The Governor’s Volunteerism and Community Service Awards are presented by the Governor’s Advisory Board on Service and Volunteerism and Virginia Department of Social Services’ Office on Volunteerism and Community Services (Virginia Service Commission) on behalf of the Office of the Governor. These awards have recognized exceptional volunteer service in Virginia for more than 20 years. Additional information about the program and full bios on this year’s recipients can be found here.
WINNERS OF THE 2021 GOVERNOR’S VOLUNTEERISM AND COMMUNITY SERVICE AWARDS INCLUDE:
OUTSTANDING SENIOR VOLUNTEER | Betty L. Robinette (Wytheville) When the local homeless shelter closed its doors, Betty Robinette volunteered countless hours bringing together faith and civic leaders to serve warm meals to individuals experiencing homelessness. A long-time volunteer in the community, she expanded the effort to help create a sustainable and innovative organization – the Open Door Café. Today the successful donate-what-you-can restaurant serves food insecure individuals in downtown Wytheville. A regular volunteer at the café as well, Betty has served six hours a week since her retirement. Today the café averages 91 meals per day, with 85 percent of those meals going to food insecure individuals.
OUTSTANDING ADULT VOLUNTEER | Mechele Hairston (Chesapeake) When two Hampton Roads neighborhoods lost their last remaining grocery store, the largely minority population of nearly 18,000 citizens faced dire food scarcity challenges. Mechele Hairston served as a driving force that led to the free food distribution of more than 25,000 pounds of food over a two-weekend period. In 2020, Mechele and 400 volunteers distributed more than 766,000 pounds of food, which provided enough food for 1.6 million meals. By building partnerships and alliances for food distribution planning and sustainability and creating a Norfolk Food Ecosystem, she put in place long-term solutions for which the effects will be felt for years to come.
OUTSTANDING YOUNG ADULT VOLUNTEER | Lucy Cummins (Richmond) Originally assigned the role of a patient navigator to assist with Spanish interpretation and translation services with The Health Brigade in Richmond, Lucy Cummins pivoted during the COVID-19 crisis to address and overcome a number of challenges presented by the pandemic. She quickly got to work helping to design a safe and efficient testing system and then implement the program by accumulating life-saving PPE, managing the physical set-up and take-down of tents, tables, chairs, etc. Most importantly, Lucy ensured that volunteers were safely and efficiently prepared to work with the flood of individuals who came from throughout the community for services. Lucy also provided much-needed medical interpreter services following the sudden loss of the clinic’s previous interpretation service and was not only able to give comfort and reassurance to patients, but took charge of developing a strong interpretation plan for future needs.
OUTSTANDING VOLUNTEER FAMILY | George and Kim Melnyk, Jr. (Virginia Beach) For low-income students in Hampton Roads, having a desk for virtual classes and homework during COVID was a major issue for many families. George and Kim Melnyk, Jr., owners of Premier Millwork, jumped at the chance to serve when they were contacted by CHIP (Children’s Health Investment Program) of South Hampton Roads. Premier Millwork began producing collapsible desks for kids in need immediately and the Desk for Success program was born. After some local media coverage, requests for desks skyrocketed and George and Kim recruited fellow members of the Virginia Beach School Board and many others to volunteer on Saturdays to help sand and wrap desks. More than 2,100 children have assisted to date and the impact of the Desk for Success program can truly be seen in the eyes of the children receiving their desks.
OUTSTANDING YOUTH VOLUNTEER | TJ Kim (McLean) Teen flight student TJ Kim says his flight training became one of the only activities he could still enjoy when his school and the lacrosse season were shut down due to COVID-19. As a way to help serve his community during this challenging time, he decided to combine his passion for flight with helping others and created Operation SOS (Supplies Over the Skies). TJ transported PPE to critical access, rural and community hospitals, during a time when everyone was focusing donations on the big city hospitals. Operation SOS now distributes supplies to critical access and other rural and community hospitals throughout Virginia, Pennsylvania, Maryland and West Virginia. TJ coordinates every element of mission planning, including sourcing PPE, performing hospital outreach to gauge needs, conducting strategic flight planning, and flying the aircraft under dual instruction. To date, he has completed 22 missions and has sourced and delivered nearly 85,000 PPEs and ventilator supplies to 21 locations.
OUTSTANDING COMMUNITY ORGANIZATION | CrossOver Healthcare Ministry (Richmond) CrossOver Healthcare Ministry has stepped up during the COVID-19 crisis to not only provide outstanding medical care, but to go above and beyond by offering COVID testing and vaccinations for the uninsured. During the pandemic, CrossOver’s two clinics have remained open, without closing for a single day. They continued to operate with a 15 percent reduction in volunteer capacity, vaccinating more than 1,000 patients. CrossOver relies heavily on its more than 300 active volunteers who serve as clinicians, nurses, interpreters, front office, and administrative support, donating more than 22,000 hours of volunteer service last year.
OUTSTANDING FAITH-BASED ORGANIZATION | Mt. Zion First African Baptist Church and Church of the Incarnation (Charlottesville) Since May 2020, Mt. Zion First African Baptist Church and Church of the Incarnation have offered free COVID-19 testing events powered by more than 300 volunteers. Located within highly populated neighborhoods, the majority of those tested have been members of the community’s most vulnerable populations who would otherwise be unable to receive free, consistent, and timely testing. The weekly community testing events have produced more than 8,000 individual tests and offered a place where individuals and families could receive financial support to pay for rent, medications, food, and personal protective equipment (PPE), as well as connect to resources such as mental health counseling or tutoring for students struggling with virtual learning.
OUTSTANDING EDUCATION ORGANIZATION | Codefy (McLean) Seeing a lack of female representation in technology fields and a scarcity of computer programming courses in their own school inspired a determined group of students in Northern Virginia to jump into action. The students created Codefy, an organization providing free computer programming courses to middle and high school students. In just two years, the organization has grown to include more than 600 volunteers and more than 10 courses reflecting a variety of programming languages. A completely volunteer-led organization run by the students outside of their traditional school hours and during the summer, the program currently has 600 students taking courses throughout Virginia and across the country.
OUTSTANDING SMALL BUSINESS | Doswell Limited Partnership (Ashland) Doswell Limited Partnership, an affiliate of LS Power and owner of the Doswell natural gas power generation facility, employs 32 individuals and is capable of providing energy to meet the needs of more than 1.2 million area homes in Virginia. The company has made a commitment to supporting services that make a lasting impact, whether it is lives brightened by funding, home-delivered meals, or collecting toys for the holiday season. One of their largest long-term commitments has been to provide volunteer assistance to the county’s Day Health Program and Raft House (facilities for individuals with mental health substance use and developmental disabilities). They also have provided assistance to Hanover Parks and Recreation, Hanover Safe Place, Hanover Schools for STEM and music programs, Hanover Sheriff’s Office Toys for Tots, and Special Olympics—just to name a few.
OUTSTANDING CORPORATION | Capital One Coders (Richmond) Capital One Coders inspires students from all walks of life to consider computer science as an attainable and exciting career path. The program helps middle school students cultivate a greater interest in computer science during a critical period in their development. In 2020, nearly 1,400 volunteers spent more than 24,000 hours with nearly 5,000 students. More than half of those volunteers were in Virginia alone, spending more than 10,000 hours mentoring and teaching students. Volunteers expose students to a world of technology career options along with teaching them basic coding concepts, how to build mobile apps and websites, and about different coding languages. Coders is also actively focused on increasing diversity in computer science and boasts more than 75 percent of participants being underrepresented minorities in technology and more than half are girls. In response to the pandemic, the program quickly mobilized and provided laptops and internet access to more than 2,000 families and kept their student outreach centers open virtually when schools closed.