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Longtime Johnson Youth Center volunteer receives award

Earline Smith among Alaska first lady Sandy Parnell's Volunteers of the Year

Posted: April 24, 2013 - 7:32pm  |  Updated: April 25, 2013 - 12:10am

A Juneau woman is among seven people being honored by Alaska’s first lady as 2013 Volunteers of the Year, Gov. Sean Parnell’s office announced Tuesday.

Sandy Parnell is recognizing Earline Smith, 92, for her 21 years of volunteering at Johnson Youth Center, the youth detention, treatment and education facility near Bartlett Regional Hospital.

“I’m speechless,” said Smith, reacting to the news Wednesday.

Smith was nominated for the award by Jo Dahl, a teacher at the youth center.

“She’s like a grandma here to all these boys,” Dahl said. She added, “She’s just an amazing lady with such a big heart.”

Smith came in every Wednesday for a few hours to play dominoes with the students at Johnson Youth Center until her “second retirement” at the end of the school year last spring, Dahl said.

Playing dominoes with the students “taught them social skills and fair play and math and strategy,” said Dahl.

“(Smith) would go to the grocery store and bring in two huge shopping bags of cookies,” Dahl added. “She was always gifting the staff and the teachers, too.”

Dahl said that students looked forward to “Miss Earline time,” and knowing that she was coming on Wednesday served as an incentive for them to be on their best behavior and do well in school.

“The students knew that on Wednesdays, if they weren’t in good standing with school, there would be no domino time — which would mean no cookie time,” Dahl said.

Although Smith has officially retired as a weekly volunteer, Dahl said she still comes in “every six or seven weeks … just to visit.”

“I just enjoy it,” said Smith. “I like working with kids that age, and it’s just fun. They’re wonderful. They have such great ideas and so many hopes for the future, and they’re just fun to be around.”

Smith added, “I don’t know about their personal lives. I just know that they’re there and they’re fun to be with.”

Tuesday’s announcement from Gov. Parnell’s office stated that the Volunteer of the Year honors are “awarded to those who engage in volunteer activities within Alaska, show remarkable personal commitment to long-term volunteer service, or have made a substantial impact on their community or the state.”

In the news release, Sandy Parnell was quoted as saying, “It is an honor to continue this exceptional tradition that recognizes citizens who have given their time and talent to help others. Our state is blessed to have so many Alaskans dedicated to helping their communities, fellow citizens, and encouraging others in volunteerism.”

Smith and the other six honorees will be recognized with a luncheon May 10. Both Smith and Dahl said they plan to attend.

Contact reporter Mark D. Miller at 523-2279 or at mark.d.miller@juneauempire.com.

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