Volunteer: Inesha Premaratne (Richmond)
Inesha Premaratne is a 16-year-old student at Henrico High School and founder of the club, “Roots Before Branches.” The summer between her freshman and sophomore years, Inesha saw an unused piece of land on the school campus and created a service opportunity by planting a garden to support a nationwide effort known as Plant-A-Row for the Hungry (PAR). Inesha successfully maintained the garden by herself for more than a year – planting, watering and weeding over the course of an entire gardening season. Because the plot of land she found was never intended for garden usage, she had to, quite literally, build the garden from scratch. She built beds, enriched the soil, spread fertilizer, and pulled weeds. The funds for all of this came from her own pocket. She alone harvested and transported the vegetables from the first garden. In order to sustain the garden after she graduated, she founded the “Roots Before Branches” Club. She leads by example, always present at every gardening event, encouraging and cajoling gardening hopefuls. Inesha’s plot has produced 31 pounds of produce (kale, tomatoes, salad leaves, squash and peas) for the Central Virginia Food Bank. Over the course of the gardening season, it is not uncommon for her to spend an average of two to three hours daily planting, tending and harvesting. Inesha says she truly believes that every person can and should make a difference in the community and in the world. As the members watch the fruit of their labors – the growth of the food, its harvesting and use by the Central Virginia Food Bank- they know they have made that difference.
Senior Volunteer: James O’Neill Shaw, Jr., MD (Williamsburg)
In 1995, Dr. James Shaw identified a seriously unmet need: medical care for the nearly 160,000 low-income, uninsured residents of the Virginia Peninsula. Together with his wife, Cooka, Dr. Shaw set out to address this need by starting a free medical clinic. What began as a once-weekly operation in a borrowed church space has evolved to a full-time comprehensive medical practice in a beautiful, state-of-the-art medical facility. Lackey Free Clinic now provides a full range of health services. Recognizing that he could not meet the need alone, Dr. Shaw recruited his colleagues in the medical community and many answered the call. Today, more than 115 medical practitioners, along with 200 other volunteers, give their time and talents to the Lackey Free Clinic. In 2009, they provided more than 17,000 hours of service, allowing the clinic to provide 9,000 patient visits to uninsured, underserved patients. The reach of the clinic has expanded to provide medical and dental services to Virginians from York and James City Counties and Newport News, Poquoson and Williamsburg. Through 2009, Dr. Shaw was the clinic’s lead physician, volunteer medical director, and associate medical director. Currently, the clinic is engaged in a 6000-square foot expansion to meet its growing needs. Dr. Shaw has taken the lead in making this expansion happen. It’s been a tough fundraising environment, but Dr. Shaw has persevered to meet the clinic’s fundraising goals. He is an inspiration for his leadership, sustained commitment, and unwavering focus on the mission of the Lackey Free Clinic. As a result of his efforts, thousands of uninsured residents of the Virginia Peninsula have had access to quality, comprehensive health care that would otherwise been unavailable to them.
Community Organization: Ramp Access Made Possible by Students (R.A.M.P.S.) (Richmond)
R.A.M.P.S. is a community-service organization based in Richmond, with a noble cause. R.A.M.P.S helps develop compassionate young adults through an innovative program that works with high school and college age students. These volunteers donate their time to assemble modular wheelchair ramps for seniors and people with disabilities, who rely on a wheelchair or walker for mobility, but cannot afford a ramp to get them safely in and out of their homes. From 2005 – 2010, more than 200 student volunteers from 21 different high schools and colleges have donated nearly 2,000 hours to increasing access – and quality of life. The list of individuals asking for assistance grows every year. In three cases, caregivers no longer need to call the local rescue squad to move individuals in and out of their homes. In addition, these individuals can stay in their homes longer. Some of the ramp recipients enjoy talking with the students as they build the ramps. Many residents cry tears of joy on their first trip down their own ramp. R.A.M.P.S is innovative and collaborative in their business model. Existing social services and other nonprofit organizations avoid duplication of effort. The modular ramp system allows the used ramps to be recycled to the homes of other needy individuals. In 2009, RAMPS recycled $20,000 worth of materials, allowing them to keep pace with the demand, despite a decrease in donations. The students fundraise as part of their learning experience, contributing money for each ramp they build. Probably most unique, R.A.M.P.S encourages intergenerational discourse- a valuable lesson in return for these admirable volunteers.
Volunteer Family: Phillip R. and Barbara F. Custis (Nassawadox)
For more than 25 years, Phillip and Barbara Custis’ work to establish the Randy Custis Memorial Park has contributed enormously to the lives of thousands of Eastern Shore citizens. Through their efforts, the park has grown from an inspired idea into a 31-acre sports complex serving more than 800 children annually. Barbara and Phil have served as founders and initiators, as coaches, landscapers, fundraisers, speakers, nurturers of others, and as general “movers and shakers.” After the Custis’ nine- year-old son, Randy, was killed by a drunk driver in 1978, Phil and Barbara sought both a means of honoring his life and a positive outlet for their energies and grief. Randy had loved baseball, and his parents began to imagine a beautiful, permanent site for the game – something that the community lacked at the time. The Custis family carried their vision to nearly every local group: to churches, civic organizations, businesses, and governing bodies. Along the way, the project captured the enthusiasm and talents of the community. The park includes buildings for concessions, storage, and indoor practice. A playground for young children, fields for football, soccer, field hockey, softball, and baseball are the backdrops for friendly competition and camaraderie all year long. Structures and processes have been put in place to ensure sustainability, as younger generations of energetic parents have assumed leadership. Barbara and Phil know that others now can carry the ball. It is impossible to quantify the time that Barbara and Phil have given to the park. Ann Snyder, who nominated Mr. and Mrs. Custis for the award, summarized their efforts this way, “The boundaries of work and play, socializing, fund raising, and talent-enlisting all blur together in this labor of love which has become a treasured asset in the community.”
Adult Volunteer: Douglas Schiffman (Sperryville)
Two years ago, Doug Schiffman approached the Rappahannock Rapidan Community Services Board and Area Agency on Aging (RRCSB/AAA) with a proposal for five rural counties. He would donate his own time to establish and run a Protective Money Management Program to assist low-income seniors and people with disabilities with handling their routine finances. The program is now designated by the Social Security Administration (SSA) as an organizational Representative Payee and is sponsored at a national level by the American Association of Retired Persons (AARP). Mr. Schiffman donated start-up funds from his family foundation, and worked with SSA, AARP and the RRCSB’s case managers to establish the entire program structure. It is staffed entirely by well-trained volunteers and sponsored locally by the RRCSB/AAA. Mr. Schiffman now puts in an average of 20 hours a week as the program coordinator. In the past year, he has recruited and trained 40 volunteers who serve as Representative Payees for 29 older and disabled clients. The program manages approximately $65,000 in average monthly funds. These funds are protected and guaranteed by the AARP Foundation. The service has helped at-risk individuals make sure their bills are paid, helped with budgeting to assure that clients’ limited funds are spent appropriately, and prevented fraud and abuse from those who prey on the elderly. The program received a Best Practice award in 2009 from Virginia’s Commonwealth Council on Aging. Mr. Schiffman also has written grant applications and obtained funding from five local foundations to beef up publicity and volunteer recognition. His commitment of time, energy and personal resources has been extraordinary, and his work has literally made it possible for a significant number of vulnerable persons to continue living in the community. Family members have peace of mind, knowing that their loved ones have a trusted resource to help them with their money management needs.
Educational Institution: Kappa Pi Chapter, Alpha Phi Alpha Fraternity, Inc. (Williamsburg)
For most college students, Saturday mornings usually mean the luxury of sleeping late. But for the brothers of the Kappa Pi Chapter of Alpha Phi Alpha, Inc. at the College of William and Mary, Saturday morning means an alarm clock and three hours of intensive tutoring, motoring and caring for 35 middle- school students. As part of “Rites of Passage” based out of the Williamsburg-James City County school district, the brothers of Alpha Phi Alpha help develop curriculum and serve as mentors and teachers to the youngsters who participate. As a traditionally African American fraternity, Alpha Phi Alpha students embrace their position as role models to young male students otherwise lacking such guidance. As models of academic success, the fraternity brothers connect with the young people, encouraging them to make smart choices in school and in the neighborhood. Each Saturday morning begins with a hearty call-and-response routine, followed by calisthenics, a healthy meal, and academic workshops that give students one-on-one time with mentors. “Rites of Passage” functions as a family unit for many of the students, providing a safe place to talk through challenges faced during the week and seek advice from the college students they treat as older brothers. Targeting the interests of the students, the Alpha Phi Alpha brothers have designed workshops on Kwanzaa and hip-hop and have taken the students to basketball and football games at William and Mary. The true test has been in the higher grades – and confidence – of the kids. The mentors emphasize that “Rites of Passage” is not a “program.” Explains one William & Mary student, “It’s a way we think, talk and live, 24 hours a day, seven days a week.”
Corporation / Small Business: Martinsville Family Pharmacy (Martinsville)
In 2001, Mr. Tony Pratt, owner of Martinsville Family Pharmacy, formed a partnership with Southern Area Agency on Aging (SAAA), and a prescription assistance program was developed to meet the needs of low- income citizens in the area. While the prescription assistance program, MedAssist, is now administered by the Free Clinic of Martinsville and Henry County, Martinsville Family Pharmacy’s involvement and generosity have continued to grow. Hundreds of local citizens have benefited. Not only have Martinsville Family Pharmacy and Tony Pratt eagerly participated in getting medications to individuals who cannot afford to pay for them, they also have added a valuable component to the MedAssist Program by developing a “Return-to-Stock” database and tracking system for unused medications acquired through patient assistance programs. The Pharmacy also made it possible for MedAssist to order and dispense millions of dollars worth of medication to those in need. It is worth noting that they could have kept the thousands of dollars in handling fees, but, instead, returned all funds to MedAssist to reduce program costs. Martinsville Family Pharmacy’s commitment to helping meet the medical needs of local citizens is unprecedented. Their mission statement sums it up best: “Reaching Out to Minister to the Healthcare Needs of our Community.” Tony Pratt and the staff of Martinsville Family Pharmacy demonstrate their mission each and every day they open their doors.