2014 Award Recipients
Sgt. Chuck Lewis
Sgt. Chuck Lewis is recognized for his commitment to raising money for programs that support wounded and disabled veterans, and increasing public awareness of suicide in the military.
After spending several years traveling around Western Montana recruiting Honor Guard members and raising public awareness, the suicide death of a young and recently discharged marine spurred Chuck Lewis’s “Walking for the Fallen.” On March 31st, 2013, Sgt. Chuck Lewis set out on a 3,400 mile walk across the country to raise awareness and money for U.S. soldiers, sailors and Marines killed in war or those who returned with physical and mental disabilities. Walking from Everett, Washington to the Vietnam War Memorial Wall in Washington D.C., Chuck Lewis completed the walk in 178 days and raised over $40,000 along the way. A United States Marine Corps and United States Navy Reserve veteran, Chuck made his way across the country with a baby stroller filled with gears and supplies, and a sign that said “Walking for the Fallen.” Countless people stopped him along the way to hear what he had to say and to donate to the cause, or even provide him with a bed for the night. Many were inspired by Chuck’s motivation and honored to meet an individual so devoted to this cause. A leader from the Blackfeet tribe was so honored to meet him that he gave Chuck a dream catcher to place on the Vietnam Wall in D.C. Since returning from his walk across the country, he continues to travel around Montana to raise public awareness and bring attention to veteran’s causes.
St. James Episcopal Church Wood Bank
The St. James Episcopal Church Wood Bank is recognized for providing firewood for those in Southwest Montana that need help heating their homes in the winter.
The Wood Bank Ministry is headquartered at the St. James Parish in Dillon and was founded by Father Harry Neeley and his wife, Val, over twenty years ago when they saw others struggle to make it through the months of cold weather. Since, it has evolved to become a tri-county, tri-parish social service agency with services including: heating and cooking wood (over 296 cords in 2013), fresh eggs (82 dozen in 2013), reconditioned chain saws, and wool hats and mittens for children of the Wood Bank, Headstart and Food Pantry in SW Montana. Additionally, they provide cash grants for school supplies for individuals in need. They were able to serve 644 persons with 194 deliveries in 16 towns in SW Montana with the help of Christ Church in Sheridan and St. Paul’s in Virginia City. In 2013, they had over 90 volunteers encompassing a broad spectrum of religious and secular populations. Their clients range from infants to a 95 year old lady who still cooks with wood, and generally represent the bottom 5% of family or household income in the area
Father Neeley typically spends 50 hours a week working and delivering firewood nine months out of the year. Flocks of volunteers help process and deliver the wood using a fleet of 10 chainsaws and a hydraulic wood splitter. As Father Neeley puts it, “we get warm by cutting and delivering it, and our clients get warm by burning it.”
David Snuggs is recognized for his service as the founder of My Neighbor in Need, an online service site that fulfills community need requests by mobilizing volunteers and community partners.
Since its launch in March 2012, My Neighbor in Need has helped over 1,600 people in Cascade County, Teton County, and Lewistown. Through this online website, David has forged a strong community foundation between those that want to help and those that need help. One of David’s first requests for help came when a community member had trouble making it to the hospital for chemotherapy after her car broke down beyond repair. Volunteers with My Neighbor in Need were put to work collecting donations to go toward a down payment. The person’s need was fulfilled and along came with it, requests for hundreds of others that needed help in the community.
Dave has inspired many people to give their time, money and gently used items. Additionally, he has shown the community of Great Falls the importance of building partnerships as a more efficient means to help others. One of these community partners is the Retired and Senior Volunteers, a Senior Corps program. RSVP has been essential in recruiting volunteers to fulfill needs requests from the initial startup. With the help of RSVP and others, Dave recently launched My Student in Need, an online site where teachers can nominate students in need for assistance for school supplies, clothing, bikes and help with school fees. My Neighbor in Need has already expanded to Wisconsin. Dave is currently working on expanding to other communities. He is hoping it will eventually go worldwide.
Victoria Elliott is recognized for volunteering in a preschool classroom for 30 hours a week for nearly 10 years.
Each day, Victoria graciously arrives to Mrs. Devin’s preschool classroom at Seeley Lake Elementary School for a day of learning, development and fun with the children. She supports the classroom by reading aloud to the children, playing letter and numeracy games with them, or assisting in small group science work such as helping the children learn to use magnifying glasses, eyedroppers, and other science equipment. Her devotion to the classroom continues after-school hours as she often sews elaborate doll clothes or aprons for the dramatic play area. Mrs. Devin is always impressed with her ability to engage the children in literacy activities. She takes special care in helping a child by being patient and not taking over the independence of the child when helping with activities. Victoria says she loves volunteering in the classroom because she gets to see the children’s positive attitudes toward learning each and every day, and she loves to be a part of what makes them so happy. Her continuous and daily commitments help make the Seeley Lake preschool classroom and community a better place.
James Thompson is recognized for his involvement in charitable, educational, professional, religious, and civic community organizations in Billings for the past 60 years, as well as serving as one of the founding members of District 7 Human Resources Development Council.
James’ passion for enhancing the community of Billings began clear back in 1953 with his involvement with St. Luke’s Episcopal Memorial Foundation. After the passage of the Economic Opportunity Act in 1964, James got together with other community members and gathered support to found the Billings Community Action Partnership of Yellowstone County to address causes and conditions of poverty through community engagement. Now known at the District 7 Human Resources Development Council, the Billings community has benefitted from over 40 years of James’ work. Some of his works on the board include improving Head Start, creating partnerships between public officials, low-income individuals and community representations to administer successful anti-poverty programs, and volunteering his legal expertise to start the Housing Authority and employment programs.
James has served the community through involvement in other boards including United Way, the Downtown Billings Association, Montana State University-Billings Foundation, Billings Kiwanis, and many more. He’s built close working relationships and model programs from the capacity of a small, all-volunteer run organization to ones with a multi-million dollar budget. He is always willing to give any extra time he has in his day on top of his job as an attorney to make Billings a thriving place, and for that, the community is very thankful.
The Downtown Chicks are recognized for their efforts to actively promote and market downtown Great Falls.
The Downtown Chicks were created in March 2012 when Alison Fried, Trina Knoche and Carol Bronson wanted to build on the growing excitement of downtown Great Falls. They formed a 100-member, all volunteer group as an ad hoc of the Downtown Great Falls. The Chicks focus on supporting downtown through outreach, mentoring, and educational activities. Some of their greatest work includes supporting the military through “Heroes at Home,” an evening out with a limo ride, dinner, and symphony tickets for women whose husbands are deployed, and creating and distributing Welcome Bags for new military families that move into the community. They have also organized 4 military appreciation days where businesses put signs in their windows offering discounts or food for active and retired military members.
The Chicks also created Coins for a Cause to encourage people to give their spare change to collection jars at downtown businesses that are then redistributed to local organizations that provide direct services to the homeless. The Chicks have also been extremely successful at downtown brothel and historic tours as another creative way to connect the community. They even hold a quarterly meeting where they recognize member’s accomplishments as part of their motto to “Get things done!” for downtown Great Falls.
Valerie Umphrey is being recognized for her volunteer work as an EMT and going out of her way to care for her patients for over 20 years.
Valerie’s work for the last 20 years has shown that she is willing to go above and beyond to provide professional patient care. Often, she drives patients 40 miles round trip to the nearest hospital, and will do the same to bring that patient back home. She exudes excellence by going back to patients’ houses to make sure pets are secured and fed. She is always willing to get up in the middle of the night to respond to an accident, and then continue on to her job as a teacher with little sleep the next day. Members of the community have expressed the times she provided comfort to family members that have lost loved ones, or given up her own holiday and family dinners when the community needed her most. A crew member of Valerie’s has witnessed her crawl in ditches in the pitch black of the night, help people in deplorable situations with dignity, comfort babies, drive in blizzards and always care as if it were her family member she was helping.
At school, she teaches the importance of community response in emergencies, and is responsible for motivating a lot of high school students to take EMT classes and pursue a career in EMS. Out of her five children, four have become volunteer EMT’s. Not only has she excelled as a volunteer EMT, she has also taught the value of volunteering and caring for neighbors to the community of St. Ignatius.
Malmstrom Air Force Base Office of Emergency Management
Malmstrom Air Force Base Office of Emergency Management is recognized for its work in educating the public on disaster preparedness at statewide events.
Volunteers with the Malmstrom AFB Office of Emergency Management rolled out the “BeReady” Program to educate the general public on earthquakes, flooding, extreme cold weather, wildland fires and other disasters. Volunteers take extra focus on educating children about disasters with flyers containing kid appropriate games and learning activities. Volunteers with the AFB have traveled to schools, rodeos, and other statewide events to hand out materials and educate on different hazards in Montana. The Office of Emergency Management also participated in a preparedness event on Malmstrom AFB in conjunction with the Rocky Mountain Shakeout statewide earthquake drill. Volunteers handed out flyers about the Shakeout and educated on safety precautions to take when the ground starts to shake. Malmstrom AFB Office of Emergency Management has plans to expand the program and collaborate more with other agencies to make the event on the base even bigger. Volunteers also hope to spend next year giving out emergency supplies in addition to flyers and information.
Fromberg School is recognized for Fromberg K-12 Schools are recognized for starting a new school breakfast program during the 2013 school year. Seventy-five percent of Fromberg’s 105 enrolled students get breakfast under the program on an average day. Upon hire, Superintendent Teri Harris was concerned that there was not a breakfast program in place. She knew this addition could help students reach their full academic potential. Teri met with the school board, administrators, parents, cooks, and teachers to find the best way to start a breakfast program. Before long, Fromberg students were enjoying a mid-morning breakfast, free of charge. Teachers are pleased with the program because it does not interrupt the school day and has helped improve attendance and behavior. Teri is a role model for others and we are grateful for her commitment to school breakfast, education and child health.
Corvallis High School
Corvallis High School is recognized for increasing participation in an existing school breakfast program. During the 2013 school year, only 11 percent of high school students in the state of Montana participated in the School Breakfast Program. So, Corvallis High School made the decision to serve breakfast on-the-go from hallway kiosks between class periods. Since beginning this service style, they went from feeding about 22 students per day to feeding 99 per day. This is not a Universal Free breakfast, but Kathy Martin, the Food Service Director, chose to have the $0.30 cent reduced-priced meal cost covered by the food service budget to make breakfast easier for low income students to eat.