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Ellenboro farmers are Volunteers of the Year

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Tommy (left) and Mike Haire.

Mike and Tommy Haire of the Oak Springs community, better known as Two Men and a Farm, are being recognized by Volunteer Rutherford as 2021 Volunteers of the Year for their work to feed those in need throughout the county. The award includes a $1,000 donation from United Way for their work.

The father-son duo has been growing crops for years, but in 2012 they decided to give back to the community that meant so much to them, giving 22,000 pounds of fresh produce to various food pantries in the county each year - Neighbors Pantry in Gilkey, Adaville Pantry and Trinity Church pantry. The donation includes cabbage, turnips, corn, potatoes, tomatoes, beets, cucumbers, onions, and yellow and butternut squash, all planted, cared for and harvested by the team.

National Volunteer Week is April 18-24, and despite the pandemic's disruption of a year's worth of volunteering, the local organization dedicated to recognizing those efforts is moving forward with its annual recognition.

Volunteer Rutherford is a county division of an awards program created by the Office of the NC Governor in 1979 to recognize the state's most dedicated volunteers and the significant contributions they make to their communities. It is funded locally by Rutherford County Government and United Way of Rutherford County and is managed by a group of nonprofit volunteer managers.

Instead of a banquet and community presentation, this year's awards are being presented remotely, according to Kim Freeman, executive director of Habitat for Humanity of Rutherford County who chairs Volunteer Rutherford. The 13 nominees will receive certificates and gift cards individually from the organizations that nominated them, she said.

"It's not ideal because we always enjoy a fun evening together as the nominees are presented their awards each spring," Freeman said. "But volunteers are too valuable not to recognize their work in some way at this time of year."

Hands-on volunteer efforts stopped abruptly last March when resale stores, the hospital, offices, even construction sites were closed to volunteers.

For Rutherford Regional Health System, that meant a delay to the long-anticipated goal of 1 million service hours donated by volunteers to the hospital since the program's inception in 1965, according to Suzanne Holtzclaw, the hospital's volunteer recruiter.

A total of 142 volunteers devoted 17,853 service hours during 2019, she said - and that's just at the Rutherford hospital. According to the most recent figures released by the Corporation for National and Community Service, about 77.4 million people in the United States volunteered about 6.9 billion hours of their time, talent and effort to improve and strengthen their communities.

These community champions are contributing approximately $187.7 billion to the US economy.

Holtzclaw added: "The warmth, the compassion, the dedication, the enthusiasm, the pleasantries, and the million other great skills that volunteers provide each and every day are happily unforgettable, can never be mimicked, and have been overwhelmingly missed this past year."

The hospital nominated Billy Callahan for Volunteer Rutherford recognition. Callahan, who serves an estimated 200 hours a month, is known throughout the hospital community for his wide smile that greets hospital visitors upon their arrival. Enthusiastic and eager, Callahan shares his outlook with those he knows often need a smile. "He greets overwhelmed families with a refreshing, calming ease, automatically lessening angst and worries - as soothing as chicken soup," Holtzclaw writes. "He wears his volunteer badge with honor and pride, often traveling the extra-long hospital corridors greeting all he meets with a welcome wave."

The local recognition program is open to any organization that wishes to honor its volunteers. Nominations are judged by out-of-county organizations for consideration for statewide recognition or the Volunteer of the Year honor funded by United Way.

Other nominees being recognized this year include:

Anne Billingsley has been an integral part of the administrative office at Hospice of the Carolina Foothills since 2007, where she has logged more than 1,000 hours of service. She is a retired registered nurse and that knowledge helps in the medical records department where she serves. She works with bereavement charts and assembles social work, Hospice House and admissions packets.

Susie Byers has been a patient/family volunteer with Hospice since February 2015, putting in 950 hours. Always willing to help, Byers will sacrifice personal time to ensure patients are cared for - whether at home, in facilities or in Hospice House. She also is an "11th Hour" volunteer, serving patients in their last 24 to 48 hours of life who may not have family or friends available.

Maureesa Gregory has volunteered with Hospice since August 2017, logging 150 hours of service in the Forest City Resale Store and in the administrative office, despite the limitations of a learning disability. At the Resale Store, Gregory would sort and hang clothes.

Ron Guffey was nominated for his work around Spencer Baptist Church in Spindale, where he enters the church office almost daily for a cup of coffee and to ask, "What needs to be done around Spencer today?" Dependable, pleasant and efficient, Guffey is an inspiration to others. During the Christmas season, his team put up and decorated more than five Christmas trees, hauling the huge trees and decorations from the basement and then taking them all down when needed.

L arry Jones serves on the weekly construction crew of Habitat for Humanity, giving nearly 350 hours in construction and repairs to the homes of low-income veterans, sharing his background as an electrician to projects and leading teams of less-skilled volunteers during special Habitat work events. When the build season ends in fall, Jones is often still at work until spring season begins again.

David Judy delivers 95 percent of the home deliveries provided by New Beginnings Soup Kitchen, an estimated 54 meals per week, driving about 25 miles with 20-plus stops - delivering meals to those who can't drive to the soup kitchen with a smile and a few friendly words. If he gets to the soup kitchen and all the plates aren't ready, he jumps in to help fill plates or pack bags. There is probably no job in the soup kitchen that Judy has not done.

The Mount Vernon Baptist Men's Sunday School Class, the Fred McDaniel Class, adopted the New Beginnings Soup Kitchen 15 years ago, signing up to provide a meal once a quarter but stepping up whenever there is a missing slot no one signed up for - usually two or three extra meals. Not only do they do the physical work associated with providing about 500 meals per week - from set up to clean up - but they often provide funding.

PNC Bank volunteers have been instrumental not only in funding Habitat for Humanity's veteran repair projects, Hammerin' for Heroes, the past three years but also providing hands-on labor. PNC staff assist with registering, getting volunteers to the appropriate sites and delivering lunches. They also participated in Habitat's first Cancer Awareness Build, helping construct a ramp for a senior woman recovering from breast cancer surgery, and Habitat's annual Women Build events.

Joyce J. Pressley volunteers 20 hours a week at Basics Christian Ministries in Henrietta, helping the ministry feed and clothe about 1,000 neighbors in need each month. For the entire five years that Basics has existed, Pressley has worked tirelessly day and night welcoming clients, filling food boxes, working in the thrift store, going through donations and generally being a key part of the organization.

Karen Snyder is the most experienced foster parent at Heart of the Foothills Animal Rescue, where she fostered 69 homeless cats and dogs, including some of the most critically ill. Snyder volunteers 30 hours a week scheduling and transporting to and from vet appointments, charting medical records, filling medications, reporting to the clinic veterinarian, organizing spay/neuter clinics, calling microchip companies to reunite lost pets with their families and many other things.

Wayne Webb not only serves on the weekly construction crew for Habitat for Humanity but also serves on the board, helped remodel Habitat's second ReStore and leads youth groups to assist with landscaping and grounds maintenance. Webb is noted for his sunny disposition and can-do attitude. He also leads groups from First Baptist Church Forest City, including youth, on international mission trips, where they have built bed frames, roofed a house and assisted with other general construction.

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