Evanston community members joined the City of Evanston, Evanston Township High School (ETHS), the Evanston Community Foundation, and Northwestern University to celebrate the community’s outstanding volunteers on April 10. Local organizations and agencies nominated individuals to be recognized at the annual Evanston Volunteer Recognition Banquet at NU’s Norris Center.
The keynote speaker for the evening was ETHS senior Shamir Villeda. A recipient of the Gates Millennium Scholarship, Shamir shared his compelling story of coming to the United States from Guatemala in 2006 after his parents were killed by a Guatemalan gang.
Shamir has been a student at ETHS since 2008 when he moved to the Evanston home of his foster parents, Stephanie Russell and Alan Lindquist. He has volunteered with organizations such as Soup at Six and Best Buddies. He says, “I’ve learned from volunteering that when you give of yourself, you get so much in return.” This fall, Shamir will be an Evans Scholar at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign in the College of Business.
Among this year’s Outstanding Volunteer honorees at the Evanston Volunteer Recognition Banquet were ETHS sophomores Tyler Dixon and Natalie Jacobson. Tyler is a volunteer at Youth Organizations Umbrella (Y.O.U.). Last summer she volunteered five days a week in an intensive position that involved facilitating group sessions – a position not previously facilitated by high school students. Natalie volunteers consistently with various soup kitchens in the Evanston area, planning and attending orientations, events, and more. She is also a member of various student groups at ETHS, including Green Team.
Hannah Cusick was honored for her work with Evanston School Children’s Clothing Association (ESCCA) over the past five years, both hands-on and administrative, both scheduled and in emergencies.
Community members honored for their volunteer efforts were Lynn Hyndman, Marcia Mahoney, Julie Neely, Alex Piper and Ralph Starenko.
Ms. Hyndman has worked for decades in District 65 as a science educator, serving as the driving force behind making the school garden successful at Dawes Elementary for almost 10 years. She has helped create other Evanston Public School gardens and taken a leadership role in serving on the Keep Evanston Beautiful steering committee Schools Are Gardening in Evanston (SAGE).
Ms. Mahoney is the president of the Evanston Public Library Friends Board and the director of and moving force behind The Mighty Twig, the EPLF community library experiment that serves its neighborhood 38 hours per week.
Julie Neely is a dedicated volunteer at Senior Connections, a visiting program that matches caring volunteers one-on-one with isolated adults for weekly visits. She has taken the lead in re-imaging the 2- year old organization to interact more dynamically with the Evanston community both in print and electronically.
For the last two years, Ms. Piper has brought her talent for cooking, her interest in health and nutrition, and her passion for helping others to the women at Mary Lou’s Place, the domestic violence shelter operated by the YWCA Evanston/North Shore.
Mr. Starenko has participated for more than a decade in the main mission of Interfaith Action of Evanston, serving at a weekday morning hospitality center, four soup kitchens, and six afternoon warming centers open during late fall and winter.
Northwestern University studetent volunteers Caroline Linden, Savan Patel and La Donna Smith were also honored at the awards ceremonty. Ms. Linden has been involved with LIFT, often in leadership positions, since her freshman year at Northwestern University, working one-on-one with community members to find jobs, secure safe and stable housing, make ends meet through public benefits and tax credits, and obtain quality referrals for services such as childcare, health care and legal assistance.
Mr. Patel currently serves as a chair of the Community Outreach section of Northwestern Community Development Corps NCDC. He has revamped the site leader process so that volunteering sites have a student liaison through which to ask for volunteers, organize volunteer training, and maintain communication with the University.
Ms. Smith is a volunteer at LIFT Evanston, where she serves in the highest student position, the LIFT Evanston student director. She works with members of the Evanston community on job placement, housing, public benefits, health care, childcare, legal assistance and more.