Outstanding Volunteers Honored at National Service Conference

Jun 28, 2010

New York, NY — The Corporation for National and Community Service will present three outstanding volunteers with the “Spirit of Service Award” at its National Conference on Volunteering and Service today. The awards are given annually to individuals representing each of the Corporation's three national service programs – AmeriCorps, Senior Corps, and Learn and Serve America – who have performed exemplary service in their communities.

The awards will be presented at the “Here's to You! Inspiration Celebration” at Radio City Music Hall in New York in front of thousands of service leaders from across the country. All Spirit of Service Award recipients were flown to the conference to receive awards by the Corporation's CEO Patrick Corvington. Award recipients, as well as two finalists, will receive an all expense paid Caribbean cruise vacation sponsored by Cabot Cheese, a proud supporter of the Corporation's programs and champion of service as a solution.

“These honorees represent the best of the American spirit,” said Patrick Corvington, CEO of the Corporation. “They are a shining example of the transformative power of service on those who serve and proof that service solves local problems.”

This year's conference theme — It's Up to You — recognizes that everyone has the power to make a difference, and that our nation's progress and prosperity depend on the active involvement of citizens. It challenges service leaders to increase the impact of their programs, and for all Americans to roll up their sleeves and participate in rebuilding our country. The award winners met the challenge and are examples of how service can transform those who serve and the communities around them.

Listed below are the honorees and their stories of service:

Senior Corps Spirit of Service Recipient: Gary LaGrange, Manhattan, KS

“Help us Learn…Give us Hope” is a plea from a school girl in Afghanistan to a soldier visiting her school. In response to soldier requests and because of personal convictions, retired Army Colonel and Vietnam veteran Gary LaGrange founded “Help us Learn…Give us Hope” Inc. This organization enhanced the education system by providing school supplies and books to children in Iraq and Afghanistan, increases good will toward soldiers through their distribution efforts, and positively engages citizens of the United States.

Eighteen hundred soldiers, airmen, teachers, students and parents have asked for support, and Gary's organization has responded. More than 500,000 pounds of supplies and 540,000 books have been donated, via weekly shipments. More than 300,000 children have received supplies through the organization. RSVP members and the spouses and children of deployed soldiers, among others are the fuel that drives “Help us Learn…Give us Hope.” Gary LaGrange found a way to help our soldiers and our country by helping others. After receiving supplies, a teacher in Kandahar, Afghanistan wrote “It is our greatest hope to have our children learn. Your help is the very best way to help us and for you to win our trust. Your gifts are gifts from God.”

AmeriCorps Spirit of Service Recipient: Dwight Owens, Taylorsville, MS

Five years ago, Dwight Owens was cruising down the road to success. He was a teacher and a football coach and was only 23 years old. Dwight's plans came to a screeching halt on Friday, August 5, 2005, on Highway 84 in Collins, Mississippi, when he was hit by a drunk driver. After going into cardiac arrest as a result of suffering several life-threatening injuries, he was on life support for 48 hours. When Dwight woke up, he was permanently paralyzed and expected to die. Dwight did not die.

Instead he fought through months of rehabilitation and gained back basic functions and independence. Then, Dwight dedicated the life he had almost lost to serving others. He currently serves with LIFE/Project LINC (Linking Individuals Into Neighborhoods and Communities) AmeriCorps. As an AmeriCorps member, Dwight provides peer support to over 1,200 individuals with disabilities He has completed 48 ADA site surveys to ensure accessibility for persons with disabilities, provided over 300 life skills training sessions to increase independence for Mississippians with disabilities. He also helped many individuals transition from public institutions to their own homes, and started a “Men with Disabilities” support group encouraging independence and leadership. Dwight makes presentations where ever he can to stop drinking and driving – using his own accident to prevent others. As a result of Dwight's AmeriCorps service, many Mississippians with disabilities are active, productive members of their communities.

Learn and Serve America Spirit of Service Recipient: Janis Klein-Young, Miami, FL

Janis Klein-Young has taught fine arts for 35 years with the Young Men's Academy at MacArthur South, a 6th-12th grade alternative school in Miami, FL for young men who have been expelled from the traditional classroom.

With funding from Florida Learn & Serve, Janis designed and executed an arts-based service learning project at MacArthur South in 2002 that has expanded into a nationally recognized program and model. As part of the program, students work each week learning indigenous arts/crafts techniques like painting, sculpture, ceramics, ornaments, batik, and woodwork from local artists at ArtSouth in the Homestead Community. The students then teach their newly acquired skills to local seniors and elementary students who are immobile due to handicap. The students also conduct community, cultural, and arts events in Homestead; provide tours of ArtSouth; and create public murals, passing on the fruits of service to the broader community.

Janis changes here student's lives, and she has the facts to prove it. Compared to the year before her students participate in her program, their attendance rose 15%; their GPAs rose by 252%; and their average number of suspensions decreased by 70%. Students love this project and modify their behavior to be able to participate.

Janis also conducts professional development training in for over 300 Miami-Dade County Public Schools, provides consultative/technical assistance for Florida Learn & Serve grantees and is an adjunct professor at Miami-Dade College, where she trains students and teachers to integrate service learning into their curriculum. She is the 2002 Miami-Dade County Public School's Teacher of the Year.

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Samantha Jo Warfield
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