Ten Alaskans Awarded as Top Volunteers
Alaskans from across the state recognized for selfless contributions to our communities
April 21, 2017 JUNEAU – First Lady Donna Walker announced today the recipients of the 2017 First Lady’s Volunteer of the Year Awards. More than 70 nominations from around the state were submitted. The top volunteers were carefully chosen by the First Lady and the members of the selection committee: Toni Mallott, Marilyn Romano, Hans Neidig, Gail Schubert, Lynette Sullivan, Geoff Welch, Laurie Herman, and Melissa Stepovich. Thanks to Alaska Airlines, ExxonMobil Alaska, Bering Straits Native Corporation, and Dateline Digital Printing, the awardees will be brought to Juneau and honored during a luncheon and ceremony at the Governor’s House in late May.
“Often, the volunteer work that Alaskans do goes unrecognized because publicity and notoriety are not sought, “ First Lady Walker said. “The recipients of these awards are committed to Alaska, making sacrifices for their communities, and setting an example for others who wish to give of their time and talents. I’m proud we’re able to recognize them.”
First Lady Bella Hammond began the annual recognition in 1975. The First Lady’s Volunteer of the Year Awards recognizes Alaskans who have displayed an extraordinary personal commitment to volunteer service, and have made a major impact on their community or state.
For more information about the award recipients, or to schedule interviews, contact Melissa Stepovich at (907) 451-2920
The 2017 Volunteer of the Year Recipients
Robert “Bob” Morris
Robert “Bob” Morris of Anchorage was nominated in recognition of his outstanding and tireless efforts in raising awareness of the Sugpiag language and traditions in the Chugach Region of Alaska. Bob began volunteering with Chugachmiut in the late 1990s, and his efforts grew into what is now the Heritage Department, which seeks to preserve, document, and restore Sugpiaq cultural traditions, language, and artifacts. One of his critical tasks is the management, storage, and inventory of Heritage Kits, which are distributed across the region to help educate Alaskans about the traditional Chugach lifeways.
Joel Buchanan of Coffman Cove is dedicated to helping Southeast Alaska native peoples in their recovery of culture and heritage. For the last six years, Joel, as a volunteer with North of Hope, has overseen the work of over 85 construction teams that have given over 50,000 hours of volunteer labor. North of Hope invests in projects that value and preserve the culture and heritage of Alaska, and Joel has helped lead those efforts in the villages of Kasan, Klawock, and Hydaburg. Joel’s passion is to see the quality of life for Alaska’s native peoples improve, and earnestly hopes his investment will result in the restoration of a proud identity.
Erick Mountain of Nulato is an active and involved community member. When anyone in the town is in need of help, he is always available: helping fix snow machines, cars, four-wheelers, water heaters, furnaces, providing transportation, and helping haul fuel and gas to those who need it. He is said to be "a good, sober, role model" for the youth he mentors and a compassionate, respectful helpmate and companion to the elders.
Bob “Ziggy” Szewe
Bob “Ziggy” Szewe has volunteered his time year-round for over 20 years to bring his wonderful sing-a-long music and entertainment to those residing in assisted care living situations. While some of these individuals have lost some or all of their mobility, Ziggy consistently brings them uplifting, familiar music presented with an energy and zest no other can match. He has regular standing engagements at assisted living facilities throughout the state, and volunteers on many others levels, including with the Lions Club, in his community.
June Degnan of Juneau is the founding President of the volunteer Board of Directors of Haven House Juneau, a transitional home for women exiting prison. She has presided over the board since its inception in 2007. She has demonstrated exceptional dedication to HHJ, leaving her paid employment to nurture HHJ into an entity that has successfully helped countless women make healthy changes in their lives as they transition out of confinement. June does all of her work as a volunteer, and has created a unique model that could be duplicated in any community willing to help those in need.
Clarke Brown of Anchorage has mobilized youth and church groups in large scale food drives and has been the key point of contact at LDS Church for organizing and implementing the annual Feeding Our Neighbors city-wide food drive in Anchorage. The drive has hundreds of volunteers that go out into Anchorage neighborhoods to collect food for the Food Bank of Alaska, and last year, brought in over 11 tons of food. Clarke has also been eager to bring dozens of volunteers to help the Food Bank and Beans Cafe with a variety of projects. Each month he also organizes volunteers to pack 1000 bags of food for The Children's Lunchbox Weekend Food Program and is an energetic volunteer for Anchorage Project Homeless Connect and JustServ. He is reliable, consistent, and an exceptional advocate for the organizations and people he serves.
Michelle Overstreet of Wasilla is the founder of My House, a non-profit organization dedicated to helping homeless youth in the Matanuska-Susitna Valley. My House is a drop-in center that offers food, clothing, showers, laundry services, and case management for youth ages 17 to 24. Michelle plays a critical role in creating and helping youth in need while strengthening her community. Her motivation and determination to create a safe and supportive space for the Mat-Su youth population is only reinforced by her compassion and tenacious spirit. To financially support My House, Michelle created a business plan and opened a coffee shop, café, and boutique run by the youth, all located at My House. Michelle is also a founding member of the Valley Opiate Task Force.
Shirley M. Springer Staten
Shirley Springer Staten of Anchorage has been a driving force in Alaska for decades through her extraordinary work as a volunteer. As a community member, she sees it as her responsibility to give back and make her community stronger. Through programs such as Keys to Life, Hiland Mountain Correction Center's Success Inside & Out Program, the Hiland Mountain Lullaby Project, ASD Multi-Cultural Leadership Conference, her service on the Brother Francis Shelter Board and various youth mentoring, women's and multicultural leadership opportunities, Shirley has demonstrated a commitment to bringing diverse groups of people together, eliminating the artificial lines that can divide us.
Dan Rodgers of Anchorage has served as a pro bono attorney since 1998 and after retiring from the legal profession in 2008, has been a full-time volunteer for the Alaska institute for Justice’s (AIJ) Alaska immigration Justice Project. In his time at AIJ, he has provided legal assistance to over 400 clients in cases that involved immigrant domestic violence, sexual assault, and human trafficking helping victims gain access to safety and protection. As the Pro Bono Asylum Project leader, Dan is an outstanding mentor to fellow immigration attorneys and participates in numerous outreach events to educate the community on legal services. Dan is dedicated to serving vulnerable Alaskans, and is an exemplary model of public service.
Bobbi Anne Barnowsky
Bobbi Anne Barnowsky of Old Harbor has been a driving force in bringing positive change to her community over the course of many years. Bobbi Anne first sought to clean up and beautify Old Harbor as she felt the garbage and pollution were validating negative attitudes and generational trauma. The community-wide cleanup was transformative in helping the residents develop a sense of pride and more environmentally-conscious attitudes and practices. Bobbi Anne is also a volunteer and leader in Old Harbor’s Positive Choices & Prevention Team. She works tirelessly to bring support and justice to victims of domestic violence, child neglect, and alcohol and drug abuse. Her sacrifices of time and effort have yielded lasting benefits throughout Old Harbor where the community regards her as a true change agent.