Volunteers honored at annual lunch

Six organizations and individuals were honored for exceptional service to Volunteers of America of North Louisiana during the annual Volunteer Luncheon today. The event was held from 11:30 a.m. to 1 p.m. March 18 at East Ridge Country Club.

The honorees range from a high school student to Home Depot employees. Most of the honorees were surprised to learn of the recognition at the event.

“You help us do everything – from mentoring children – to hosting holiday parties for people with disabilities – to helping plan for the future of our organization and sharing financial expertise,”  CEO/President Chuck Meehan told the crowd. “We could not do what we do without your sacrifice and support.”

Last year, volunteers donated about 4,500 hours to the people we serve.

Altrusa Award: Mary Ellen Foley

Foley first came to our Downtown LightHouse site many years ago as part of the LSUS Math Helpers, a group of math professors.  A LightHouse kid referred to them as the “Math Gods” – and we still remember them in that way! Although retired from LSUS Foley continues to “get my math fix” spending one afternoon a week helping middle and high school students with their math homework. Beyond our current students, she also tutors those graduates who are home for the holidays and has even helped LightHouse parents who have gone back to school.

Tammeshia Bolden, LightHouse program coordinator said: “She is wonderful – like heaven-sent wonderful.”

But Foley, embarassed by the attention, would tell you it isn’t that hard. “I like to say I just show up.”

Beacon of Hope Award: Chandler Williams

Williams, a junior at Byrd High School, began volunteering at our Travis Street LightHouse site when she was in eighth grade. She is well known for her big smile and positive attitude working diligently each and every week with LightHouse students.

“I love each one of those kids,” she said. “They get me through the week.”

Earlier this school year, Williams wanted to publicly recognize students she has been working with over the years.  And “Chandler’s Champions” was born. This awards program recognizes students for good grades, positive attitude, best attendance, most helpful, and hardest worker.

Champion of Dignity Award: Home Depot Store #356

Last year, employees from the Home Depot Store #356 used their talents and tools to complete 3 work days at our Veterans Transitional Living facility. They built a covered patio, landscaped the facility’s grounds, and built a covered bus stop for our Veterans. Along with community service projects, this company has also generously given our organization $61,000 in gift cards and grants to make various capital improvements including landscaping and solar panels.

Ellen Brown Spirit of Volunteerism Award: Kyle Kelley

This award honors the first director of the Highland Center, and continues to honor those who invest in the Highland Community. This year we honor Kyle Kelley, who volunteers in multiple programs. Kelley teaches LightHouse kids to play the guitar, helps with the LightHouse Vacation Bible School every summer, leads Volunteer Orientation for the Thursday Blessing dinner at the Highland Center, coaches LightHouse basketball and softball teams, and offers his time and expertise with the Highland Center Financial Services.

Rachel Sparks Memorial Award: Marti Ford

Named for Volunteers of America’s longtime executive director, this award honors those who continue her legacy of leadership and excellence. It is rare that we honor an employee, but Ford, our Chief Financial Officer, has served our clients well beyond her job description. She volunteers each week at the Thursday Blessing, a meal provided by Highland Center Ministries for families and others living in poverty. During tax season she volunteers every Tuesday and Thursday evenings as a tax preparer for the IRS VITA site at the Church for the Highlands, preparing more than 100 returns last year.

“I am totally unprepared,” she said, accepting the award. “It gives you something everyday to see the help we provide and it means so much to me to be a part of that.”

Humanitarian Award: Dewey and Gigi Corley

As long time supporters the Corleys had a special concern for the sustainability of Volunteers of America. In the last year they shared an idea to invite current Cherish the Children Evergreen Society donors to consider a gift to endowment that would ensure the donor’s current pledge would continue in perpetuity.  Our honorees made such a gift and thus our special “Evergreen Forever” Society was born.

“When Gigi and I were originally introduced to the VOA, it was evident from the first moment that the VOA was a group of caring people who go where there is a need and do what is needed,” Dewey Corley said. “We think that the VOA provides three critical things to those in our community who are disadvantaged: dignity, hope and a chance.”

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