The nominees at United Way HandsOn Savannah’s 36th annual Volunteer Recognition and Awards luncheon on Wednesday at Savannah Station represent some of the hardest working volunteers in our community.
They also represent 57,000 hours of service, which is considered equal to about $1,285,000.
This year’s theme was “Volunteers are Handy,” and United Way board chairman Pratt Summers welcomed the volunteers by telling them their “impact is immeasurable on our community.”
Nominations for the HandsOn Savannah awards are submitted by various community organizations in Chatham, Bryan, Effingham and Liberty counties. Winners were selected from a field of 45 nominees in five categories: Animal Advocacy, Arts and Culture, Education, Environment and Health and Human Services.
One Love Animal Rescue Volunteers won the Animal Advocacy award and the Herschel V. Jenkins Volunteer of the Year Award. That award goes to one of the winners from the five groups and includes a prize of $1,000 for One Love Animal Rescue.
Dana Bertagnolli, Karrie Bulski and Vanessa Lewallan founded the group in 2013, and all three former Chatham County Animal Control volunteers were present to accept the award. Pam Bebon, who joined the group shortly after they began, was not present, but her fellow volunteers wanted to be sure she was recognized.
“We were not even aware this award existed,” Bulski said. “We can’t believe it. What an honor.”
Last year, the young nonprofit group rescued more than 500 unclaimed dogs and cats at Chatham County Animal Control and raised more than $70,000.
“Most of the animals we get are special needs … and we pay for all their care,” Bertagnolli said. “Fundraising is the key element to allow us to fully support our pet foster families.”
The group has about 80 volunteers to foster pets, and Bertagnolli said the requirements for becoming a foster caregiver are “love, compassion and time. That’s all it takes.”
Other volunteer award winners were Art Burdett of Telfair Museums for the Arts and Culture Award; Claudia Thomas of Chatham Academy and Royce Learning Center for the Education Award; and Rick Hamilton of Keep Chatham Beautiful for the Environment Award. The Health and Human Service Award went to the Rape Crisis Volunteer Victim Advocates of the Rape Crisis Center of the Coastal Empire.
Savannah Country Day School student Emma Gibney won a $500 scholarship. The award is given in conjunction with the Global Youth Service Day Award and goes to the highest-scoring youth in honor of their service.
Gibney, who also was nominated for the education award for her work on the Teen Board at Memorial Hospital, Teen’s Hope and Horizons Savannah, volunteers through her role on the Savannah Country Day School Volunteer Council.
A new award this year was the Shirley Sessions Volunteer Administrator of the Year Award, which acknowledges the role that professional volunteer administrators play in each of the nominees’ service.
Sessions, who retired as director of HandsOn Savannah last year after 15 years of service to United Way, was on hand to present the award to Christy Fulcher of Hospice Savannah.
Sessions said the award is important because these paid administrators have to know how to engage volunteers and put them in the right places at the right time with the right people.
“They are like a human resources department for the community. … And they also have to be great cheerleaders.”
About HandsOn Savannah
HandsOn Savannah is an affiliate of the national volunteer service organization HandsOn Network and was established in 1985 to help service United Way of the Coastal Empire, which serves Bryan, Chatham, Effingham and Liberty counties.