On August 20, 2020, the Volunteer Center of Brown County hosted the 32nd Annual WPS Volunteer Awards. This year’s event was held virtually, as we once again recognized volunteers and the good work they do to support our community.
We are grateful to Erin Davisson and Tom Zalaski, of WFRV-TV Local 5, for being emcees once again this year. And we’d like to thank event sponsor Wisconsin Public Service, the Greater Green Bay Community Foundation, and our eight generous award sponsors (American National Bank, Aon, Constellation, The George Kress Foundation, Georgia-Pacific, Green Bay Packers Give Back, Schreiber, and UnitedHealthcare) for their support.
Award amounts are $1,000 for recipients and $500 for the runners-up, which is donated to the nonprofit organization of their choice. Youth awards are in the form of scholarships.
Thank you as well to our additional sponsors: A&K Pizza Crust, Associated Bank, Capital Credit Union, Cellcom, Nicolet National Bank, Schneider, and WFRV-TV Local 5.
Recipients and Runners-Up
Large Group Award
Recipient: Wellspring Hospitality Team
Wellspring of St. John the Evangelist Homeless Shelter is a daytime drop-in center that has been serving women for the past 21 years. It has grown over the years to provide resources, programming, referrals, meals, peer support and a safe environment. The majority of guests who go to Wellspring live at or below the poverty level, have been self-diagnosed with a mental or physical disability, and have a history of trauma. Many face instabilities in their employment, housing, finances, and relationships due to the various hardships they face. Wellspring is a source of refuge, acceptance, and hope where personal bonds of trust are formed, which then help women find their inner strength and rebuild their lives. Wellspring is sustainable with just one full-time staff member and two part-time staff largely due to its 22 deeply committed volunteers who give their time on a weekly basis, welcoming and interacting with guests and keeping the center running smoothly throughout the day. In 2019, Wellspring was open 275 days, and the Hospitality Team filled 1,700 hours of service, making it possible to provide this vital service to 400 women in our community.
Runner-Up: HEA Foster Families — Happily Ever After Animal Sanctuary
Hundreds of thousands of dogs and cats face the fear of death in shelters every year. Happily Ever After provides a place where those fears don’t exist, a place where life is a guarantee. A critical piece to that guarantee is HEA’s volunteer foster families. By placing animals in a foster home, more space is available in the shelter and more animals can be saved. These special volunteers spend time caring for their foster animals as if they were their own pet, providing them with food, water, exercise, and most importantly, love. HEA foster families give these animals the gift of a safe and loving environment that helps prepare them for their forever home.
Small Group Award
Recipient: Literacy Green Bay Student Evaluators
The population who strives to learn English or want to earn their high school diploma equivalency turn to Literacy Green Bay for help. They help stop the cycle of societal issues with volunteers like Student Evaluators. The Student Evaluators at Literacy Green Bay are the first step to lifelong learning and an improved outlook on life, which becomes a ripple effect that benefits the entire community. Improved literacy skills foster a parent’s self-confidence to participate more fully in their children’s education and within their community. The mission of Literacy Green Bay is achieved through the work of generous volunteer tutors, but in order to provide the tutors with appropriate teaching materials and sufficient background on the students, adult learners need to be tested, interviewed, and evaluated by trained volunteer Student Evaluators through new learner assessments and re-assessments after every 50 hours of instructions. The average evaluation takes approximately three hours through standardized testing, interviews, determining curriculum, and summarizing the information collected in a professionally written student profile report. This service is essential to helping students get started on their road to learning with the appropriate curriculum to receive support through ELL classes, the adult tutoring program, the College & Career Readiness Class, or the Children First Family Literacy Program. Student Evaluators need to be self-directed, responsible, patient, and reassuring yet firm in adhering to testing requirements. They also need to ‘think on their feet’, as learners often have unique circumstances. Literacy Green Bay’s seven student evaluators embody all of the necessary qualities and ensure that the testing is provided timely and consistently while also making the student feel comfortable and welcomed. Their work has resulted in helping many individuals get started on their path to improving their English skills, earning their GEDs, studying for citizenship, achieving their personal goals, and obtaining self-sufficiency through their careers.
Runner-Up: Evergreen Costume Ladies — Evergreen Productions
Evergreen Productions produces theatrical performances accessible to almost everyone in our community. But they couldn’t do it without the Evergreen Costume Ladies who keep the performing arts alive through their creations for the shows. As a group, these ladies share their talents with a needle and thread, and their creativity is showcased upon the actors on stage. They create the costumes that each Evergreen production requires, from simple everyday modern clothing to elaborate Victorian dresses to fanciful animal costumes. No matter the request, they are always willing to accept the challenge and never fail to come through. The costume ladies always bring the vision of a production to life with their designs. Not only does it take years to perfect the costume designing skill that these ladies lend to the organization, but they also buy their own supplies, patterns, and fabrics in addition to donating their time. They are always there when Evergreen needs them — not only during rehearsal, but during the entire run of the show in case any help is needed along the way. They are happy to stay backstage out of the spotlight and let the actors shine in their creations.
Arts & Culture Award
Recipient: Paul Grall
Paul Grall took over as the board president for the Civic Symphony of Green Bay in July 2018 and has gone above and beyond the call of duty for a volunteer board president. He has taken the initiative to get involved with the marketing committee to make sure the organization is publicized in as many ways as possible and is always an advocate for the organization in the community. His vision is to provide opportunities for all generations in our area to have access to not only symphonic music, but music education in general for our community. The Civic Symphony youth concert at the Meyer Theatre sold out for the first time under his direction, and he hopes to provide more opportunities to engage as many youth in our area as possible. Before Paul’s position as board president, he was part of the concert operations team for three years. The leadership and dedication Paul brings to the organization is invaluable. He is dedicated to ensuring the community is aware of the Civic Symphony and the benefits of music. The board at the symphony sees the work that he’s putting in, and it’s making everyone else engaged to work harder. His passion for the organization and the mission is evident, and his leadership has helped them overcome a much-needed transformation and has boosted morale across the organization from the board to the musicians.
Runner-Up: Curt Christnot
Evergreen Productions provides quality theatre entertainment in the Greater Green Bay area with ticket prices the majority of the community can afford. Community members can also participate in productions and express themselves. Over the years, Curt Christnot has embraced this with playing a variety of parts on stage, occasionally taking on roles that are not exactly likeable characters. He has been a valuable member of Evergreen Productions and has mentored countless new and seasoned directors. He also has stepped in to assist as an acting coach and become their resident fight choreographer, teaching actors and students how to fall, hit and take a punch properly without getting hurt. Add stage manager to the list to round out all of Curt’s unique theatre talents. Perhaps his most important contribution to Evergreen has been volunteering with the young actors’ summer program, where he has worked as an assistant director, instructor, and mentor for the past five years. Curt has even taken the steps of joining the Evergreen board and several committees. He always helps out when asked, and his mentorship to several new directors has molded them into directing their own shows. Many of his mentees will reach out to him and ask for his continued advice.
Adult Volunteer Award
Recipient: Mike Parins
As a shelter volunteer for over a decade, Mike Parins has helped St. John’s Homeless Shelter grow from a single shelter to include two resource centers, meeting the crucial needs for the homeless population within the Green Bay community. Through his life experiences, including homelessness and addiction, Mike felt he was called to be involved with St. John’s since its inception over 10 years ago. Mike worked alongside the shelter’s founding father helping with projects as needed, before there was an official program. He then later transitioned to being a hospitality volunteer, where he could connect nightly with guests about their lives, hopes, and dreams. Mike was also involved with implementing the shelter’s first public awareness campaign, “See Me,” throughout Green Bay. Last year, he used his professional experience to implement a comprehensive health and safety program for the shelter — shaping policies and practices for decades to come. Having overcome his own personal challenges, Mike sees the gift that his life is and now inspires others at the shelter and beyond.
Runner-Up: Jeanne Kelley
Court Appointed Special Advocates of Brown County, or CASA, is a volunteer-based nonprofit that provides a voice for abused and neglected children who are under the legal protection of the court system. In 2019, CASA volunteers advocated on behalf of 240 children in Brown County, making their lives safer and futures brighter. Jeanne Kelley has served as an active CASA volunteer since 2007, during which she has been assigned to nine cases … advocating for a total of 14 children. Jeanne has visited each case regularly, no matter the distance, driving over 10,000 miles in her role as a CASA volunteer. In addition to advocating for youth during her personal time, Jeanne helped children in her professional life as a registered nurse for Head Start, and then as a volunteer of both CASA and Big Brothers/Big Sisters.
Youth Volunteer Award
Recipient: Jacob Kulis
Utilizing EBT benefits at the Farmer’s Market on Broadway helps to ensure that all of our neighbors have access to fresh, healthy, locally grown produce. In order to get the necessary EBT tokens that folks can use at farmer’s market vendors, they must first make a stop at the EBT tent. That’s where they’ll also find the smiling face and warm presence of Jacob Kulis. Each week of the 2019 market season, Jacob faithfully arrived early to help On Broadway staff with set-up and manage the volunteers in the EBT tent. He took the time to learn the ins and outs of both the EBT program and the market itself — confidently serving customers, solving problems, and answering any and all questions that arose. And each week, he stayed after his official duties were done to assist with clean-up. As a student in UW-Green Bay’s Urban Design program, Jacob is also collaborating with a faculty member to update the Design Master Plan for the Broadway District. Undoubtedly, he will continue to use his education, skills, and dedication to improve our community.
Runner-Up: Samuel Van Straten
“Leave No Runner Behind.” That’s the mantra of Samuel Van Straten, a young man who has encompassed what it means to be a mentor and role model through his volunteer activities with the YWCA. An avid runner, Samuel noted both a lack of diversity within the sport and a need to remove barriers that often prevent low-resourced individuals from taking up running. Over the course of just one year, Sam partnered with the YWCA Greater Green Bay to develop, fundraise, and launch the Family Runner’s Locker. The Locker provides shoes, clothing, race entry fees, and support to budding runners from the YWCA, Boys and Girls Club, Casa Alba Melanie, and the Green Bay Public Schools. To date, Sam has raised $12,500 in monetary and in-kind donations to support the Family Runner’s Locker. But more than that, he has enabled countless local kids to experience the physical, social, and emotional benefits of running.
Children with positive role models are more motivated and have a higher drive to achieve. Bill Orgeman has been a constant role model in the classroom for Green Bay area elementary students for more than 11 years! He is a Reading Coach through the Volunteer Center of Brown County’s Reading Coaches for Kids Program and is so much more than a tutor. “Mr. Bill” is a positive role model and a caring friend for 4th and 5th graders at MacArthur Elementary School. He reads with the students three mornings a week for three hours and has provided over 900 hours of his own time over the past 11 years. At times, he motivates with a candy bar for an excellent spelling test score or will bring in football or baseball cards for the students. Bill is a trusted adult, who truly cares about the students’ education and lives, and his impact is truly immeasurable.
Runner-Up: Don Bauknecht
If a child can’t read well by the end of third grade, odds are that he or she will never catch up. And the effects of falling behind can be devastating. To help combat this issue, the Volunteer Center of Brown County offers a Reading Coaches for Kids volunteer tutoring program designed to increase students’ reading abilities and academic success. Don Bauknecht works with students twice a week at Kennedy Elementary School to help them read and analyze what was happening in their books. Don connects with the students to build a lasting relationship, especially with those who are reserved and shy, and he acts as a positive role model to help build their confidence.
Volunteer Leadership Award
Recipient: Gina Peotter
Losing a loved one is an incredibly traumatic experience at any age, but can be especially difficult and isolating for young people. Gina Peotter understands that better than most. After losing her parents in college, she came to understand the need for affordable and accessible grief care for school-aged children. As her nominator states, “Because kids don’t have the funds to afford counseling services, and grieving families are often struggling with so many losses and adjustments, many financially related, Gina felt it was important to not only offer grief support, but to make it accessible and free to the families who attend.” With the help of a friend, Gina founded Hope’s House in 2018 to address this need within the community. Hope’s House provides free bereavement support services, resources, and peer-to-peer grief support groups. Gina not only designed a curriculum and trained 35 community volunteers to serve as program facilitators, but has also worked tirelessly to remove any barriers that would prevent a grieving child from being able to benefit from the services Hope’s House provides. Currently, they support 47 kids, and Pulaski High School has also adopted the curriculum to provide ongoing, internal grief support to their students. Gina is proof that hope can grow from the seeds of grief.
Runner-Up: Pamela Hencke
Serving others and finding solutions to fulfill community needs define servant leadership. Pamela Hencke is a true servant who exemplifies what it means to have a community’s best interest at heart! In 2009, her life took an unexpected turn when her son, Carson, was diagnosed with significant cognitive and physical disabilities. Pamela and her husband sprang into action, seeking out resources from local organizations like the CP Center, Exceptional Equestrians, and Syble Hopp School to support Carson’s growth and development. With two older children at home and Carson’s challenges, Pamela found herself drowning in the scheduling conflicts and paperwork needed to synthesize Carson’s care. She suspected that other families of children with special needs felt the same way, and saw a need for both a parent advocate and peer-to-peer support group. Families of children with special needs also often face challenges with insurance to cover expensive care. After Pamela successfully appealed for Medicaid prior authorization of therapy services, a new Medicaid law was developed to give 3- to 5-year-olds with disabilities easier access to services. This ignited within her a passion for advocacy, and she has since become a true champion for children and families. In 2017, Pamela was accepted into the Partners in Policymaking program through the Wisconsin Board for People with Developmental Disabilities, through which she learned how to advocate for policies and initiatives that support full participation and inclusion of people with developmental disabilities. Since then, she has put those skills into action through a variety of different roles to create structural change and ensure that children with special needs in our community will not only have their needs met, but truly grow and flourish.
Heart of Gold Lifetime Achievement Award
Recipient: Terry Auger
The true definition of the Schreiber Heart of Gold Lifetime Achievement Award is someone who dedicates his or her life to volunteerism. Terry Auger has done just that by devoting his life to helping and educating others. He is a Golden Apple recipient, a published professor, and a brilliant middle school teacher. Even in his retirement, he strives to help make others the best they can be and encourages students to think outside the box and really challenge themselves. Terry has been an active volunteer at Red Smith School for more than a decade. In recent years, he has become a full-time volunteer and is at Red Smith on a daily basis in Ms. Eberhardt’s classroom. Volunteering in a K-8 building is not easy, but Terry takes everything in stride. He is patient, respectful, and goes out of his way to seek out students and build relationships with them. Terry has worked with students on Science Fair projects, encouraged them to raise money to donate to the ADIRE project to help provide solar power to a rural village in India, and helped to secure funds for students to participate in having time at the controls of a Cessna 172 airplane. Additionally, he has worked with elementary students on clean water projects and has helped secure funds for middle school students to carry out projects that directly benefit those in need. Every day, Terry comes into school and makes a difference. He strives to make everyone around him the best they can be, and he truly has a heart of gold! His dedication is an inspiration to all of us.
Runner-Up: Dan Pichler
Boards of Directors play a vital role in a nonprofit’s ability to fulfill their mission through their involvement as leaders and champions for the organization. Dan Pichler has been an active member for the Boys and Girls Club board for over two decades. He has provided consistent leadership and continuity for the Club by not only serving on multiple committees, but also being an active volunteer in the clubhouses. At virtually every Club function, Dan is often one of the last people to leave due to his genuine interest in taking the time to have personal conversations with peers, staff, and fellow club supporters. He has inspired many others to do the same. Among Dan’s numerous volunteer engagements, the Club’s annual Turkey Dinner is nearest and dearest to his heart. Every year, Dan and his wife provide meaningful volunteer support by serving a Thanksgiving meal to over 300 families. He is truly an inspiration, and his belief in the leaders and staff at the Club have resulted in countless positive outcomes for the children they mentor every day. His ethical standards are high, his ego low, and his generosity and desire to have an impact on his community is endless.