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First lady awards 'Volunteers of the Year'

Juneau woman among honorees at Governor's Mansion

Posted: May 12, 2013 - 12:06am
During a ceremony in her honor in May 2012, Earline Smith receives a hug from a youth at the Johnson Youth Center after retiring from 21 years of volunteering at the center. Smith was one of seven people honored by First Lady Sandy Parnell as Volunteers of the Year Friday.  Michael Penn / Juneau Empire
Michael Penn / Juneau Empire
During a ceremony in her honor in May 2012, Earline Smith receives a hug from a youth at the Johnson Youth Center after retiring from 21 years of volunteering at the center. Smith was one of seven people honored by First Lady Sandy Parnell as Volunteers of the Year Friday.

Individuals from across the state, including a 92-year-old Juneau woman who recently retired from more than two decades of regular volunteering at Johnson Youth Center, were guests of honor at the Governor’s Mansion Friday, where they were honored by Alaska’s first lady as “Volunteers of the Year.”

Earline Smith and six others, including a volunteer firefighter and an Alaska State Trooper who provides clothing to homeless children, had a luncheon in their honor and were recognized at a small ceremony in the ballroom of the gubernatorial residence in downtown Juneau.

Smith said it was “wonderful” to be honored by first lady Sandy Parnell at the Governor’s Mansion.

“I didn’t know what it was,” said Smith of the luncheon and ceremony. “I hadn’t done this before, so I didn’t know what to expect. And I’m more than pleased with it — hell, I’m happy.”

When she was 70 years old, Smith began volunteering regularly at Johnson Youth Center, coming in nearly every Wednesday for 21 years with bags of cookies for the students.

“I did different things,” Smith said. “Sometimes I’d tutor kids. Sometimes I taught them how to play a smart game of dominoes.”

According to Smith and Johnson Youth Center teacher Jo Dahl, who nominated Smith for the award, Smith had a slick ride to the event: a red convertible sports car.

At the Governor’s Mansion, Laurie Herman, a member of the executive committee that selected the seven award recipients from among the nominees, served as master of ceremonies.

“This day and this ceremony are for you, to in some small way express our appreciation and gratitude of all Alaskans for their heroic efforts on behalf of our people,” Herman told the honorees.

According to Herman, a list of more than 100 nominees from across Alaska was winnowed down to seven by the executive committee.

Gov. Sean Parnell also offered brief remarks at the ceremony before his wife Sandy presented the awards.

“I had the chance to hear from you at lunchtime and to hear about your heart and passion for people, whether it was feeding homeless youth on the street, or whether it’s coaching youth on the field, whether it’s preparing a community for disaster — all manner of volunteerism are represented today — whether you are stepping into the lives of young people in a youth detention center, you are pouring yourselves out for others,” said Gov. Parnell. “And that is what we want to honor today and give thanks for.”

Sandy Parnell grew emotional as she presented the awards, appearing to tear up as she spoke about Fairbanks Youth Facility volunteer Patricia Myers’ work on behalf of students there.

“Pat visits weekly to provide support and encouragement. She regularly mentors and leads students toward transformation and personal development, and she will often visit on holidays, bearing small gifts and cards. For many students detained at the youth facility, receiving a gift or a card is a completely new experience,” said Sandy Parnell. “Can you imagine how significant it is to have someone remember you if you’re a youth in a very difficult situation?”

The first lady praised each of the award recipients, concluding with Smith, whom she said not only taught students how to play dominoes, but also instilled skills and values in them.

“What she was really teaching them was math, good sportsmanship, fair play, respect for elders, manners and game strategy,” Sandy Parnell said. She added, “JYC staff estimates she has positively impacted more than 5,000 kids. Imagine what a difference she has made for the greater community because of her selfless devotion.”

In addition to Smith and Myers, honored for volunteering at youth detention and educational facilities in their respective communities of Juneau and Fairbanks, others awarded Friday were Anchorage architect Steve Fishback, who volunteers his time to help design and build summer camp facilities; William Gaines, a football coach at the Boys and Girls Club of Anchorage; Richard Groff, a longtime volunteer firefighter who coordinated the response to a massive snowstorm in Cordova last winter; Robyn Rehmann, an Anchorage teacher who assists homeless and disabled people in the state’s largest city; and Terrence T. Jason Shanigan, a State Trooper in Anchorage who gives to the homeless while off duty.

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

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