Archived Story

Local volunteers honored

Published 8:59am Friday, April 23, 2010

The community came together Thursday to celebrate local volunteer superheroes at Lake Michigan College Mendel Center. The Volunteer Center of Southwest Michigan hosted the 18th annual National Volunteer Week Luncheon attended by more than 200 volunteers and community leaders.

Fifteen youth were nominated by schools, churches and nonprofit organizations as individuals who exemplify the values of volunteerism. Each demonstrated a spirit of involvement, which builds character, generosity and self-discipline. Nominated youth were:

Sepideh Ashrafzadeh, St.Joseph High School
Shatoria Dancer, Coloma High School
Alecia Eichberg, St. Joseph High School
Preston Greene, Lakeshore High School, Stevensville
Kyra Heit, New Buffalo High School
Claire Knebl, St. Joseph High School
Jordon Krieger, Watervliet High School
Joseph Andrew Larson, Dowagiac Union High School
Christian Lopez, Coloma High School
Ashley Machacek, St. Joseph High School
Ryan Marschke, Trinity Lutheran Church and School, Berrien Springs
Megan McNitt, St. Joseph High School
Aushja Syed, St. Joseph High School
Travis Tomaszewski, Lakeshore High School, Stevensville
Shaquille Devante Turner, Dream Academy, Benton Harbor
Alecia Eichberg won the Youth Volunteer Leadership Scholarship Award from Berrien Community Foundation.

Alecia stated: “I realized I didn’t want my life to be about serving a volleyball … I wanted to influence people’s lives positively.”

Joseph Larson of Cass County and Travis Tomaszewski of Berrien County won Youth Asset Builder Awards from United Way of Southwest Michigan.

Joseph stated: “The people I help are always grateful…the greatest reward….has been the smiles on their faces.”  Travis stated “something as simple as a smile and cheerful tone of voice could be enough to encourage someone to not give up.”

Top honors for 2010 Outstanding Youth Volunteer went to Claire Knebl.  Claire received a $1,000 scholarship from Chemical Bank and $1,000 to donate to the charity of her choice from Gateway Community Foundation. Claire was nominated by St. Joseph High School Key Club. In April 2009 Claire came up with the idea to host a fashion show to raise money for Lory’s Place, a local bereavement center. Claire saw her vision come to life through hard work and involving others as volunteers. The event raised more than $2,000 and raised awareness of Lory’s Place’s mission. Claire put in more than 400 hours for this project alone.

Five area businesses – Cassopolis Dental, Joey Armadillos, Kilwin’s, The Orchards Mall and PC Services – were nominated for Corporate Neighbor of the Year. Cassopolis Dental was chosen for their extensive employee volunteerism, commitment to helping financially strapped families keep their smiles and their involvement in getting fluoride added to the local water supply.

The Frederick S. Upton Foundation and United Way of Southwest Michigan received six nominations for the Margaret B. Upton Volunteer Leadership Award.  Jeff Upton, on behalf of the Upton family, recognized Dennis Bowen, Don Gast, Elizabeth Geisner, Rosa Jeffries, Phil Maki and Juanita Swank. For the first time in the history of the award two winners were announced.

Don Gast, nominated by Hospice at Home, was chosen for this honor because of his pivotal role over the last 20 years at Hospice at Home as well as his role as one of the founders and leaders of Five Pines Christian Ministries for the last 40 years. Gast has also been very involved in many other organizations.

Dennis Bowen, nominated by Whitcomb Retirement Residence, was chosen for this honor for his more than 40 years of service to many community organizations. Bowen has volunteered for years at the Whitcomb and for the Area Agency on Aging as an Advisory Council Member.  He is also coordinator of the SeniorNet Learning Center, where his duties include mentoring other volunteers.  He is also very involved in St. Joseph/Benton Harbor Rotary Club and other community organizations.

The Kathryn S. Rossow Professionalism in Volunteer Management Award was created to recognize contributions on local, state and national level by founding Volunteer Center Director Kathy Rossow.  Nominated were Sue Armstrong of Big Brothers Big Sisters, Debra Barrett of Berrien County MSU Extension, Linda Fites of Lakeland Regional Healthcare and Donna Lutz of Salvation Army of Niles. Barrett was chosen for her commitment to professionalism in volunteer management, mentoring others and for developing and teaching volunteer management curriculum.

All award recipients agree that you don’t have to be a superhero to help somebody.  Individuals who would like to connect to volunteer opportunities should contact the Volunteer Center of Southwest Michigan at 983-0912 or 683-5464 or  They can also visit

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