County Judge Hebert’s awards “The Volley”

Shown (from left to right) Keri Schmidt, Mary Vitek receiving on the behalf of BJ Bonner, Beth Laughlin, Chandani Patel, Fort Bend County Judge Bob Hebert , William Reaves, Tobi White, Barbara Jones, Dee Koch, & Joyce Kennerly)
Photos courtesy of Brenda Perry
“The Advocate for business excellence in Fort Bend County.”

An initiative of the Fort Bend Chamber, Fort Bend Volunteers! presented County Judge’s Herbert’s “Volly” Awards on Thursday, October 3rd at Safari Texas Ranch.  The winners of this county-wide search for the top volunteers in Fort Bend County were selected by a panel of expert judges from 27 nominations received from throughout the county. The judges included Nancy Frees Fountain, Managing Director at Frees Foundation; George Grainger, Senior Program Director of Research & Planning at the Houston Endowment and Quynh-Anh McMahan, MSW, Research & Planning Officer at Rockwell Fund, Inc.. This year nominations were received from the following organizations: AccessHealth, ARTreach, Big Brothers Big Sisters, Casa de Esperanza de los Niños, Casa Juan Diego, Catholic Charities – Mamie George Community Center, Child Advocates of Fort Bend, Cinderella-Cinderfella Project, Inc., East Fort Bend Human Needs Ministry, Fluor Cares, Fort Bend County Museum Association, Fort Bend County Women’s Center, Fort Bend Education Foundation, Girl Scouts of San Jacinto Council, Habitat for Humanity, Hope for Three, Katy Christian Ministries, Katy YMCA Fort Bend County, Literacy Council of Fort Bend County, Richmond Rosenberg Helping Hands, Sam Houston Area Council- Boy Scouts of America, SIRE, Inc., Stafford Boys & Girls Club, Sugar Land Heritage Foundation, T.W. Davis YMCA, Texana Center, Volunteer Services Council of the Richmond State Supported Living Center.

The five “Volly” winners included – BJ Bonner, Beth Laughlin, Chandani Patel, William Reaves & Tobi White.  All have exhibited exemplary service to the organizations for which they volunteer and have made a significant impact in the lives they touch.

The planning committee included Fred Arnold, Minute Maid; Barbara Jones, Fluor Corporation; Joyce Kennerly, Fort Bend County Libraries; Dee Koch, The George Foundation; Keri Schmidt, Fort Bend Chamber; and Beth Wolf, Fort Bend County Judge’s Office.

Upon learning of the extraordinary accomplishments of the volunteers who were nominated for this award, AECOM, County Judge Hebert & Minute Maid signed up as Event Presenters for the breakfast.

The first honoree is BJ Bonner with Girl Scouts of San Jacinto Council.  BJ has been a volunteer for Girl Scouts for 23 years. She served 16 years as part of the South Texas Council and upon its merger with San Jacinto Council 7 years ago, she has continued to serve to the present day in various capacities, as a past board member and on a number of council committees and task forces. She has chaired events, served as a mentor to other volunteers and been a reliable advocate of Girl Scouting and the girls served on a daily basis. She is truly passionate about Girl Scouting and her volunteer work is nothing short of admirable.

The second honoree, Beth Laughlin, also has a keen ability to combine her talent with her passion to help others. As a retired teacher, Beth was encouraged to join the GED team for the Fort Bend County Women’s Center.  Since then, she has been the one constant GED mentor in the Learning Resource Center.  Beth is a volunteer that truly stands out when helping their organization and is always willing to assist clients with whatever needs they may have.  If they need to practice English as a second language, she will pull out the picture dictionary.  If they are just having a really bad day and need someone to talk to, she will listen attentively. Beth never tires of teaching, but what makes her so special is the fact that she doesn’t stop at educating the mind. She teaches and gives with her heart – a heart that has touched and transformed lives in our community.

The third volunteer honored is by far one of the most invested volunteers. Chandani Patel has a true passion for working with children, which shines through every time she enters the Club.  Chandani spends a great deal of her time in the service of others, not only with the Stafford Boys & Girls Club, but with other organizations in the community.  Chandani has been volunteering two days a week, four hours a day for more than a year now.  She is near 250 hours of service to the Club. She leads by example no matter what activity she is engaged in.  Many of the students have formed close bonds with her. On many occasions, she fills in where ever needed at the Club. More importantly, Chandani fills a vital role in the Stafford Boys & Girls Club by helping facilitate the Club’s meal program where every Club member is fed a hot, nutritious meal each day at no extra cost; Chandani helps ensure that every Club member is fed.  Considering that 100% of the Club members qualify for free or reduced lunch, many times the meal at the Club is their last meal of the day.  She displays such a consistent level of energy, commitment and enthusiasm when volunteering that it makes it a joy for all those around her.

The next “Volly” award winner is the youngest nominees.  At fifteen, William Reaves understands the needs and the importance of AccessHealth.  For the first 8 years of his life he was a recipient of these services. William is the son of an employee of AccessHealth but volunteering for the organization is not something he is required to do.  It is a choice William makes because he knows the importance of having the support of a community.  William understands what it’s like to need the “assistance” of an agency like AccessHealth and he chooses to give back to his community in this way.  William was born to parents who made some poor decisions.  He has lived in a car for days at a time on more than one occasion.  He has been in need of medical care and was even a patient of Fort Bend Family Health Center and a resident of the Women’s Center at one time.  William chooses to volunteers out of a special place in his heart and a knowledge and understanding that most of us will never understand.

The final recipient is Tobi White.  Tobi has been an integral part of Casa de Esperanza since she began volunteering in 2005 in our agency to run foster homes to help to care for abused and neglected children.  Tobi quickly showed herself to be caring, dependable and an excellent role model for these children who have lacked positive, trustworthy adults in their lives.  Shortly after becoming a Casa de Esperanza volunteer, Tobi and her husband Joshua became licensed as Foster Parents, and opened up their own home to Casa de Esperanza’s children.  During the three years that Tobi and Joshua served as Foster Parents, they provided a stable and loving home to seven children, sometimes carrying for more than one child at once.  They provided this care without any remuneration from Casa de Esperanza.  Eventually the family adopted two kids from Casa de Esperanza, adding to new siblings to their two biological children.   Tobi works on the front lines to help Casa de Esperanza reach its goal of breaking the cycle of child abuse and neglect experienced by many generations.  As children from very chaotic backgrounds mature into healthy and socially responsible young adults, Tobi has been an essential part of the process.

The mission of the Fort Bend Volunteers! is to match community volunteers with service opportunities in Fort Bend County.  In 2009, the original Volunteer Awards program recognized the phenomenal contributions these men and women have made to the Fort Bend community, and we instituted this awards breakfast to honor their accomplishments. The Fort Bend Chamber under the leadership of Dee Koch has revived the program to honor our volunteer heroes.  The Chamber of Commerce Community Resources Division also presents the Youth in Philanthropy and Leadership Excellence for non-profits programs.  Details of each of these programs can be found at www.FortBendChamber.com.

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