On April 22, the Volunteer Center of Brown County hosted the 33rd Annual WPS Volunteer Awards. This year’s event was again held virtually, but, as always, the focus was on recognizing volunteers and the good work they do to support our community.
We are grateful to Michele McCormack and Tom Zalaski, of WFRV-TV Local 5, for being emcees 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, Festival Foods, Nicolet National Bank, Made Ya Look, and Schneider.
And click here to see a list of all the individuals and groups who were nominated this year!
2021 Recipients and Runners-Up
Large Group Award
Recipient: Curative Connections’ Specialized Transportation Services Volunteer Drivers
Curative Connections’ Specialized Transportation Volunteer Drivers are unsung heroes who enable the elderly and those with special needs to maintain independent lifestyles by providing low-cost transportation to medical appointments, jobs, or other errands. With ready smiles and safe, warm vehicles, these drivers give their clients not only a sense of freedom, but also positive relationships and social interaction. Over the last 50 years, the program has provided a much-needed service to the community and supported countless individuals in meeting their goals for independence in a supportive and caring way. Since the program transitioned to Curative Connections in 2015, this group of dedicated volunteers has driven clients nearly three million miles, a truly astounding milestone!
While the Covd-19 pandemic could have easily prevented these drivers from continuing to volunteer, this group of “angels on Earth” (as one client put it) saw the need to continue to provide safe and clean rides to clients to attend medical appointments or receive other necessary services. The world stopped, but these exceptional volunteers did not. Instead, they provided nearly 40,000 rides over the course of the past year – a service that was especially needed at a time when other forms of transportation were not readily available. As the mother of a client who relies on these drivers to get to his job said, “We are so appreciative of the freedom, independence, comfort, and peace of mind that these services provide.” Thank you to all of the Curative Connections Specialized Transport Drivers for all they do.
Runner-Up: Homebound Meals (Meals on Wheels) Drivers
The ADRC strives to “put people first and cultivate joy.” Their volunteers do just that through the Homebound Meal program, which delivers nutritious meals each day to the homes of older adults who are recovering from illness or otherwise cannot safely prepare meals for themselves. The statistics that demonstrate the acute need for this program and its volunteers are staggering, as Wisconsin ranks 46th in the nation for seniors suffering from food insecurity and 40th for risk of social isolation. In providing daily meals, the volunteer drivers not only give physical sustenance, but also nourish the souls of clients with a quick conversation and human interaction. What’s more, volunteer drivers are able to check in on clients to ensure that they are safe and healthy in their homes.
The Covid-19 pandemic dramatically affected the quality of life for many older adults who were isolated at home in order to avoid illness. In order to secure food and necessary supplies, those who otherwise may not have needed meals delivered to their homes began to take advantage of the services this program provides. This resulted in a 30% increase in the need for services, also increasing the need for volunteer drivers. Both long-term and new volunteers stepped up so that no one who needed food delivered would see a waitlist or interruption of their services. Even in the early days, when little was known about the virus, many volunteers showed up to, quite literally, keep the wheels turning. Thanks to this amazing group of volunteers, our community is able to buck the statewide trends and ensure that no older adult suffers from food insecurity.
Small Group Award
Recipient: Seymour Park Community Ministries
Thousands of students in the Green Bay Area Public Schools rely on their schools for their meals every day. When the COVID-19 pandemic shut things down, the district had to reimagine how to support students and their families. Seymour Park Community Ministries, a faith-based organization, was one of the first to reach out to the school district to partner on ways to get food into the hands of families in need. They worked with churches to get additional volunteers, and immediately began assisting in securing drivers to bring food directly to homes. This model is what shaped the district’s current program, which serves families from all 42 Green Bay area schools.
As an organization that works closely with Fort Howard and Tank Elementary schools, Seymour Park Community Ministries volunteered to deliver food to these schools every weekday and expanded their reach with a weekly free bread program offered to anyone in need. We thank Seymour Park Community Ministries for bringing volunteers together for the common good and putting the food needs of students and families in the Green Bay Area School District first during a global pandemic.
Runner-Up: VIP Helpline Volunteers
The Violence Intervention Project (VIP) provides confidentiality and safety planning for individuals and families who have experienced domestic violence or sexual abuse. A critical part of their service is the 24/7 helpline staffed by eight advocates and nine volunteers.
After extensive training, the VIP Helpline volunteers assist the paid advocates with answering crisis calls so the advocates may spend some well-deserved time with their own families. Not only do the volunteers answer crisis calls, they also become community resources, helping others in times of need. These volunteers step up to create change by offering help, providing hope, and supporting the victim and their family as well as our community. Each of these volunteers has continued to work or go to school, take care of their families during the pandemic, and assist in taking crisis calls. These calls are never easy — sometimes they are heart-wrenching, scary, and stressful. Most of the nine volunteers answer calls anywhere from three to 22 hours per week, contributing 2,182 hours to the agency. Each of these individuals is a crucial part to making the crisis helpline a success, and we thank them for their time, kindness, and passion for helping others.
Arts & Culture Award
Recipient: Tricia Adams
A well-balanced community will thrive because of a strong foundation and representation in the arts. Evergreen Productions helps to fill this need in the Greater Green Bay area by providing entertaining and educational theater opportunities, all while being volunteer-driven. For the past eight years, Tricia Adams has dedicated herself to bringing the arts to life in our community through her involvement with Evergreen. In her role as the president of the board of directors for the last several years, Tricia provides guidance and motivation to fellow board members and volunteers. Not only has she volunteered in all roles relating directly to theater performances, but Tricia also manages the organization’s website and serves as the head of the development committee, where she works to secure sponsorships, partnerships, and crucial funding for the organization.
Tricia is always willing to take on additional roles, while also encouraging and teaching others to take the reins and find their own passion and spot within the organization. Not only have her efforts helped double the number of volunteers, but programming initiatives and outreach efforts have soared as well. In 2019, she designed and secured funding for a new STEM program for females to learn the technical side of theater. Because of Tricia’s leadership and expertise, Evergreen Productions has a better focus, more direction, and a more creative approach to programming, and we thank her for bringing arts and culture to life in our area.
Runner-Up: Kent Hutchinson
Henry David Thoreau once said that “the world is but a canvas to the imagination.” Kent Hutchinson, helps enable local youth to express themselves and bring their own canvasses to life. In addition to being a public artist and sculptor, Kent, through his role as a volunteer for the Boys & Girls Club, empowers youth to use their creative voices to produce positive change in our community. Kent serves on art committees and coalitions including the Bay Area Arts and Cultural Alliance, United Arts, the City of Green Bay’s arts council, Unhinged, STEAM Engine, and Fab Collab – just to name a few.
Last summer, Kent dedicated endless hours to partner with teenagers at the Boys & Girls Club in creating a social justice mural project. His leadership and dedication to equity, diversity, and inclusion work to empower local youth to take a stand against systemic racism and enable underrepresented individuals to be seen and heard through the arts. Kent’s approach to making Green Bay an inclusive community for all stems from his ability to use the arts as a language that all can understand and relate to. We thank Kent for his tireless work to advocate for today’s youth.
Adult Volunteer Award
Recipient: Cheryl Grosso
For more than 130 years, American Red Cross volunteers have been changing the world through their compassionate service. The Green Bay community relies on these volunteers to help those in need and fulfill the mission to serve those affected by disasters, support military members and their families, collect life-saving blood, and conduct health and safety education and training. For the past three and a half years, Cheryl Grosso has served as the Lead Screener for volunteers for the American Red Cross and manages a team of 12 other volunteers to ensure this mission is brought to life. While reports show that she has clocked more than 1,800 hours in her tenure, this number is not an accurate reflection. Cheryl’s volunteer work is so ingrained in her that she works throughout the day and night, and instead of accurately recording these hours, she incorporates them into her daily life. The Red Cross jokes that screening volunteers is as programmed as brushing her teeth.
Cheryl developed the entire Wisconsin region screening process, which has been recognized around the country and is now used as the national model for screening. She has even traveled to help train teams in other states, bringing the Green Bay community’s expertise and generosity to other regions. She has also stepped in to assist in other roles during this challenging time, taking on additional tasks to help the organization remain proactive and successful. Cheryl’s time and dedication are truly a gift. Red Cross staffers often find themselves asking where they would be today if it weren’t for her. She is a thoughtful leader whose skills and talents help make the Green Bay community and region a huge success. We thank Cheryl for her continued commitment to the American Red Cross and the people they serve.
Runner-Up: Casey Rentmeester
Green Bay Action Sports Organization helps youth learn about creativity, confidence, perseverance and how to function through fear. It has become a place of belonging for the youth in our area who do not always fit the mold of popular team sports. Casey Rentmeester has committed his time and talents to GBASO the past seven years as a role model and mentor. He is a key contributor to programming and was especially invaluable to the many changes that needed to be made in the past year.
Additionally, Casey’s talents go even further. He creates promotional videos that are used not only to raise awareness and funds for GBASO, but that also highlight local youth through the “60 Second Sesh” video series. Casey’s positivity radiates throughout the organization. He has personally made impacts on youth facing challenges that include anxiety and depression, helping them to find a way to feel more confident and secure through his mentorship, friendship, and videography. Casey is an important element to growing and sharing GBASO’s impact in the community, and we thank him for helping to positively shape young people in the Green Bay area.
Youth Volunteer Award
Recipient: Caragan Olles
Many students who are challenged with dyslexia find it difficult to receive the support and services they need to succeed, learn, and grow. School districts simply do not have the funding or resources to provide the reading and writing methodology that has been proven to help students with dyslexia understand how to manage their unique learning needs. Private tutoring for dyslexic students from all socioeconomic backgrounds can be cost prohibitive, and many students may never get the help they need to be successful in school. That’s where Caragan Olles and her organization, Bright Young Dyslexics, come in. Having dyslexia herself, Caragan understands firsthand how much her challenges have affected her self-esteem. In 2013, she founded Bright Young Dyslexics not only to support students and families, but also to provide necessary resources and training opportunities for schools to be better equipped to serve students with dyslexia.
Over the past eight years, Caragan and Bright Young Dyslexics have worked with teachers and learners to assist with first steps in understanding dyslexia, IEP development, college preparedness, and much more. Beyond that, Caragan has raised more than $200,000 to provide funding for tutoring specific to students with dyslexia and establish resource centers in the public library system. She serves as a living testament to the amazing capabilities students with dyslexia have to become avid and successful learners when provided with the right support. She is currently in college at the University of Miami studying entrepreneurship, and Bright Young Dyslexics’ reach has expanded to serve students on a statewide and national scale. We thank Caragan for the inspiration she provides those with dyslexia.
Runner-Up: Ava Van Straten
Empathy is necessary for humans to truly flourish, and yet research shows that the world is facing an empathy crisis. Noticing a decrease in kindness within her own social network, Ava Van Straten took it upon herself to ensure that young people are given the tools they need to understand the importance of kindness, empathy, and inclusion. As a freshman in high school, Ava wrote and published her first book, Mary’s Heart, which had an embedded curriculum to teach young people the value of being kind to everyone they meet. As Ava researched the roles that smartphones and social media play in dividing our society and perpetuating racism and discrimination, she discovered that, through stories, young people could better understand how a mindset of empathy can help create a more just world. As a result, she was inspired to write a second book and accompanying curriculum called Parker’s Path.
Writing these books was just the beginning. Ave raised $17,000 to donate her books to more than 300 schools, local libraries, and Boys and Girls Clubs. As the Covid-19 pandemic hit and young students were forced to adapt to virtual learning, Ava adapted her empathy curriculum to the virtual space. Her books are also currently being translated into Spanish. She further inspired young people by writing her second book as part of an Eagle Scout project, earning her the honor of being the first female Eagle Scout in the region. Though young in age, we thank Ava for all she has done.
Volunteer in Education Award
Recipient: Annika Osell
The national racial justice movement uncovered a need in northeast Wisconsin for community members to learn how to make change. Annika Osell created a six-week, virtual anti-racism workshop curriculum for the St. Norbert College community and members of other educational institutions. The curriculum helped members understand how they could serve as advocates in the community.
Annika’s work didn’t stop there. She continued this advocacy by engaging more than 350 St. Norbert College community members in the first-ever virtual Teach-In for Martin Luther King Jr. Day 2021. These workshops inspired individuals to go out into their community and perform a variety of services, particularly focusing on the need for racial justice and respect. Annika’s spirit is the conduit of many opportunities that have been brought to St. Norbert College and the greater community, and we thank her for her compassion, caring and devotion to her work.
Runner-Up: Kathy Rohde
Literacy Green Bay is a non-profit organization whose mission is to help adults and families acquire the reading, writing, math, English language, computer and workforce skills needed to prosper as individuals and community members. Kathy Rohde has been a valuable team member in ensuring the services at Literacy remain available to our community. She first became involved with Literacy in 2015 as a member of the board of directors. Shortly after, she realized that by becoming a volunteer adult tutor, she could gain a deeper understanding of the programs, opportunities and challenges facing the organization.
In 2017, Kathy’s spirit of leadership led her to the role of president of the board of directors, which she held for three years while also continuing her tutoring. She also volunteers at the Literacy Green Bay office, assisting with tasks such as mailings, data mining, and updating citizenship curriculum. Most recently, she became a student evaluator for Literacy, in which she administers and proctors tests for adult learners. We thank Kathy for her spirit of volunteerism, positive attitude and compassion for all of the learners that are a part of Literacy Green Bay.
Volunteer Leadership Award
Recipient: Robert (Bob) Warpinski
Volunteering for the same organization for almost 30 years is a true testament to a volunteer’s commitment to the people he serves. Bob Warpinski began volunteering with Junior Achievement in 1992, working in local classrooms to teach curriculum around financial education, entrepreneurship, career preparation, and the value of staying in school. Working with more than 2,000 students during his tenure with Junior Achievement, Bob has used his own life experience not simply to teach the designed lessons, but also less tangible values like the importance of family and perseverance through failure.
In 1997, Bob joined the board of Junior Achievement and under his leadership the organization’s programs more than tripled. He also expanded their reach by establishing a Speaker Series, seeking out volunteer mentors for a Business Challenge event targeting high school students, and creating a Senior Advisory Board to make sure valuable perspectives and experiences are integrated into Junior Achievement’s programming. Bob has been a pillar of the local community in many ways, offering his exemplary leadership skills not just to Junior Achievement, but also to Encompass Childcare, the YMCA, and the American Red Cross. Northeast Wisconsin is lucky to have Bob’s boundless energy and big ideas, and we appreciate all he does.
Runner-Up: Tammy Hardwick
Sometimes, being a leader means stepping out of one’s comfort zone for the sake of the greater good. Tammy Hardwick began volunteering with 4th H.O.O.A.H, an organization that provides wellness and mental health support to military veterans, after the loss of her mother in 2011. Needing something positive to focus on, she initially joined the organization as an event volunteer, then increased her responsibilities by joining several committees and becoming a board member. When the board’s president and vice president were deployed to Afghanistan, Tammy stepped in to lead the organization and leverage each volunteer’s skills and talents to further provide veteran care. As president, Tammy has taken on a variety of responsibilities, including finding grant and sponsorship opportunities, innovating programs and events, connecting veteran clients with necessary resources, and advocating for 4th H.O.O.A.H. in as many public settings as possible. Through the organization’s Warrior Wellness Program, many veterans who were on the brink of suicide have found the support, services, and connection they need to take care of their mental health, and her leadership has helped make that possible.
Despite working a full-time job with a long commute and caring for a teenage son as a single mother, Tammy dedicates several hours each day of the week to her work with 4th H.O.O.A.H. In stepping into a leadership role, she saved the organization, its volunteers, and the lives of countless veterans. We thank Tammy for being a truly remarkable person and an outstanding leader.
Heart of Gold Lifetime Achievement Award
Recipient: Kathy Krause
In eastern Wisconsin, 1 in 7 people are facing hunger. Feeding America Eastern Wisconsin is the largest hunger relief organization in the state, operating food banks in Milwaukee and the Fox Valley. Volunteers are the lifeblood of their mission. Each year, about 20,000 volunteers serve more than 70,000 hours to help them solve hunger. Kathy Krause has been a volunteer with Feeding America Eastern Wisconsin since they first opened in 2015. Her efforts help provide food to those in the community with the most need. She works tirelessly to lead volunteer groups and brainstorm more efficient processes, while also playing a vital role in their office environment.
With Kathy’s help hosting large groups and facilitating large food sorts, Feeding America averages around 100,000 pounds of food coming and going per day, fulfilling the needs of the community. She has a great passion for her work and enjoys knowing that her actions, whether large or small, make an impact. In addition to Feeding America, she donates her time to Habitat for Humanity and serves on the Spiritual Care Ministry team at her church. Kathy truly reflects a heart of gold through her volunteerism and the impacts she makes, and we thank her for everything she does.
Runner-Up: Jean Quinnette
The Encompass Foster Grandparent Program joins together two generations – seniors and children. The program enhances the quality of life for seniors and gives them a sense of purpose. Their presence in the classroom gives parents and children an extra sense of security. The children have a consistent grandparent figure who mentors and encourages them in social play and classroom activities. Jean Quinnette has been enrolled as a volunteer in the Foster Grandparent Program for five years and volunteers 15 hours a week. Prior to COVID-19, Jean completed her service in the classroom with the children. However, when Encompass started to discuss a new virtual volunteering program, she was motivated to continue volunteering and was actually the first Foster Grandparent volunteer to train in this new program. Jean welcomed the challenge of learning the ropes of this new virtual program, completed multiple trainings to learn the technology aspects, and has engaged in continuous communication with the director of the program to provide ideas and feedback that help this program continue to grow.
Jean has now been engaged in virtual volunteering with her Encompass classroom for several months and does not plan on stopping. In this role, she interacts with the children virtually and provides skill development to them. She has also been the Foster Grandparent spokesperson for virtual volunteering and dedicates time outside of her regular volunteer hours to discuss the program with other volunteers who may be hesitant to start. Jean truly has a passion for the Foster Grandparent program and continues to share her passion with children, regardless if she is volunteering face-to-face or virtually. Thank you, Jean, for continuing to provide children and parents an extra sense of security during these times.