To the smiles, applause and standing ovations of approximately 200 well-wishers, this year’s winners at the third annual CEO’s Community Hero Awards Ceremony stepped forward to be honored for extraordinary service to DeKalb County and its communities. At the April 29 event at Callanwolde Fine Arts Center, six individuals and four organizations were recognized for outstanding volunteer efforts.
Among them were a retired police officer who serves the homeless community, an organization that nurtures youth musical abilities, two youngsters who found special ways to serve other youth, a woman who works tirelessly to address issues that affect her neighborhood, a doctor who gives his Sunday afternoons to treat those who can’t afford health care and a man who has been the force behind the revitalization of one of the county’s parks.
Host of the afternoon event DeKalb CEO Burrell Ellis, said, “We celebrate volunteerism in our community and encourage and inspire other DeKalb County citizens to find ways to create positive change in their respective communities.”
Earl and Carolyn Glenn, publishers of The Champion Newspaper, the event’s presenting partner, joined Ellis in presenting the awards, which Earl Glenn said, “reminds us what a truly special place DeKalb County is.”
Nationally known country music artist and DeKalb native Erica Nicole sang, accompanied by guitarist Bill Cinque. Television news reporter and Executive Director of the South Fork Conservancy Sally Sears was mistress of ceremonies.
Community Champion Award – individual
Retired DeKalb County police officer Jeremy Turner is a native Atlantan. After obtaining a bachelor’s degree in psychology from the University of Georgia he moved to DeKalb County and worked as a counselor for the American Red Cross, assisting military families and people affected by natural and man-made disasters.
In 2002 Turner became a DeKalb County police officer and was very passionate about his job. His brother had been killed by a hit-and-run drunken driver several years earlier and, after he had been on the job only a few months, his father was killed during an armed robbery in Atlanta.
Turner was later promoted to detective in the department’s major felony unit. In 2008, he was selected to become a part of the department’s newly established Interactive Community Policing Unit (ICPU), which provided officers opportunities to strengthen bonds with the community.
During his ICPU work, Turner realized there was a lack of community outreach and support for the homeless in DeKalb County. Many had mental illnesses, addiction problems and domestic violence issues. Turner began Contribute2America (C2A) to create, “effective change in the lives of homeless or near homeless individuals through one-on-one interaction and consistent involvement in their lives.”
With a core group of more than 40 volunteers, C2A conducts outreach visits to local homeless encampments underneath bridges and other areas, assists homeless clients with long-term medical care and addiction counseling, and holds a weekly dinner for homeless individuals and families. C2A also established the first food cooperative in DeKalb County.
Turner retired from the DeKalb County Police Department in 2010, but continues his work in the community. In addition to C2A, Turner and his wife Nicole volunteer at their children’s schools assisting with various PTA fundraisers and helping with administrative work.
Community Champion Award – organization
Still Waters Youth Sinfo-Nia of Metropolitan Atlanta Inc.
Named in part after the dean of Black composers, William Grant Still, the Still Waters Youth Sinfo-Nia of Metropolitan Atlanta Inc. was designed to showcase the works of Black composers and arrangers.
Founded in 1990, the orchestra serves to give talented young instrumentalists an opportunity to perform multicultural music, become more proficient musicians (in an environment where there are no auditions), travel, meet other young musicians, prepare to earn college music scholarships and consider careers in symphony orchestras and/or music education. The orchestra’s newly formed dance company which dances with the orchestra, offers advanced instruction in ballet, modern, tap, jazz, hip-hop and other music styles.
The orchestra has performed locally, nationally and toured internationally, and has performed in more than 500 concerts. Its young musicians also have participated in a number of workshops.
Still Waters Youth Sinfo-Nia has completed two videos and makes an effort to participate in community events large and small.
Environmental Change Award – individual
Peter Michelson, president and CEO of Renewal Design Build in Decatur, has sponsored Park Renewal Day at Dearborn Park in Decatur for the past four years. The event has been successful in bringing together people in the community to remove invasive plants and trash from a natural area within the park.
Michelson first presented the idea five years ago to Dave Butler, greenspace environmental manager for DeKalb County. Michelson was a volunteer at Dearborn Park at the time and offered to put up prize money to get competing teams to work in the park every November. The teams would work on plots of land designated by county staff. Each year the event has drawn more than 100 people and as many as 10 teams. In addition to cleaning up the park, participants learn about the importance of restoring native habitat to a park. Michelson’s company spends more than $1,600 annually and countless hours on the project. The event is a partnership between Renewal Design Build, DeKalb County Recreation, Parks and Cultural Affairs, and the city of Decatur.
Park Renewal Day also includes live music and food for all volunteers. The event has been so successful that the county hopes other small businesses will duplicate the model of community support and environmental stewardship at other parks in the county. Michelson, a fourth-generation construction professional, helped out with the family business while growing up in Boston. After spending time in the construction business, he earned a master’s degree in education and became a teacher at The Waldorf School in Atlanta. He started Renewal Design Build in 2001.
Environmental Change Award – organization
The Society of St. Vincent de Paul of Atlanta
The Society of St. Vincent de Paul of Atlanta, a nonprofit, holistic social service agency located in Chamblee, went “green” before it was trendy.
DeKalb County is the headquarters for the statewide Society of St. Vincent de Paul and the organization’s support center in Chamblee has been the administrative hub for the 73 St. Vincent de Paul conference divisions in north and middle Georgia since 1996.
When the organization established its warehouse in Chamblee in the late 1990s, its recycling program began with a focus of protecting the environment. A byproduct of the St. Vincent de Paul donation center and retail thrift store operations, the recycling program is an essential part of the organization’s efforts to assist those in need.
The 10 St. Vincent de Paul thrift stores in metro Atlanta accept and process donations and select inventory for the stores. Donations that are not suitable to offer to clients or sell to patrons are sent back to the donation center for recycling processing.
The income from recycling helps defer some of the costs of store operations and programs. In the previous fiscal year, more than 750,000 pounds of discarded materials were recycled by St. Vincent de Paul’s Conference Support Center, saving DeKalb’s landfill and protecting the environment.
St. Vincent de Paul recycles clothing, shoes, belts, purses, toys, computers, electronics, books, metals, household items and baby products.
St. Vincent de Paul also uses all cardboard products in its baling operation and proceeds received from the recycling program support emergency funding for DeKalb residents in need.
Youth Volunteer Awards
Andi Kehz, a fifth-grader at Oak Grove Elementary School, began working for Smile Train two years ago. Smile Train is an international nonprofit charity that provides cleft palate surgery to those in need, and training to doctors throughout the world.
Andi, who was born with a cleft palate, has undergone nine surgeries. When Andi was sitting in the waiting room of a doctor’s office she noticed an advertisement for Smile Train in a magazine. Her mother told her that many children around the world don’t have the same opportunities as she and that they can’t afford corrective surgery to fix their cleft palates.
Soon after learning about Smile Train, Andi began volunteering for the organization. She created a Facebook page for the charity, sharing her own story and asking for donations. Andi has sponsored a fun run and also created Smile Train apparel, iPhone cases and water bottles, which she sells on cafepress.com. Andi donates all the proceeds to the charity.
Andi has raised more than $12,000 for Smile Train over the past two years.
In the wake of an alarming incident at Henderson Middle School last year, an unlikely hero emerged. A student at the school had an unexplained hemorrhage in his brain. At first, school officials weren’t certain that the young man would live. His schoolmates were all concerned, but Spencer Wilson did far more than might have been expected of a 13-year-old. He visited his schoolmate in the hospital, prayed for him, and provided food and comfort for his family.
The ailing student’s mother was working in the Congo at the time, and his father is in Saudi Arabia. After surgery to relieve the pressure on his brain, the young man survived and began the long path to recovery. Expectations were low at the beginning, and the middle schooler was unconscious for a long period. Spencer visited his friend at least weekly, reading to him, because both young men are avid readers. When the ill youngster regained consciousness and became responsive, “there was Spencer, to laugh with him, read to him, tell him what he wasn’t missing about school,” said Liz Williams, the Henderson teacher who nominated Spencer.
She described Spencer as an angel to his classmate. “I cannot imagine what [it must be like] to be 13 years old and trapped in a body with little control.” When Spencer visits the boy smiles, and when Spencer leaves his eyes tear. The young man has made more progress than those around him had dared to hope for. Now his friends and family are hoping for full recovery. “Spencer is the type of friend who is there for the long haul, and I am so grateful for young people like Spencer that keep us grounded in what really matters. He is our hero,” Williams said.
Neighborhood Empowerment Award – individual
“Action” could easily be Faith Reed’s middle name. The treasurer of the Churchill Downs Civic Association seems unable to allow sub-par issues in her neighborhood to go unaddressed. She has taken on the responsibility of reporting cars parked on the street that impede traffic, untidy lawns, etc.
In addition to handling the association’s finances, Reed is revitalizing the neighborhood’s watch program and is spearheading involvement in an adopt-a-road program. She also serves as a block captain for her street and several others, and has initiated an e-mail group to disseminate information to neighbors. The avid walker has been known to pick up debris as she strolls throughout her community.
The individuals who nominated Faith Reed for the CEO’s Community Hero Award describe her commitment to her neighborhood as unparalleled. “Her relentless action assists in maintaining a well-manicured and safe environment,” stated the nomination form that was submitted on Reed’s behalf.
Neighborhood Empowerment Award – organization
Civic Association Network
The Civic Association Network (CAN) has been bringing together central DeKalb County communities for several years. The organization consists of members representing 14 neighborhood associations and nearly 10,000 homes. Many of the neighborhoods are in unincorporated parts of the county and some are historic. A large number of the communities were established in the 1960s.
The group keeps residents informed about current events by sharing knowledge on the political process, holding leadership networking dinners and hosting speaker meetings on specific topics. The association also has a website to share information pertinent to the neighborhoods, including redistricting maps, election information and a calendar of events. CAN hosted candidate fairs in 2004, 2006 and 2008 to allow voters and candidates to speak one-on-one. The group also has planned candidate fairs for this year.
CAN is active in environmental issues and has participated in several park cleanup days around the county. Members of CAN include civic association presidents, past presidents and presidents-in-development. Its members also are people who lead or have led civic-minded groups in non-civic-association neighborhoods, and many are long-time civic activists in the area.
Vanguard Award - individual
Every Sunday afternoon for the past 12 years, Dr. Hansen Chang has provided medical assistance to DeKalb County’s uninsured and underserved residents.
Since 2000, Chang has a run a free weekly clinic and monthly health fair for the Chinese American Lion’s Club, a group of charity-minded individuals from the Chinese American community of metro Atlanta. Chang is the medical director and vice president of the organization.
Through the clinics and fairs, medical volunteers provide blood pressure screenings, blood sugar tests, bone density screenings to check for osteoporosis, acupuncture services and flu shots.
“With the health care situation the way it is, there are a lot of Asians who are without basic health care. I just wanted to help,” Chang said. “Sometimes the people who come to us actually cry because they are so happy to see that someone cares about them.”
Chang, who is a past chairman of the DeKalb County Board of Health, also provides shadowing and mentorship opportunities for young adults, many of whom are now physicians and medical students.
Chang said one of his main goals is to get medical students and his colleagues to focus on why they want to become doctors.
“It’s to help patients understand their diseases. I’m trying my best to do my part and hopefully the students will understand that the true meaning to be a doctor is to help those in need,” Chang said.
Chang said the program continues to grow as other doctors, nurses, medical students and volunteers give three or four hours a month. “Sometimes we get specialists—eye doctors, dentists, dermatologists—they are all needed.” The program, he said, can use more sponsors and more volunteers.
“It’s a true gift to give something to the community without wanting anything in return,” Chang said.
Vanguard Award – organization
DeKalb Medical is a more than 50-year-old, three-hospital private, not-for-profit health care organization. The organization enriches the community not only through its stated mission “to improve lives through the delivery of health and wellness services,” but also through its association with numerous other groups that contribute to the health and well-being of the community.
The DeKalb Medical Foundation was created “to strengthen the link between DeKalb Medical and the community it serves through communication, education, service and charitable giving. The DeKalb Medical Foundation is dedicated to improving the standard of health in our community by raising funds and charitable gifts for health care initiatives offered through DeKalb Medical,” according to the foundation’s website.
Through its foundation, DeKalb Medical donates funds to organizations that positively impact the community’s health. Among these are DeKalb Rape Crisis Center, with which it is a founding partner; Friends of Disabled Adults and Children, an organization dedicated to providing medical equipment to those in need without regard to their ability to pay; Project Open Hand, an organization that helps provide proper nutrition for those who either are unable to afford the food they need or are too sick to prepare their own meals; Atlanta Community Food Bank, an organization that distributes more than 30 million pounds of food each year to more than 700 nonprofit partner agencies; and the Junior League of DeKalb County, which has among its many community service projects a major initiative on preventing childhood diabetes.