Re-2 leader, other local humanitarians honored
A woman described as “head cheerleader” for the Garfield County Re-2 School District was on the receiving end of cheers Thursday night.
Longtime schools volunteer Vicki VanEngelenburg was honored as the recipient of the Glenwood Springs Post Independent/Garfield County Human Services Commission’s Countywide Humanitarian Service Award.
This award winner not only has an influence throughout the county, but also throughout the region and state.
As the district’s “head cheerleader,” said Tucker, VanEngelenburg is a district representative to the Colorado Association of School Boards. She has served six years on the Legislative Committee of CASB, and has established the RE-2 Governmental Forum, an opportunity for students, teachers, administrators and school board members to meet with their legislators on a regular basis and go online to research information on current education issues before the legislature. She was the driving force in establishing the Garfield School District RE-2 Educational Foundation.
Nominator and Assistant Superintendent Ava Lanes wrote, “She is, in my opinion, not only the president of our school board, but a teacher in her heart, a coach in her leadership style and a team builder in her community. I have witnessed her calming manner in the most hostile of situations. I have observed her gentleness in the face of adversity. I have shared her excitement in the face of overcoming challenges. She is the epitome of unselfish servant.”
Said VanEngelenburg, “It’s real easy to do something for kids. … We’ve got the greatest group of employees, and we’re such a team. It’s such an amazing thing to be a part of this team that is working on behalf of our children. I’d do this for a hundred years if I could live that long.”
Also receiving awards Thursday were June Woods in the volunteer category, Mariana Velasquez-Schmahl in the staff category, Maggie Becker and Reyna Cruz in the youth category, Mary Elder and Kathryn Gambell in the senior volunteer category, and the officers and members of the Eagles Auxiliary No. 215 in the charitable project category.
More than 30 people were nominated for awards and recognized Thursday in ceremonies at the Hotel Colorado.
The 13th annual awards program was co-hosted by Carolyn Tucker, director of United Way of Garfield County, and Heather McGregor, managing editor of the Glenwood Springs Post Independent.
The program received significant financial support this year from the Garfield County Board of Commissioners and the Post Independent.
VanEngelenburg has been volunteering for more than 15 years in the schools, in such capacities as fund-raising for sports uniforms and playground equipment, coordinating athletic competition schedules, and organizing the annual Riverside School Carnival.
VanEngelenburg was appointed to the Re-2 School Board in 1993 and elected president in 1997.
In addition to school board and committee meetings and a full-time job, she visits schools every month, when the school board prepares breakfast for the employees before school.
Said Tucker, “Our award for county-wide volunteer implies a presence and involvement throughout Garfield County.
June Woods’ volunteerism has yielded fruit around the world. After her husband died, she joined the Peace Corps and taught English in Botswana, Liberia and Tonga.
A retired Roaring Fork Re-1 teacher and author, she also is a 10-year volunteer with CMC’s Learning Lab, and has given approximately 900 hours of service to struggling students.
Diane DeFord of the CMC Learning Lab wrote in her nomination of how Woods “unlocked the mysteries of phonics” for frightened adults, helped them finish their first book and prepared them to pass their citizenship tests. “I have watched June pass on her love of learning and share her generous heart with everyone,” wrote DeFord.
One student wrote of Woods, “She shows so much patience, tact and delicacy in her relations with her students. … I love the hours when I’m with June in the library.”
Mariana Velasquez-Schmahl, in her job as staff to the Colorado Mountain College Foundation, “pursues projects that turn ordinary kids into winners,” Tucker said.
She founded First Ascent, a year-round CMC program that develops youth leaders.
She also is the founding coordinator of Alpine Bank’s Hispanic Scholar Program and serves on the board for the J. Robert Young Family Foundation. She teaches water aerobics and power walking classes, as well as serving a key role as a board member and fund-raiser for many of Glenwood Springs’ charitable and community groups.
Velasquez-Schmahl grew up in a migrant farm worker family “and now uses her voice to empower and educate young Hispanics,” said McGregor.
She is, in the words of Bob Young, Alpine Bank founder and one of her six nominators, “a leader, advocate, teacher, mentor, counselor and motivator.”
Joel Banuelos, a teenager who also nominated Velasquez-Schmahl and participated in the First Ascent program, wrote, “she is the type of person who puts so much work into preparing experiences that, when they all take place, she moves into the background to watch the miracles unfold.”
Maggie Becker, just 12 years old now, has been volunteering since she was 8. She brings her young laughter and spirit to Heritage Park Care Center in Carbondale, where she volunteers in the activities department making calendars, delivering mail, assisting with snacks, and reading to those who can’t read for themselves.
She also volunteers in the Alzheimer’s Unit, where she sings, and plays bingo and balloon volleyball with the patients.
Said Tucker, “Her youthful energy and natural warmth has brightened up many a day for her elderly friends. Her passion to help and give of herself goes beyond her age of 12 years.”
Reyna Cruz, a Glenwood Springs High School senior, goes to school full-time, holds down a job and volunteers at Sopris Elementary School with the new Project Star after-school program.
“In her quiet and nurturing way, this young lady helps children who have trouble succeeding in a classroom feel really good about their extra efforts and themselves,” said Tucker.
Cruz also is part of a special note-taking program at GSHS. In addition to attending her own classes, she attends two other classes that she has already passed. She writes notes in Spanish, and they are distributed to English as a Second Language students who could not otherwise understand or succeed in the required classes.
Cruz moved here with her family from the Yucatan peninsula of Mexico. This past Christmas, Reyna went back to Mexico to stay and care for her grandmother, who is now alone. She only returned to Glenwood when another family member could take her place.
“Reyna’s commitment to her family, her school and her new community is admirable and most deserving of recognition,” said McGregor.
Kathryn Gambell, 85, is a past president and active member of the Glenwood Springs Garden Club. For eight years, she served on the Valley View Hospital Auxiliary, working two days a week in accounting and human resources. She coordinates the American Cancer Society’s Daffodil Days, and recently sold out her entire stock. Gambell also loves children. Through RSVP, she works one day a week as a reading tutor. She also is active at St. Barnabas Episcopal Church.
Six months ago she had major back surgery, and her rehab has gotten in the way of her volunteer schedule. But she is already back to church, and once she can drive again she will resume her volunteer work.
Mary Elder of Rifle is a 10-year member of the Retired Senior Volunteer Program. She has worked more than 7,000 hours supporting programs that serve seniors throughout the county. She helps with Share Colorado food distribution at the Rifle Moose Lodge, volunteers at the Rifle Information Center for the chamber of commerce and dispatches the Traveler. Elder chairs both the Garfield County Council on Aging and the Northwest Regional Council on Aging, and volunteers at the Rifle Senior Center.
She is active in her church, and she spent more than 20 years as a Salvation Army volunteer in Rifle. When she worked as a police dispatcher, she often took extra time to help people out of a bad situation.
McGregor said she spoke this week with Elder’s friend, Marlene Hawkins, who said, “Mary is one of these people that if you called her for help, she’d drop everything she was doing and come help you.”
Karen Wood owns Accents From Head to Toe in New Castle. “It is from this woman and her little business that so many positive things spring forth,” Tucker said.
Wood is a founding member of the Lions Club in New Castle, a member of the New Castle and Silt chambers of commerce and a strong supporter of area schools. She and her volunteers are always at the annual Riverside School Carnival, where their nail booth is one of the most popular.
She gives a price break to seniors at her salon. At weekly community lunches, she also occasionally offers hand massages and paraffin dips to heal dry hands and help with flexibility.
As an employer, she accommodates employees’ schedule needs based on their personal lives. She has been there to help the abused woman who just needed to get back on her feet, the person needing groceries or gas money to get to Denver with a sick child.
Through small gestures and genuine kindness, Wood has touched many lives. Said McGregor, “We call it the Good Neighbor Award, because good neighbors do so much, just because.”
The Eagles Auxiliary No. 215 keeps busy with one charitable project after another. This group awarded four $250 scholarships to students last year, and $500 to the Glenwood Springs Branch Library to purchase large-print books.
It pays for a teacher to work at the Glenwood Learning Center, a summer school program for kids having a hard time in their classes. And it supports many other community projects, including DARE, the local hospice, the Advocate Safehouse and Mountain Valley Developmental Services. It hosts a yearly appreciation dinner for firefighters.
Funding for these charitable projects comes from putting on raffles and rummage sales, and opening the doors of the Eagles facility for all-day cheeseburgers, burrito night and other meals.
Singled out in the award nomination were Auxiliary members Donna Matthews, who accepted the award, and Paula Mauer, Joyce Kerns, Annette Franta, Vicky Price, Shannon Hurst, Judy Hughes, Lupe Gonzales, Anna Wilson, Bea Vidakovich and Mildred Alsdorf.
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