The Liberty County chapter of the United Way of the Coastal Empire kicked off its 2014 fundraising campaign and held its volunteer of the year awards ceremony Tuesday evening at the Performing Arts Center in Flemington.
After this year’s local campaign chairman, Pastor Alan Darsey, and co-chair, Irene McCall, presented awards for the youth volunteer of the year, youth-group volunteers, civic-group volunteers, social-club volunteers, retired and active-duty soldier volunteers and individual volunteers, this year’s overall volunteer of year was announced — Millie Wilson.
Wilson was described by United Way Liberty Board Chairwoman Kathryn Fox as someone who doesn’t know how to say “no” when it comes to helping others. Wilson volunteers with the Girl Scouts, Boy Scouts, Seniors Inc., Read Across Liberty, Backpack Buddies and Toys for Tots as well as churches and other organizations.
Darsey introduced other UW Liberty board members, who held up large posters to reveal this year’s campaign goal of $175,000.
“I can tell you firsthand United Way impacts lives,” Darsey said. “(United Way) changes people’s projection and gives them hope. … One thing about United Way, every dollar you give comes back to this community. I don’t know of any other organization that works that way.”
United Way of the Coastal Empire has been supporting local nonprofit organizations for more than 75 years. Liberty chapter Director Jennifer Darsey, Alan’s wife, said this year’s fundraising campaign is her fourth, and it’s the third year they’ve recognized the community’s volunteers. She said she’s never lacking for local volunteers and praised members of the community for their passion for volunteering and compassion for others.
Many of the nonprofit organizations supported by United Way set up booths in the hallway inside the Performing Arts Center. Guests and volunteers mingled and talked with representatives from each of these organizations as they enjoyed an array of fruit, chips and dip, cookies, mini sandwiches and other light snacks in the banquet room.
The event officially kicked off with the Bradwell Institute drum line marching into the auditorium, pounding drums as they took the stage and set the tempo for the evening’s events. As they marched off the stage, Fox, who is the business manager for the Coastal Courier, welcomed everyone and introduced United Way of the Coastal Empire campaign Chairwoman Jenny Gentry. Gentry also welcomed those in attendance and thanked local volunteers for their service. She said UWCE supports 59 agencies that run more than 100 programs, saying 1 in 3 people in Coastal Georgia are impacted by United Way.
Following Gentry’s brief remarks, Fox said she was proud to work for a company that understands the importance of the United Way, then introduced her supervisor, Courier publisher Mark Griffin.
“Thanks for coming out and helping us,” Griffin told everyone before turning his focus to the volunteers. “You really make it happen. You make the difference.”
Youth volunteers recognized were Desiree Talbot and McKaylin Darsey. Darsey, daughter of Pastor Alan and Jennifer Darsey, was awarded as this year’s youth volunteer of the year. Youth groups recognized included the Delta Gems, but it was Girl Scout Sycamore Service Unit that won the youth group of the year honor.
Civic groups recognized included Restoration Church Men’s Group and East Liberty County American Legion Post 321.
For volunteering at four Liberty County fire stations, mentoring youth groups, driving golf carts for those parking at Winn Army Community Hospital’s large parking lot, volunteering for the Liberty County Community Emergency Response Team and collecting and distributing food baskets to local churches and food banks, Post 321 Commander Dennis Fitzgerald and Junior Vice Commander Jason Childers accepted the award for civic organization volunteer of the year.
Disloyal Few Motorcycle Club and Aftermath Social Club was recognized as social club volunteers with Aftermath chosen as social club of the year. Special guest, U.S. Army Garrison Command Sergeant Major for Fort Stewart-Hunter Army Airfield Myron Lewis, was called on to present the awards for retired and active-duty soldier of the year.
Retired soldiers recognized for their volunteer service included Bobby Carter, Gregory Odden, Earl White and Karen Bell. However, Hoy “Ski” Lesniowski was honored as the retired soldier volunteer of the year. Sergeants Antonio Alveres and Michael McLaughlin were among the active-duty soldiers recognized for their volunteer work, but Sgt. Robert Safrit, 92nd Engineer Battalion, was the soldier recognized as this year’s active-duty soldier volunteer of the year.
Other individual volunteers recognized with Wilson were James Brown Jr., Nancy Russell, Alan Darsey and Carmen Emmanuel.