Four nominated for 2013 volunteer of the year

Community will choose whom to honor


Last updated 12/30/2013 at 1:15pm

Four individuals with records of service to the community have been nominated for the annual volunteer of the year honor, and the community will now choose.

It could be a difficult choice, but the one chosen will ultimately serve as an example, as do all nominees, of how individuals can follow an ideal, a philosophy of helping others.

Jerry Birdwell, Heather Downs, Fern Blaylock and Jan Erickson each have passionate supporters who appreciate their good work in the community. Their letters nominating these individuals have all been published in The Star’s letters section and will appear again at the end of this story in the online edition at

The selection will be made by the community. That can be done with a slip of signed paper delivered to The Star, or via an online poll at, near the top of the right hand column on our homepage.

Coulee Medical Center ER and Walk-In Care

You can drop a signed slip of paper at our office at 3 Midway Ave. in Grand Coulee, or mail one to P.O. Box 150, Grand Coulee, WA. 99133.

Your choices will be accepted until Jan. 8.

The Star will announce the the honoree in the Jan. 15, 2014, issue.

Birdwell for volunteer of year

I would like to nominate Jerry Birdwell for 2013 Volunteer of the Year. Jerry has stepped up far beyond the call of duty to help keep the Banks Lake Golf Course open for the community this past year.

Day after day, as the golfers hit the course, Jerry was at the course with his own truck, his own chain saw, his own tools working on the sprinklers system. Some times you could see Jerry’s truck, and finally you would see Jerry’s head pop out of the hole he had dug to find and repair a leak in the system.

Right after the several wind storms, Jerry was one of the first out with his chainsaw to clean up the course.

This volunteer is one of those people that the general citizens do not see every day volunteering but has spent hours and hours and his own money and time for the good of the Banks Lake Golf Course and community.

Hats off to Jerry, and we the golfers are asking for your vote for Jerry.

Birdie and Lowell Hensley

Golfer and Volunteer

Birdwell for volunteer honor

I would like to nominate Jerry Birdwell for Volunteer of the Year.

When the call went out for volunteers needed to keep the Banks Lake Golf Course open, Jerry was one of the first in line. He has worked tirelessly repairing and maintaining the water system, the electrical problems, as well as mowing and anything else that needed attention.

Jerry is the “go to” guy when things need fixing. No job is too big or too small, and he sticks to the task until the problem is solved. He doesn’t need a committee before tackling the job.

Jerry Birdwell is the epitome of “A good deed is one that you do even when no one is looking.” I nominate him for Volunteer of the Year … Any Year … Every Year.

Betty Davis

Fern Blaylock for volunteer of the year

We are nominating Fern Blaylock as a belated acknowledgement of the countless hours she serves our communities with her support of the local food bank, the needy, and the students in our schools. Fern is the inveterate volunteer, helping people of all ages in our area.

Fern has managed the Grand Coulee Dam Area Food Bank for the past 12 years. During that time she has overseen a large growth in families served each week. When she started, the Food Bank served about 10 families with a few items, and now serves up to 160 with several bags. That means she has had to supervise the corresponding increase in volume of donations, commodities, storage, and equipment. She also supervises the volunteers from the community and the Coulee Dam Area Ministerial Association, who pick up, stock, bag, distribute, and deliver from the various sources to the recipients, throughout the year. In order to do this, Fern has to coordinate with various food programs and participate in regional food bank associations. That means keeping up with ever changing government rules and regulations. Her former business and government work experience is an asset for dealing with the various agencies. Locals requiring community service time can count on Fern to provide them work and supervision. Although Fern sometimes receives a pittance for her job at the food bank, she works countless hours over and above what is required, despite physical limitations and pain.

Through the Grand Coulee Dam Area Charities (a community of churches), Fern manages a funding and referral process to help the needy in our communities with such things as: food, clothing, utility bills, housing deposits, gas, or even a hot meal or warm place to spend the night.

Fern has volunteered for the children of the Grand Coulee Dam School District for more than a decade. She has worked with all grade levels from kindergarten to seniors in high school. She has tutored students in reading, math, and writing. She has supported and volunteered in the PTA, Americorp, and SHARP Kids programs and most recently the Colville Tribal Foster Grandparent Program. As a school mentor, she helps struggling students and those needing to fulfill their community service requirements. She has even ridden the morning and afternoon buses to help supervise and reinforce safety and student compliance to the bus rules.

As a Foster Grandparent volunteer, Fern has spent the last six years working with the kindergarten class in the morning and the first-grade class in the afternoon. She tutors and helps students complete their work, and individually tests them in order to help teachers monitor progress. Fern is known by all the kids in the school and many call her “Grandma Fern.”

The Tribal Foster Grandparent Program nominated Fern for a Washington State Volunteer Service Award. On April 25, in recognition of the 2013 Volunteer Appreciation Week, Governor Jay Inslee presented her with one of 44 awards during

the Ninth Annual Governor’s Volunteer Service Awards at the governor’s mansion in Olympia.

Fern is truly a treasure who does all she does because she loves people and children and wants them to have the best in life. For many area students and teachers, Fern is their “Volunteer of the Year” every day, and they love her.

Thank you, Fern, for all the people you help!

Kevin Lind, Jan Erickson, Mary Jane Bailey

Heather Downs for volunteer of year

I would like to nominate Heather Downs for the Volunteer of the Year award.

Heather has her hands in many different organizations and has been helpful to many different people in many different ways throughout this last year.

Heather runs the local pageant program for girls and boys from the ages of 0 to 18. This youth activity program runs all year long and helps teach these kids that their shape and style is okay (without makeup) and not to be ashamed of it no matter what the media says. In this program she is also helping these young girls and boys become proper young ladies and graceful young gentlemen and helps them to achieve their goals. This program also goes out into the community and volunteers to help others and does fundraisers.

Heather also is a big part of the Horse Rescue program that started this year. She helps take in horses that have been physically and/or mentally abused and gives them good homes so that they can learn to trust again. She has partnered up with the school district to have troubled kids and those that have learning disabilities be able to come to the horse rescue and be a part of it so that they can help each other heal and build a relationship with these amazing animals. I have seen Heather and her husband, Eli, travel hours to get a horse pen using their own vehicles and their own gas so that a horse that needed rescued immediately had a home of its own. Heather goes to the horse rescue each and every day to feed, water and brush these horses so that they are taken care of no matter the weather conditions or events that may happen day to day.

Heather also has had a big influence in the new roller derby team called the Grand Coulee Derby Dames that also started this last year. Heather has been so helpful in this nonprofit organization with her knowledge of the business end of what is required and needed to be maintained for the Derby Dames to keep their nonprofit title. Heather comes to each practice ready to push all the other girls to work and better themselves. She leaves her everyday life and the things that come with it at the door and is ready to practice and be a part of the team each and every day.

Heather also is one of the founding parents for the newest group in the area called Parents for Change. This group is for parents of children in the local school district to be able to come together and communicate regarding issues that are happening in the schools that they feel are not being handled properly. In this group Heather has been at the forefront to get parents to be more involved in the schools and has been encouraging parents to volunteer to help fix the issues and work with school officials. She has already helped by conducting a meeting for the parents to come together and has already gotten so many more parents involved in the schools and their children's education in less then a month of this group being started.

Heather also does personal volunteering such as posting on the local facebook feeds about an abandoned dog (Maggie May) that needed a home. She found a foster home, which ended up not working out but was not disheartened and gave Maggie May a home until she found a permanent foster home that would work with Maggie May and give her the love and understanding she needed. Heather still does check ups on Maggie May and makes sure she is doing okay in this new family.

What many people do not know is that Heather has a lot of people who call her personal phone and are very upset about many different issues, in which Heather mediates these things on a personal basis and figures out a solution, such as the instance with Maggie May. Something else that many people do not know is that Heather had a life threatening medical condition happen this year that caused her to be rushed into surgery and fight for her life. She did not slow down nor pass off her volunteer responsibilities to others while she was healing. She has such a love and passion for the things that she volunteers with that she could not just let her responsibilities go. Another thing many people do not know is that Heather has four children, two of whom are not in school. That means that she takes them with her everywhere she goes, which means that they are as involved as she is within the community.

On a personal note, Heather has helped me and my family a lot these last couple of months. When Heather learnt that I had lost my job she was at my doorstep ringing my door bell with food in her hands asking if there was anything else I needed help with. She has been a great shoulder to lean on and has helped my family very much, especially when I came to her freaking out about my bills and such. She helped me and my family so much by advising me of where to look for help and for work.

A simple thank you is not enough to show the gratitude of my family and for the positive changes that Heather has had an impact on in this community. For these reasons I believe that Heather should receive the award of Volunteer of Year.

Randi Hagen

Jan Erickson for volunteer of the year

I would like to nominate Jan (Bonamici) Erickson for volunteer of the year. I realize that because she is a teacher many see what she does as part of her job, but it goes far beyond that.

I have known Jan since 1985, as a volunteer in her classroom, then co-worker for many years.

I know she is a totally dedicated teacher, but she also spends untold amounts of her own money on extra materials, prizes etc. each and every year to make learning more interesting, meaningful and fun.

She buys foods and many other things that fit into the curriculum — one example: she doesn’t just bring Hawaii to the classroom, it becomes Hawaii, with stations that show or allow hands-on experience with volcanos, fish and wildlife, native dress, dances and music, and serves things like kiwi, pineapple and coconuts.

Jan often voluntarily takes special needs students as part of her class, out of love and caring.

You can ask any of the staff of Center elementary and past staff of Wright Elementary how many extra, unpaid hours Jan spends preparing her classroom with new stations, new décor and surprises. People who knew her car and now her truck can tell you that it is common to see her vehicle at the school until 5 or 6 p.m. while she is doing extras for her class.

She asks nothing in return except for her students to learn in an environment that is exciting, special, ever changing and fun.

Even through illness and recovery, and with a substitute teacher, her students knew that their real teacher was Mrs. E. They loved her (my granddaughter was in that class).

Jan has also led singalong, playing her guitar for many years.

Jan would want no recognition for all she does, but I believe that she deserves it after over 30 years of going so far beyond what is expected of a teacher!

Carol Schoning


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