WPS Volunteer Awards logo

2024 WPS Volunteer Awards

WPS Logo
Greater Green Bay Community Foundation Logo

This inspiring and heartwarming event, held on April 25, 2024, at the Lambeau Field Atrium, brought together over 600 people to focus a spotlight on area volunteers who give selflessly of their time and the nonprofits whose missions they fulfill. All individuals and groups who were nominated were honored, and award recipients and runners-up were announced in eight categories.

Scroll down to read their stories!

Want to relive your favorite moments or weren’t able to attend?
A recording of the event can be found on our YouTube page.

About the WPS Volunteer Awards

Made possible by event sponsor Wisconsin Public Service, along with the Greater Green Bay Community Foundation and our generous award sponsors – Community First Credit Union, Constellation, Festival Foods, Georgia-Pacific, Green Bay Packers Give Back, Schreiber Foods, The George Kress Foundation, and United Healthcare – this event celebrates volunteers and highlights the work they do to give back to our community and assist nonprofits in our area to fulfill their missions.

The award amounts are once again $1,000 for recipients and $500 for the runners-up, which will be gifted to the nonprofit of their choosing. Youth receive these amounts as scholarships.

Additionally, funds raised before, during, and after the event allow the Volunteer Center to continue our mission of creating a stronger community by engaging volunteers to support nonprofit partners.

2024 Nominees

A list of all the individuals and groups that were nominated can be found HERE!

2024 Recipients and Runners-Up

Large Group Award

Sponsored by Green Bay Packers Give Back

Recipient: Laundry Love with Helping Hands

Large Group recipient - Laundry Love with Helping Hands

Having the ability to wear clean clothes, sleep in clean sheets, and shower with clean towels is something many of us take for granted. But for low- or no-income families and seniors, doing laundry can take away from funds they need to purchase food, medication, or other basic essentials. Laundry Love with Helping Hands removes that financial barrier, ensuring that everyone can have access to clean laundry. LLHH holds three events per month at Express Laundry and one monthly event for seniors at Fort Howard Apartments. Each event requires upwards of 15 volunteers committing 5 hours each. On a practical level, volunteers assist participants with assigning machines and putting in the money and laundry soap. However, volunteers do much more than that. They help create a warm and welcoming environment where participants feel comfortable and cared for. While laundry is in the washer and dryer, volunteers provide a listening ear and share stories, laughs, and friendly conversation to help pass the time. Participants leave with clean clothes and a renewed spirit. At the senior events, volunteers take their duties even further by actually doing laundry for seniors who may have limited mobility. These events also include a warm meal served by LLHH volunteers and a sense of community for those who can sometimes feel isolated. In 2023, LLHH volunteers assisted 6,000 of our neighbors doing 11,300 loads of clean laundry. The service they provide is invaluable to the dignity of all those who attend the Love events.

Runner-up: Curative Connections Volunteer Drivers

Large Group runner-up - Curative Connections Volunteer Drivers

In 2023, Curative Connections’ volunteer drivers transported older adults and those with special needs 530,612 miles – quite literally, to the moon and back! The volunteer drivers meet a real need for those they transport to medical appointments, jobs, grocery shopping and other errands, social events, and more. Unlike public transportation, riders are taken door to door, ensuring their safety and making it easier for those with mobility challenges. Specialized transportation services are fully accessible, removing barriers for riders who use wheelchairs or have other physical needs and may not be able to use other forms of transportation. Giving of their time in every weather condition, volunteer drivers provide support to some of our most vulnerable neighbors. Often, they not only drive them, but also walk them safely to the door. Some will bring in treats for members, and many provide a listening ear and friendly conversation during the ride. Curative Connections volunteer drivers not only drive “to the moon and back,” they also show their love for the members they serve in the same way.

Small Group Award

Sponsored by Festival Foods

Recipient: Volunteers through Violence Intervention Project

Small Group recipient - Volunteers through Violence Intervention Project

Violence Intervention Project (VIP) is a non-profit agency that provides support to survivors of domestic violence, sexual assault, child abuse, teen-dating violence, bullying, and elder abuse to individuals in Kewaunee County. They support survivors by believing them, providing resources, making referrals, staffing a 24-hour helpline and providing some of the basics needed in Northeast Wisconsin like coats, hats, and blankets. This small group of volunteers has logged hundreds of hours to provide emotional and physical support for the individuals who utilize Violence Intervention Project’s programming each year. They even bake, providing delicious baked goods for fundraisers. Several members of this group of volunteers have completed or are working on the training needed to provide direct service to victims, a difficult volunteer position to fill due to the stress and emotions that arise when helping victims. Fundraising for Violence Intervention Project is a critical part of the work of this group, as 100 percent of the proceeds VIP receives goes directly to support survivors. Their nominator writes, “Terms like domestic violence, sexual assault, and child abuse are often difficult to hear and make it challenging to recruit and retain volunteers. With this group as an example of how volunteers make an impact, I know that we will continue to support survivors.”

Runner-up: TAY Mentors

Small Group runner-up - TAY Mentors

Started as a pilot program by CASA (Court Appointed Special Advocates), the Transition Aged Youth (TAY) Mentoring Program serves young adults ages 18 to 21 who have aged out of living in foster care. The program has grown from two to seven young adults in just eight short months. TAY’s mission is to empower through mentoring and to guide young adults as they develop the life skills essential for self-sufficiency. When youth age out of foster care, they often feel they have lost their support system and need to learn how to ‘adult’ on their own. Many young people are not prepared for the challenges of finding housing, dealing with food insecurity, and navigating healthcare. TAY mentors are there to guide young adults through the transition to adulthood. At its core, TAY mentors are continuously working on building relationships with their mentees and helping them learn how to advocate for themselves. These volunteers provide the support and care that makes a lasting impact.

Arts and Culture Award

Sponsored by Community First Credit Union

Recipient: Ecumenical Partnership for Housing Garden Team

Arts and Culture recipient - Ecumenical Partnership for Housing Garden Team

Culture is all the ways of life for a group, including the arts, language, clothing, the food we grow or buy, and how we eat it. Through vision and creation, this local group has taken seed to table, in both ideas and food, changing the way people access, taste and enjoy the bounty of their gardens. Hundreds of hours are spent planting, tilling, cultivating and harvesting to provide fresh, organic, nurturing fruits and veggies. Creativity and love guide the brainstorming, planning, and plotting specifics each year, and family needs are a priority. Recipes that are simple and quick, matching specific produce grown in the gardens, are sought out by the team. In their own kitchens, the team tests recipes, making improvements before they share them with families. In the future, they hope to see a community kitchen where families can gather for cooking and baking classes with their produce. What better way to cross bridges in the community than to share a kitchen and a family meal? Their nominator writes that this group always carries the sunshine with them and “they leave their traces of creation in so many lives around them.”

Runner-up: Curt Christnot

Arts & Culture runner-up - Curt Christnot

Volunteering is one thing, but having a great influence on the next generation is another. Curt does both. He began by serving in different leadership roles for Evergreen Productions for 10 years, but that was not enough. He helped found the Evergeen Young Actors Summer Program and has not missed a production since! For the last decade, he has been a mentor to the aspiring young actors and actresses, teaching them in summer classes and encouraging them to step out of their comfort zone. Evergreen Theater’s Tricia Adams says, “Once a young person works with him, they can’t wait to work with him on the next show.”

Adult Award

Sponsored by Georgia-Pacific

Recipient: Jacquie Lewaren

Adult recipient - Jacquie Lewaren

Working in a thrift store can be an arduous job, as each day different donations come in. However, this 80-year-old volunteer is always up for the challenge. Jacquie treats the clients at St. Vincent de Paul with kindness and respect. She understands that many of the clients are coming to the organization at one of the toughest times of their life. Be it a refugee family from Ukraine looking for assistance to clothe their children, a mother and daughter living out of their car until they can get back on their feet, or someone who just lost everything in a house fire, Jacquie is there to help. Her nominator writes, “This person chose to give of herself but has given more to all of us than she could possibly imagine. She has become a friend to our customers, but also a cheerleader for our employees, making sure their hard work and efforts never go unnoticed.” Her nominator goes on to write that Jacquie shows us that at any point in our lives and at any age, we can share the best parts of ourselves with our community, and that there is a place for each one of us.

Runner-up: Mary Rowan

Adult runner-up - Mary Rowan

When a person retires, they can pick up a hobby, move to Florida or just rest on their laurels. Not this lady! After serving as a staff member for Court Appointed Special Advocates of Brown County (CASA), she had not had enough. So, after retiring, she became a volunteer for the organization. Prior to her visits with a child, Mary checks in with staff to see what changing needs the child might have and brings that knowledge to the meeting, along with an activity the child is sure to enjoy. After attending the court hearings for her CASA children, she submits her report, humanizing the children she serves and illustrating their specific needs and wants. Mary has a unique gift of making each person she encounters feel special. Whenever she comes into the CASA office, the first thing she does is extend a compliment. Each time a child has moved, her first question is, “When can I see them next?”, because she knows how extremely important it is that a child doesn’t go too long without seeing a familiar face.

Youth Award

Sponsored by United Healthcare

Recipient: Suabnag (Bella) Kong

Youth recipient - Bella Kong

Bella is an inspiration to her West High School classmates through her work on a diverse group of projects, from the Red Cross to St. Jude Parish. You may find Bella announcing at sports and pep assemblies, selling egg rolls for the Asian Club, raking sand at track meets, participating in Play 60 at Elmore Elementary School, tutoring freshmen, or being a lunch buddy for new students. If you attend a West High School basketball game, she may be selling concessions or singing the national anthem. Bella loves to express and advocate for her Hmong culture. She performs Hmong dances at community events to help others understand her culture and learn more about the Hmong people. The efforts of a volunteer like Bella, who divides her time between many organizations, may go unnoticed. In everything she does, her efforts lead back to her ’cause’: the whole West High community and the people and places in her neighborhood. As Bella has gotten older, she has become more and more of a leader in the school and community, and it will be exciting to see what is next for her.

Runner-up: Dominic Springstroh

Youth runner-up - Dominic Springstroh

Dominic is a volunteer at the NEW Community Shelter, a facility that houses over 100 residents and provides daily meals for individuals in our community. While other young people are busy with homework or sports, Dominic spends every other Saturday volunteering. The shelter relies heavily on volunteers seven days a week; however, weekend volunteers are harder to find, and Dominic’s commitment to volunteering on Saturdays helps meet that weekend need. He uses his time at the shelter for a variety of projects, from the not-so-pleasant, like trash removal and washing windows, to the fulfilling tasks like serving desserts to the residents. Dominic understands that volunteers can really add to the enthusiasm and culture of an organization. He gets there early (before the staff arrives) and takes it upon himself to start a project he knows needs to be done. His volunteering at the shelter has also helped him develop as a person. When he first started, he was a bit quiet, doing his work but not saying much. Now he interacts with the staff and residents, and they appreciate his work ethic and friendly demeanor.

Volunteer in Education Award

Sponsored by The George Kress Foundation

Recipient: Marie Sumnicht

Education recipient - Marie Sumnicht

The volunteer-based Refugee Youth and Adult Empowerment Initiative (RYAEI), identified the need for the over 1,500 Congolese refugees in Northeast Wisconsin to become fluent in English so they could live more productive lives. As a reading specialist by degree and a compassionate volunteer, Marie answered the call for volunteers to teach English. She didn’t stop there, though. She and a few other volunteers began tutoring some of the children of the refugees. Marie realized that the refugees’ lack of background social knowledge created an obstacle for them in learning English. Rising to overcome this obstacle, she enlisted a translator to provide the background needed on various English concepts. She also recruited others to assist with needed transportation services and driver’s education, arranged donations of food, winter clothing, and use of vehicles, and even hosted a motivational speech by a fluent English-speaking Congolese community member to encourage refugees to learn English. Marie spends over 300 hours a year teaching adults and helping children, and she has recruited others who, combined, provide another 1000+ hours of service each year. Marie’s efforts have helped the refugees feel more a part of the community by bringing them to the market in the summer, hosting a Thanksgiving dinner, and exposing them to various musical events in the area.

Runner-up: Jeanne Bonacci

Education runner-up - Jeanne Bonacci

Retiring didn’t mean that Jeanne was done with the classroom at Anne Sullivan Elementary School. Three to five days per week you will find her back in the third-grade classroom as a reader extraordinaire! She will rearrange her schedule if she can be of help on a field trip or during a class project when she knows an extra set of hands is needed. The students love when she comes because they get more individual attention. She helps students with anything they are stuck on and listens when students read aloud, aiding in student comprehension. Former students greet her in the halls and always include her in the classroom birthday treats. Jeanne makes sure that each student feels valued and respected. The third-grade teachers don’t take her time for granted and feel they are blessed having her in their classroom. Because of Jeanne, the classroom environment feels calm and relaxed, with a lot of good learning taking place.

Volunteer Leadership Award

Sponsored by Constellation

Recipient: Melissa Wass

Volunteer Leadership recipient - Melissa Wass

Dedicated. Reliable. Innovative. These are qualities that any organization would seek in a volunteer, and New Leaf Foods has found them in Melissa. As a board member for New Leaf Foods, Melissa has actively sought collaboration with community partners and developed several initiatives that support healthy food access and build a thriving local food system. She was instrumental in establishing the Brown County Seed Library, an initiative which provides local and culturally appropriate seeds for our gardeners. The seeds are curated so that they are suited for success in our Northeast Wisconsin growing region and are available free of charge to anyone interested in planting vegetables, fruits, and pollinator-friendly plants. As a master gardener, Melissa is able to offer her expertise and guidance to support other New Lead Foods initiatives. She is one of the original members of the Brown County Food Forest Coalition, working with the Seymour Park Food Forest project, which aims to help alleviate food insecurity and food deserts within the City of Green Bay by growing healthy local food in a way that is sustainable, costs less money over time, and reduces maintenance for the Parks, Recreation & Forestry Department. She also is part of the team that helps manage the Children’s Edible Garden at the Brown County Central Library. As a veteran of the United States Air Force, Melissa puts the leadership skills she learned through her military service into action every day to support our community. Her nominator estimates that she dedicates upwards of 20 hours per week to the many initiatives that support and educate others on sustainable food culture and access to healthy foods. According to her nominator, “Melissa is not only a great volunteer leader, but she is also someone who, I predict, will assume ever greater responsibility as a leader in Northeast Wisconsin’s healthy food access goals for the foreseeable future!”

Runner-up: Quench Mufano

Volunteer Leadership runner-up - Quench Mufano

Unique lived experiences often enable us to empower others on a similar journey. Starting a new life as a refugee in America can feel overwhelming, and Quench understands those challenges firsthand. As a child navigating a new life in a new country while his family lived in a refugee camp, Quench needed to learn English, understand the U.S. educational system, and provide support for his family. As a result, he understands the most pressing needs faced by refugee families, especially children. In 2022, he worked with leaders in his East African community to envision and form the Refugee Youth and Adult Empowerment Initiative (RYAEI), a non-profit organization providing assistance to refugees and immigrants in Northeast Wisconsin. As the president of RYAEI, Quench has identified and begun to address the top needs of our refugee neighbors in Brown County, including relocation assistance, residency guidance, English language education, youth education and support, and cultural opportunities. He has engaged volunteers to teach English language classes, fill out government forms and prepare tax returns, provide job search support, and coordinate field trips to stores and supermarkets. Additionally, Quench has placed a focus on providing recreational activities for refugee youth and celebrating East African music and culture with our entire community. RYAEI has become a hub for Swahili speaking families, connecting them to multiple services and opportunities. His nominator writes, “As a leader, Quench keeps his eye on the needs of his community while never becoming embittered about those needs not yet met or the ‘no’s’ and ‘not yets’ he encounters. He is a wholehearted leader we are lucky to have in our community.”

Heart of Gold Lifetime Achievement Award

Sponsored by Schreiber

Recipient: LaVon Rader

Heart of Gold recipient - LaVon Rader

LaVon has spent her lifetime in service to others. Fifty-eight years ago, she says she “woke up” to the racism in this country, and she has been a tireless activist for those without a voice ever since. Beginning down South in the 1960s when she helped bring the Head Start program to the underserved children of Mississippi during the Civil Rights movement, she selflessly served without hesitation despite the dangers it might place her in. When LaVon moved to Northeastern Wisconsin, her passion for helping young people came with her on the moving truck, and she became a reading buddy and mentor in the Howard, Pulaski, and Suamico school districts. She also created an art appreciation program for children in grades K-8, recruiting, training, and supervising parent volunteers. Her church, St. John the Baptist, is important to her, and she has served on the church’s Social Justice and Human Concerns Committee, sung in the choir, lectured at Sunday masses, and read to a visually impaired parishioner every Monday for 17 years. LaVon has also volunteered for the Red Cross, served meals at the NEW Community Shelter, and makes weekly visits and calls to elderly neighbors and those with special needs through the Aging and Disability Resource Center. She and her husband, Dennis, have also taken Notre Dame Academy students back to Mississippi to help build a home for a rural family. For many years, LaVon has been a volunteer at Wellspring, serving women who are homeless, at risk, living with addiction or mental illness, or simply looking for a place to belong. She not only lends an ear and offers guidance to clients when they seek it, but also helps with fundraising efforts, washes dishes, cleans toilets, and anything else that needs attention. Her love of plants even led to Wellspring’s beautiful perennial flower garden. Wherever LaVon has been, she has recognized a need and given selflessly, walking alongside the people she served, supporting them with compassion and leading by example.

Runner-up: Al Derenne

Heart of Gold runner-up - Al Derenne - not pictured

We have all heard of the guy who appears around Christmas time, wearing a red suit and going by the name Santa Claus. Well, Al is a close second, volunteering for Green Bay’s St. Vincent De Paul for over 25 years and earning the title of the “Christmas King.” Al helps process the thousands of Christmas items donated to St. Vincent de Paul each year and then displays them in the store for customers to purchase. Last year, the sale of Christmas and other holiday-themed donations raised over a quarter of a million dollars for the organization. As a result of Al’s work, St. Vincent de Paul was able to double the amount of assistance they could provide to those in need in Brown County. Al selflessly volunteers five days a week and has put in an astonishing 11,000 hours of service. He also served on the organization’s board of directors for five years and has been instrumental in modernizing their retail structure and optimizing their revenue stream by expanding one store and opening another. Colleagues say, “Without his focus and dedication, many opportunities may have been missed that have benefited the organization. He is also a valuable mentor to staff.”

2024 Award Sponsors and Categories

United Healthcare Logo

United Healthcare Youth Volunteer Award
For an individual who is 18 years old or younger. Students who are older than 18, but still in a high school special education program, also qualify for this category. The recipient of the Youth Volunteer Award will receive a $1,000 personal education scholarship and the runner-up will receive a $500 personal education scholarship.

Georgia Pacific Logo

Adult Volunteer Award
For an individual who is 19 years or older.

George Kress Foundation logo

The George Kress Foundation Volunteer in Education Award
For an individual who volunteers specifically in the area of education for pre-kindergarten through college.

Constellation 2022 logo

Constellation Volunteer Leadership Award
For an individual who demonstrates community impact through a leadership role. This award is often given to a person who is a current or past member of committees, task forces or boards of directors.

Schreiber Foods Logo

Schreiber Heart of Gold Lifetime Achievement Award
For an individual whose lifetime of service exemplifies notable achievement in serving the community. The award has typically been given to a volunteer who is 60+ years of age.

Community First logo

Community First Credit Union Arts and Culture Volunteer Award
For an individual or group that has provided service to organizations and activities that promote arts and culture in our area.

Festival Foods

Festival Foods Small Group Award
For a group of 2-10 volunteers whose combined volunteer efforts have strengthened the community.

Green Bay Packers Give Back Logo

Green Bay Packers Give Back Large Group Award
For a group of more than 10 volunteers that has enhanced the community through their volunteer achievements.

Thank You to Our Other Sponsors!

Schneider Logo
Volunteer Champion
Associated Bank logo
Volunteer Champion
Aon logo
Volunteer Impact
Capital Credit Union logo
Volunteer Impact

2024 WPS Awards Judges

Emily Beier / Anchor, Reporter / WBAY
Kelly Engelbert / Alumni Relations and Campus Events Coordinator / Bellin College
David Howell / Board Member / Volunteer Center of Brown County
Amy Jepson / Lead Analyst – FI Systems and Regulatory Planning / WPS
Jacob (Jake) Jirschele / Senior Vice President, Private Banking Relationship Manager / Associated Bank
DJ Kast / Cinematographer, Photographer / Shift Visuals
Mary Sue Lavin / Director, Phuture Phoenix / University of Wisconsin-Green Bay
Killian O’Donnell / Catering Manager / Delaware North Sportservice
Zianya Saldana / Director of Equity and Community Initiatives / Greater Green Bay Community Foundation
Monica Stage / Executive Director / JJ Keller Foundation
Meghan Weycker / Senior Director, Technical Client Directions / Breakthrough