By JOY CRIST
Three 2016 Governor’s Volunteer Service Awards were given out to four Hatteras Island residents at the May 16 Board of Commissioners meeting at the Fessenden Center in Buxton. With a packed house that included many supporters of each of the recipients, the honorees were praised and applauded by the crowd, as well as by the commissioners themselves.
Bonnie Bennett, program coordinator at Dare County Friends of Youth, led the presentation, and explained the background behind the annual awards.
The Governor’s Volunteer Service Award program was initiated in 1979 and is given to 1,000 volunteers annually all across the state. The Outer Banks Community Foundation receives nominations from all across Dare County for the award, and then reviews and turns over their selections to the Governor’s office. From there, a final decision is made, and the names are given back to the local awards committee.
Essentially, this means that the awards are from the governor himself, and 2016 marks the 37th year that the award has been given to local honorees.
The recipients – which includes a husband and wife team – were all praised for the sheer amount of time and dedication they put into their work, both from the crowd and the committee members.
“I have dealt with volunteers for 28 year in the county, and I was honored to present the awards to this year’s [honorees],” said Bennett, the awards coordinator.
The stories behind each of the honorees’ service was distinct and represents a unique cross-section of how local residents give back to their community, in a myriad of essential ways.
RAY AND CLAIRE SCHAAF
The first recipients of the evening were Ray and Claire Schaaf, who were honored for their service with the local Cape Hatteras Methodist Men’s Food Pantry and Emergency Assistance Program.
“This husband and wife team has volunteered for this organization for the past 15 years,” began Bennett. “Wow!”
During this timeframe, the Schaafs have volunteered three to six hours per day, 7 days a week, performing virtually all functions of the Cape Hatteras Food Pantry. They pick up the donated food items from stores and other suppliers, provide transportation and sorting, stock the food and meet clients for daily appointments, keep log sheets for food safety and records, clean and maintain the food pantry, and participate in fundraising activities – just to name a few of the ways in which the duo keep the food pantry going on a regular basis.
And over the past 15 years, the Schaafs have provided food for needy families and hurricane victims more than 20,000 times, and have transformed the Cape Hatteras Food Pantry into one of the best Albemarle Regional Food Bank systems by consistently receiving their highest ratings.
“They are an amazing couple that exemplifies the true meaning of volunteerism,” said Bennett during the presentation.
The Schaafs themselves are humble about their work, but very grateful for all the support they’ve received from the community. From local grocery stores, to donations from realty companies in the summer months, numerous local sources step in to collect supplies for this worthy cause.
And with all these moving parts, the Schaafs are at the forefront of making sure the operation runs smoothly.
“We do it for the people – We get a blessing from helping our community,” said Claire, who had multiple supporters at the meeting to cheer on her and her husband. “The food pantry is something we love doing, because the people [who benefit from it] are so appreciative.
“There’s a lot of people hurting down here in term of finances — it’s expensive living down here — and they need help. So we’re on call every single day,” she said.
And when asked if she had any inclination of scaling back her tough, seven-day-a-week schedule, she laughed and replied “Not yet. I’m 74, and my husband will be 76… but we just keep moving.”
The next honoree was Natalie McIntosh, who was recognized for her work with Hatteras Island Meals.
“During this past year, her leadership skills and willingness to go the extra mile to help in every way has continued to grow a much needed organization on Hatteras Island,” said Bennett during the presentation.
In 2015, Natalie managed the local organization, which included seven board members, three community coordinators, and more than 30 delivery drivers. She also took on multiple positions throughout the organization – including being a driver herself when needed – during a time when the organization was both being re-defined and getting back on its feet.
In early 2013, she re-organized the Hatteras Island Meals board of directors, assigning specific tasks and tackling some of the more difficult and time-consuming projects herself. She orchestrated a team that raised more than $21,000, which allowed Hatteras Island Meals to pay off existing debt, and restart meal delivery three days per week, which later increased to four days per week.
“She is extremely worthy of this award for going above and beyond the call of duty,” said Bennett.
Natalie herself humbly credits most of her success to the board members and all the volunteers who were instrumental along the way.
“I’m really honored by all the nice things the people who nominated me had to say,” she said. “It’s a little embarrassing, because the success of the organization is much broader than just one person… I can’t accept it for just me – it’s for everyone at Hatteras Island Meals.”
Natalie originally joined the organization because it fit in with her work schedule at Real Watersports.
“When it came to light that the organization had financial difficulty, you couldn’t just say ‘Oh, I’ll go do something else…’ You couldn’t just walk away,” she said. “But so many people stepped up to get involved… the board members jumped in and helped with the resurrection effort.”
The need for donations and volunteers continues – especially on the board level – but Natalie attests that the experience is a rewarding one.
“It’s very eye-opening. It really makes you appreciate being a healthy person with all your facilities, and it makes you realize how many people are hidden in the community,” she says. “It’s a good call to action to keep your eyes open for your neighbors and the people in the community who, as they age, may not be able to take care of themselves.
“Our organization helps people hang on to their independence as long as they possible can, in conjunction with other services that are available.”
SANDI JONES GARRISON
Sandi Jones Garrison was the last recipient of the evening, and received the award for her work with the Dare Home Health and Dare Hospice. She will also be receiving the Governor’s Medallion award in Raleigh, which is given to only 20 recipients statewide.
“This volunteer was far and away the most dedicated, hardworking hospice volunteer during 2015,” said Bennett.
Jeff and Lisa Slaker, the volunteer coordinators for Dare Home Health and Dare Hospice, confirmed the accolades. “We’re very proud of her,” said Jeff. “She did all the hard work, and it was the right thing to do to recognize [her accomplishments.]”
Garrison volunteered 343 combined hospice and respite hours during 2015, which is the highest amount of hours ever recorded by Dare Home Health and Dare Hospice. During this timeframe, she gave 125 hours in September and October to assist two hospice patients and their families during tough times.
And as a volunteer, her job description is both tough and all-encompassing. Her work entails providing compassionate support for patients and families, giving comfort and respite to caregivers during times of stress, and improvising for individual situations to provide care that goes above and beyond the highest of expectations. In 2015, she also greatly assisted two challenging hospice cases, and even stood strong at the moment when a loved one passed.
“I feel humble, but at the same time I don’t feel like I’m any more special than the next volunteer,” says Sandi on the topic of receiving the award. “I’m honored that Jeff [Slaker] recognized the work I’ve done, and if anything, it will bring more information to the community on what the hospice is all about, and what we do, and how much of a need there is for volunteers. It’s a very worthwhile experience.”
In addition to the other volunteers and hospice coordinators, Sandi also noted that the patients’ caretakers deserve the lion’s share of recognition.
“The caretakers are the true volunteers,” she said. “They’re involved 24/7. I’m in their homes several hours a day, but they’re the ones whose time is really given to their loved ones, and who don’t have time for anything else. They always have to be one step ahead – making sure the medications are given, the clothes are washed, the doctors are contacted –and it is humbling to be invited into their homes as a volunteer and see what they have to do to take care of their loved one.
“I don’t think I’m anyone special, but I’m honored to be part of hospice, because it’s personal, and these families need the help,” she adds. “I didn’t grow up here, so for the community to welcome you in this kind of very personal environment is heartwarming. As a new resident – I’ve only been here six years – it’s nice to be needed.”
All three of the honorees were presented with certificates and loud rounds of applause at the meeting, and all three continue the dedicated volunteer work for which they were recognized.
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