United Way of Northwest Georgia honors volunteers

In light of the challenges we have all faced in the past year, the United Way of Northwest Georgia's Volunteer Awards Ceremony, via Facebook Live, was about celebrating our incredible volunteers. United Way honors volunteers in Whitfield and Murray counties whose service has exemplified a commitment to bring hope, promise, and opportunity to the lives of others. Stuart Nelson, Volunteer Center chair, along with Patti Renz, community co-chair, led the ceremony.

Volunteer award winners:

• Howard Elder serves as a Big Brother through United Way community partner Big Brothers Big Sisters. He has had his little brother for seven years and has gone above and beyond what the agency asks of him. He is very supportive of his little brother as well as encouraging towards his little brother's extended family. Because of his dedication and commitment to his community, we present Elder with the Connie Woodward Award for Outstanding Volunteerism in Whitfield County.

• Vickie Duggan has been a CASA (Court Appointed Special Advocate) volunteer at Family Support Council since May 2017. She has served as an advocate for 16 local children living in foster care within Whitfield and Murray counties. Duggan works tirelessly to support the children and all parties involved in her cases. Because of her commitment to volunteering and her true example of servant leadership, we present Duggan with the Elaine Butler Award for Outstanding Volunteerism in Murray County.

• In honor of the legacy of Elbert Shaw's commitment to volunteer service and youth development, Shaw Industries annually partners with United Way of Northwest Georgia to offer two $5,000 scholarships for high school students. The Elbert Shaw Memorial Scholarship recognizes young people who are active, empowered members of the community. The award recipients are youth who work in cooperation with their peers and community leaders to create positive change in society, including identifying problems and implementing solutions. Tim Baucom and John Shaw presented the scholarships to Elisa Castelo and Madeline Skojac, who also received the Youth Volunteer of the Year Award.

Castelo is a senior at Christian Heritage School. She served as Spirit Prefect and president of the Interact Club. Castelo is a passionate volunteer within her community. She's been involved in volunteering at the Friendship House where she read to the classrooms, played with the children, and assisted the teacher during group time; at RossWoods Adult Day Center she interacted with the participants by playing card games, assisting with arts and crafts, and talking with them; and at Tunnel Hill Elementary School she was a part of the Big Buddy program where she had a buddy that she would check in on, play games and talk to about school work. She also started a ministry called Raising Readers. The program's mission is to make sure that children who are learning virtually have the school materials and books needed to learn at home. Castelo is a member of the school softball team and a manager for the basketball team. She is going to continue her education at the University of Georgia and plans to major in early childhood education. Because of her dedication and commitment to her community, Castelo receives the Elbert Shaw Memorial Scholarship.

"I have always had a heart to serve and have always been a servant leader," Castelo said. "As a minority, seeing conditions in both public school and private school has shown me how people can be living two different lives. I was raised in public school and met many great people. However, they had hard lives and barely managed to survive. They are the reason I help others. They are what motivated me. I have witnessed my struggling family and suffered through hard times both financially and emotionally. I relate to these people and want to let them know that God is good. I want to show people that there are good citizens who are always willing to help. I want to let people know that they can do anything and they can get over any obstacle in life."

Skojac is a senior at North Murray High School. She is an active member of the Murray County 4-H Club. Just a few of her other volunteer efforts include volunteering with: Murray County Community of Hope; The Salvation Army; tutoring; Big Brothers Big Sisters; along with delivering meals to the Murray County Senior Center and senior citizens that were in need during the pandemic. Skojac is also a part of the 4-H Tech Changemakers who teach digital literacy classes at the senior center for approximately 25 senior citizens. Skojac is also a company member at the Dance Theatre of Dalton, a member of the North Murray High School Student Council and the North Murray Dance Team. Skojac is going to the University of Georgia and plans to major in exercise and sport science. Her passion for improving lives has led her to devote her time to volunteering. Because of her commitment to creating a better future through volunteerism, Skojac receives the Elbert Shaw Memorial Scholarship and the award for Youth Volunteer of the Year.

"Growing up in 4-H has taught me many things, however, the most important being that you are never too young to make a difference in your community," Skojac said. "I learned early on that contributing to your community makes a big impact on many people. Over the years, I have seen people in situations that I wish did not exist. I have delivered food to families that are in extreme poverty and picked up dozens of bags worth of trash along a short stretch of road. However, the reason I volunteer is that I get the same reaction from people almost every time I volunteer somewhere. That is the reaction of gratefulness. The people that I have met through volunteering over the years are always so happy and grateful that I am helping my community. I am motivated to volunteer by the gratitude shown by people of my community."

• The Presidential Service Award honors people whose service positively impacts communities in every corner of the nation and inspires those around them to take action. This spring, the United Way Volunteer Center Cabinet will present 21 Presidential Volunteer Service Awards to students at their school awards banquets. We are hoping to be able to present as many of the awards as possible in person, otherwise the schools will present the awards to the students. Any person, family or group can receive Presidential recognition for volunteer hours earned over a 12-month period or over the course of a lifetime at home or abroad. The minimum hour requirement for a Presidential Volunteer Service Award are children 5 to 10: 26 hours; teens 11 to 15: 50 hours; and young adults 16 to 25: 100 hours.

If you're interested in volunteering with United Way of Northwest Georgia, please visit volunteernwga.org or contact Stephanie Hogshead at stephanie.hogs head@ourunitedway.org.

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