United Way of Southwest Michigan awards community volunteers

Published 7:30 pm Monday, June 20, 2022

SOUTHWEST MICHIGAN — Every year, United Way of Southwest Michigan recognizes volunteer leaders in Berrien, Cass, and Van Buren counties. This year, awards were delivered and recorded “prize patrol”-style in June.

United Way of Southwest Michigan honored exceptional volunteers who serve Berrien, Cass, and Van Buren counties with their work and commitment and who create lasting impact in the community.

“There is a long tradition of service in Southwest Michigan and this year’s winners have helped to keep volunteerism in the forefront of improving our communities and region,” said Debbie Ramirez, Volunteer Engagement Director of United Way of Southwest Michigan. “These winners are the cream of the crop of local volunteers and represent what it means to make true impact on an individual level and a corporate level. Hats off to them for their dedication to their communities and for inspiring others along the way.”

The winners were:

Judge Susan L. Dobrich Volunteer Leadership Award for Cass County  

Winner: Chris D. Bergen

Chris helped develop Ross Beatty High School’s first Robotics Team into one of the top teams of over 400 in Michigan. In that role, Chris is there every day, teaching student members how to use tools, make design changes, organize the workspace, plan game strategy, provide transportation, make robot parts in his machine shop, and too many other things to count. He organizes the team to participate in the annual Cassopolis Memorial Day parade. “Chris is a tireless volunteer and citizen of Cass County,” said Fritz Kucklick, a Robotics Team mentor who nominated Chris. Chris also volunteers with the VFW, Sheriff’s Department, Penn Township Fire Department, and others.

For the winner of this great honor, $3,500 will be donated to a nonprofit that serves Cass County residents—the winner will choose from a list of agencies or organizations that serve Cass County. The monetary portion of this award is being provided by the McLoughlin Family Foundation.

Margaret B. Upton Volunteer Leadership Award

Winner: Kathy Rossow

 Kathy helped build the landscape of community volunteering in Southwest Michigan, particularly in Niles and Buchanan. For nearly 30 years, she has been one of the prominent faces of volunteering in the region. In 1977, the Niles Service League asked her to lead a volunteer clearinghouse (which would become known as the Volunteer Center of Southwest Michigan) that grew to cover the tri-county area, serving more than 260 nonprofit organizations, 50 faith communities, 30 businesses, and every school district. In the mid-1990s, she ran for and earned a position on the National Council of Volunteer Centers, sharing her local wisdom on a regular basis with her national counterparts in Washington D.C. at the Points of Light Foundation. She helped national organizations to see the power of locally organized and grassroots community engagement.  

$3,500 will be donated to the nonprofit organization of Rossow’s choice.

Volunteer United Service Impact Award 

Winner: Keith Stevens

Stevens has been a volunteer for the Berrien County Cancer Service for three years. He spends his time there leading Art Play Workshops and creating Design Art Displays. The Art Play Workshops are particularly important for children who are experiencing or impacted by cancer as it provides an emotional outlet for them through play.  “His philosophy is instead of complaining about what needs to be done, you should get involved and make change with whatever talent you have,” said Nancy Church, RN, OCN, President and CEO of Berrien County Cancer Service, who nominated Stevens for the award.

Stevens will be awarded $1,000, which will be designated to the local nonprofit organization of his choice.

 Volunteer United Business Partner Impact Award

Winner: Honor Credit Union 

“Honor Credit Union team members show up in all of their communities, volunteer their time and talents with dozens of organizations and municipalities [serving on local councils, chambers, etc.], and work hard to make those communities strong,” said the individual who nominated them for this award. 

Honor Credit Union offers their employees paid time monthly to volunteer for the organizations of their choice, which includes volunteering for events, special projects, churches, schools, organizations, agencies, boards of directors, and much more. Their employees are seen throughout Southwest Michigan and in all the communities in which they live, work, and play. 

They will be awarded $1,000 which will be designated to the local nonprofit organization of their choice.