominees: Ross Brooks, Ted and Sheryl Doll, Ginny West and Anne Sale, Glenda Martinez, Linda Haydock, Elizabeth Russo, Pastor Robin Vega
There was much to celebrate Monday night at the Garfield County Human Service Awards dinner, not the least of which was the privilege of honoring community members in person.
For the first time since before the pandemic, the annual awards honoring human service volunteers and professionals in Garfield County took place in person, on this occasion at the Hotel Colorado in Glenwood Springs.
The 2020 event was held virtually via Zoom, and the 2021 awards were postponed to this spring due to ongoing concerns about large public gatherings in the fall.
Four recipients were honored for their work on a variety of fronts helping those in need from Carbondale to Parachute.
Lifetime Impact Award
Longtime community volunteer Sally Brands was awarded the Lifetime Impact Award for her 30-plus years of service to the community.
Her work over the years has included driving for Grand River’s Meals on Wheels to deliver hot meals to shut-ins for over 15 years; work with an organization that supports and educates women; helping with the renovation of Rifle’s Ute Theater; serving on the Rifle Downtown Development Authority; and volunteering for Habitat for Humanity, LIFT-UP and Catholic Charities.
“Her years of volunteering extend past most of our careers,” Brands’ nominating biography reads. “She has given countless hours to the community in hundreds of ways, and in her spare time has sat on several boards over the years.
Brands thanked her husband, John Savage, for bringing her to Rifle during the oil shale boom and allowing her the opportunity to give back to the community.
“Sometimes you just have to show up and say, I’d like to help,” she said.
Community Force Award
Rifle Police Sgt. Carlos Cornejo is “an example of a leader sitting down at the table of brotherhood … who knows the importance and power that information has and does all that he can to get the information out, especially within the Latino community,” Garfield County Commissioner Tom Jankovsky said in announcing Cornejo as the Community Force Award recipient.
From improving relations between the police department, local government and the residents of Garfield County to delivering happy birthday surprises to children during the lockdown, Cornejo’s efforts are noteworthy.
His reach also extends beyond Garfield County with more than half a million followers through his Facebook page.
“During his time with the Rifle Police Department, he has excelled in community outreach with his updates on services, projects and community events,” Cornejo’s nomination biography reads. Outside of working with the police department, Carlos has volunteered to become a board member with Mindsprings, and has helped organize food distribution within the Latino community and assisted during the 2020 Census.
Cornejo, in his remarks, reflected the attention back on all the others in the room who give back in different ways through various human service efforts.
“You guys all make a great difference in your communities every single day, and you do it for fun, not for attention. … Service just makes you feel good,” he said.
Warrior of Hope Award
Discovery Café founder Gabe Cohen overcame his own challenges related to substance abuse and addiction and decided he wanted to help others to do the same.
“He started in small ways, by reaching out to nonprofits, churches, support groups and more to share his vision to help addicts recover,” his nomination biography reads.
That included volunteering with probation and recovery groups before he got hired as a treatment provider for the Department of Corrections.
Cohen started the Discovery Café in Rifle to provide a refuge for anyone dealing with personal afflictions, and the program has since expanded to include a twice-a-week program in Basalt.
Cohen thanked representatives in the room from Mind Springs Health and Mountain Family Health Centers for helping him in his early recovery.
“You provided the services and helped me get to the place that I am today,” he said.
“I also just want to say this is in honor of my mother’s memory, and everything I put her through,” Cohen said.
Wonder Woman Award
Shortly after Iliana Renteria immigrated to the United States and settled in the Roaring Fork Valley, she began volunteering for the Raising A Reader program, introducing children to the world of reading.
“Iliana helped develop new programs to provide books and school readiness guidance to isolated families,” her nomination biography reads. “She led weekly sessions with parents and children to boost confidence and empower parents to strengthen learning at home.”
Renteria also works with Mind Springs Health as a facilitator for Mental Health First Aid classes, and is the “go-to Spanish translations expert” at Ross Montessori School in Carbondale, where her two children attend.
She’s also a board member for the Women’s Voices Project, which she helped create as a theater production to empower women in the community.
“In response to the wildfires and the pandemic, she set up interactive social media pages to provide information on evacuations, food banks, vaccinations and legal aid,” according to her bio.
One of her nominators wrote, “She is a beautiful example of generosity, dedication, compassion and hope.”
Renteria added “love” to the equation.
“I was just thinking about love and the amazing things that love does for us, and how it inspires us,” she said upon accepting the award.
“When I came here … I fell in love with the amazing work that all of you guys do.
“When you love a community, you want to entertain the power and help to be better and help each other, and give your hand to those who need it most.”
Senior Reporter/Managing Editor John Stroud can be reached at 970-384-9160 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
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