2021 Volunteer Recognition


Click here to view the celebration



Congratulations to all the winners!

At its annual volunteer recognition event on April 21, 2021, the Capital Area United Way honored 11 individuals and one company for giving thousands of volunteer hours to local organizations and nonprofits to help them provide valuable services to our community.  The winners are:


Dr. L. Robert McConnell and Andrea Rodriguez

Dr. L. Robert McConnell (Bob) has been selected to receive this year’s Walter A. Campbell award by prior award winners and current board members for the top volunteer of the year award.  Bob, a retired educator and active community volunteer, is being recognized for serving on numerous committees and the board of directors from 2014 to 2020.

  • During his time on the board, he served in various capacities including:
  • Member of grant allocation panels
  • Member of the Community Investment Committee, Strategic Planning Committee, Human Resources Committee and the Governance Committee.
  • Volunteer of the Volunteer Income Tax Assistance Program
  • Additionally served in leadership roles chairing or vice-chairing committees and serving as the board secretary and chairperson of the board

Bob exemplifies the awards criteria of commitment to volunteerism, sustained service, creativity in devising new and innovative ways to accomplish the organization’s mission, and outstanding service and inspirational leadership.




Unaa Holiness, 2020 Marion Marshall Award Winnner


Delsa Chapman, Lansing School District - 2020 Corporate Partner Award Winner


Avery Grace Karber, 2020 Youth Volunteer of the Year Award Winner and Chris Tyler, Astera Credit Union


This year’s winner has contributed more than 400 volunteer hours while attending St. Johns High School. Avery was a key leader in establishing the school’s first student pantry to address food insecurities and her peers’ basic needs and helped establish Youth Action Committee chapter in St. Johns. This Action Committee will provide $20,000 in grants to local nonprofits within the next month.  She is a proven volunteer, mentor, and community leader.

Albatoul Bahloul, 2020 Adult Volunteer of the Year Award Winner; Susan Porrett, Davenport University


From helping with food distribution, organizing a youth mentorship program to leading a “Kids Against Hunger” program for the Islamic Center of East Lansing and the University Lutheran Church, Albatoul is no exception.  She has donated over 250 hours last year, using her skills and talents effectively to ensure volunteer programs are well organized and highly effective.

Anne Towns Cantine, 2020 Lifetime Achievement Award Winner


Anne was one of the original board members of the organization who nominated her, the Eaton Community Palliative Care. For nearly 40 years, she not only served on the board of directors, but she also directed patient care, managed volunteers, organized fund raisers, worked in the office, and spent many hours caring for hospice patients in their homes and at the Hospice House. In fact, since 1983, she has contributed over 11,500 hours! Wow, now that is amazing!

Mary Dougherty, 2020 DeeLee Dankenbring VITA Volunteer of the Year Award Winner


Cody Jakiel, 2020 MSU VITA Volunteer of the Year Award Winner


Kylie Polhamus, 2020 Olivet College VITA Volunteer of the Year Award Winner

Toni Glasscoe, Lansing Community College; Dick Peffley, Lansing Board of Water & Light, 2020 CapCAN College Access Champion Award Winner

CapCAN is delighted to recognize the Board of Water and Light for its 1st S.T.E.P. Program.  1st S.T.E.P. provides students with a work-based learning experience to obtain skills to enter the workforce after graduation.  1st S.T.E.P. has graduated nearly 150 students, hired more than 20 full time employees and awarded almost $225,000 in scholarships since 2008.

Lansing Board of Water and Light has a long partnership with Lansing Community College to connect education to career pathways in the energy industry.

Congratulations to the Lansing Board of Water and Light!


Victoria Thach, 2020 AmeriCorps College Acess Champion Award Winner; Lori Barber, Sexton High School


Victoria joins classrooms several times a week to talk about college options, financial aid, and Lansing Promise. Seniors feel very comfortable going to her for help with their college applications and FAFSA.

Lansing Sexton High School is a "Title I" school so most of our students are considered "low income" and/or "at-risk". Almost 80% of our student body is part of the "underrepresented population". For the Class of 2020, she made sure almost every senior had applied to at least one college. She was also recognized in the Spring of 2020 as part of the Governor's FAFSA Challenge. With her help, Sexton HS had the highest FAFSA completion rate in the "Capital Region".

As an alumna of Sexton and a first generation college student, Victoria knows better than anyone how to connect to our students to encourage them to make their postsecondary Dreams become a reality.

Congratulations, Victoria!


2020 Volunteer of the Year Nominees

Ceci Bordayo

Nominated by Melinda Mendoza

Ceci Bordayo is the founder and CEO of Pass It On Community Center. What makes her eligible to be considered is her outstanding dedication to volunteerism in 2020. She went above and beyond to make sure that families had access to food during the pandemic, provided school assistance and education for children ages 3-12, she offered hope to many families who experienced a job loss. In 2020 some of the services and activities she volunteered for were: helping to clean up downtown Lansing after the riots; provided boxed meals to over 50 families a week March through April; wrote over 30 mini songs to promote the support of local businesses helping to bring in revenue; she opened up a virtual school assistance program for kids ages 3-12, hosted Hope for the Holidays a three weekend Christmas giveaway that provided free Christmas presents to over 500 children and as well as household items and food to their families. The most impactful project Ceci brought to our community was through the virtual school assistance program. CeCi’s heart is to bring forth positive change, especially for kids. Through the program, we saw kids go from not identifying letters to beginning a new reading level. Parents can work full time because their kids have a safe space to go to continue their education! If I had to guess how many hours Ceci donated to her community, church, and the City of Lansing, it would be in the thousands.




Priscilla Bordayo

Nominated by Elda Bordayo and Brigitte Brown, Pastor-River of Life Church

My daughter, has been a volunteer advocate for the 6 years. She has given to victims, who have been sexually abused, more hours than I can count. From the day times to in the middle of the night calls she’s always quick to respond. She has worked for EVE locally, and Crimes Survivor for Safety and Justice, nationally to help victims overcome the abuse they have endured. The change she helps the victims create is life changing. They go from victims to victors through her mentorship and advocacy work. She also became the director of River Academy, childcare for essential workers for free!

Priscilla is well known for her advocacy for those who have been sexually abused. She works for EVE & Sparrow and during this pandemic she has taken on so many sexual assault & domestic violence cases, as the numbers have risen. She has helped so many families and individuals get the help, advice, counseling and rehabilitation they need in order to start their recovery process. Most people don’t see the behind the scenes and what it takes to be an advocate, as one of her bosses, I know that in one day, she responded to three cases, all involving children. She deserves to be recognized for loving her community the way she does. Helping heal, one person and one family at a time.


Brigitte Brown

Nominated by Margaret Dionise, Jasmine Hines, Ludie Jones, Deborah Lincoln, Mariyah Moore, Priscilla Bordayo and Sydney Parkinson

Pastor Brigitte is such a caring person and always looking for ways to help others. She has a heart of gold and allows God to lead her. Bridget and her husband Jesse Brown are the Pastors of Rivers of Life Church. Bridget often puts her congregation and their needs first. She has a passion for helping women become the best version of themselves. Her love for the Lord and others shows through the events she puts on to give back to the community. My children and I have benefited from her compassion. She is most deserving of the award for Volunteer of the Year.

Pastor Brigitte Brown has provided many services to her congregation and community but one that stands out is the courageous act of providing free day-care and meals for children of first responders at the onset of the COVID pandemic.  Pastor Brigitte opened up Rivers Of Life Church as a day-care center.  She provided free transportation to and from the center and free meals and snacks for workers and children.   All finances and efforts were on a volunteer basis, with no costs passed on to those who needed the services.  She is one of the most sincere, humble, and selfless people I know.  She has devoted her entire life to bettering the lives of others and continues to do so daily.

Pastor Brigitte is such a caring person and always looking for ways to help others. She has a heart of gold and allows God to lead her. Bridget and her husband Jesse Brown are the Pastors of Rivers of Life Church. Bridget often puts her congregation and their needs first. She has a passion for helping women become the best version of themselves. Her love for the Lord and others shows through the events she puts on to give back to the community. My children and I have benefited from her compassion. She is most deserving of the award for Volunteer of the Year.

Pastor Brigitte Brown has served in the Lansing area for over 30 years. She is an amazing, caring, loving, heartfelt  Christian woman. Her service is always to help others in the community, especially her church family. Pastor Bridget opened Rivers Of Life church to support essential care workers in our community so that their children had a safe Christian school-orientated safe haven. Pastor Bridget is always available for any community services, from helping victims get help with housing, food resources, or just financially. She has been an advocate for Abuse victims and guides them to the right places for assistance. Once a year, Pastor Brigette advocates and helps run  Bounce Back-to-School basketball camp at Waverly High School for underprivileged children. Pastor Brigette is my number one choice for Volunteer of the Year.

Pastor Brigitte Brown goes above and beyond every single day for everyone. She does not have one bad bone in her body. She helps people pay their bills, prays for people, opens up our church for essential workers to have daycare, she speaks life to everyone she meets. She deserves to be honored as Volunteer of the Year more than anyone I know.

Brigitte Brown is an advocate for ALL women! She's passionate about helping them reach their full potential. During Covid-she has provided coffee times for those struggling with depression. She provides mentoring and encouraging counsel. Many women in the area are thankful for her Godly and inspirational counsel. She also opened up her facility to provide childcare/tutoring and education space for essential workers. The moment the pandemic hit, so many working parents, especially single parents, lost their childcare services. Some families relied on food from the school system, and others relied on school for their kids' education. Pastor Brigitte opened up her facilities at Rivers Of Life church, where at least 50 students have come through. She provided teacher assistance and tutors for students who needed help with online learning. She expanded WiFi, provided pick up and drop off meals for families in need. For six months, she offered free childcare for essential workers. Still, today she gives kids the space to learn and get ahead in their schooling. Teachers and school districts have partnered with the church to ensure all of the kids are thriving. They have kept things orderly, clean and have not had any issues with covid. We are pleased to say they at River Academy; students have an A/ B average.

Pastor Brigitte has shown me in so many ways how important it is to serve our community and how even the smallest acts of kindness can make a big difference. When COVID started, she opened up our church as a free daycare with our youth leaders for essential workers who still had to work, but everywhere else was closed down. She provided help the kids needed with school, countless meals, and a crazy amount of hours. But you could tell, she loved every minute. She has helped the community by paying people’s bills and helping to give coats to the homeless in the winter. She has offered herself as a mentor and counselor to people in need. She is always encouraging people to serve the community with her. She’s always been a true inspiration to me and so many others for the years I’ve known her. I couldn’t think of anyone more deserving of the Volunteer of the Year award.


Audra Ellis

Nominated by Teena Rairigh


Audra Ellis owns Junk in the Trunk, and they handle cleanouts throughout the Greater Lansing area. Audra doesn't just run her business but gives daily to individuals, organizations, and continuous recycling. Her quest is that items do not land in a landfill but instead get new homes, reuses, or are recycled. This is not a small quest as she spends approximately 15 hours weekly sorting, donating, and taking items to the recycling facilities. They saved 2.98 acres of trash from going to landfills in 2020 in the middle of a pandemic. Donations are provided to local organizations, charities, and individuals. She is donating roughly 5-6k monthly in charitable donations through her business. She also supports local businesses with monthly drawings where she purchases gift cards, generally $100-$150.


Jeff Fett

Nominated by Emily Blaquiere

Child and Family Charities

Mr. Jeff Fett has been serving the Mid Michigan community through his volunteerism for many, many years. Jeff is a longtime volunteer for Child and Family Charites and is always taking the  initiative to seek new and creative ways he can help the agency spread our mission and serve more individuals. As the marketing director for America’s Preferred Home Warranty, one of       Child and Family Charities’ major corporate donors, Jeff has taken a hands on approach to the philanthropic culture rooted in his workplace. Jeff has personally become a champion for the    agency. In addition to his volunteer work with Child and Family Charities, Jeff has also been a  Big Brother through the Big Brothers Big Sisters Capital Region program, volunteered for Relayfor Life, restarted the Lansing Area Chapter of the National Stuttering Association (later to take over regionally), and served on the Board of Directors for the Michigan Disability Rights  Coalition.


Janell Kebler

Nominated by Janell Kebler


Janell, a 2020 first-year member of the Clinton County Arts Council Events Committee, organized and implemented the Chocolate Walk event; this new event raised over $6,500.00 for the council. The event took place during the pandemic, and COVID 19 safety measures were in place. The Chocolate Walk will now be an annual event on the first Friday in October. Overall, Janell volunteered about 25 hours for this event. For 2021, Janell is now the chairperson of the CCAC Events Committee.


Jane Johnson

Nominated by Carmen Hall
Habitat for Humanity Capital Region

Volunteering is at the heart of Habitat for Humanity Capital Regions work. Volunteers are key partners who invest their time and talent in Habitat's mission to build homes, communities and hope. Jane came to volunteer with Habitat Capital Region in 1998 when she retired. She has been a weekly volunteer on our Ramp Crew, who build accessibility ramps for individuals in our community with mobility issues and she organized her quilting guild to make quilts for new Habitat homebuyers when they move into their homes.


Katherine Johnson

Nominated by Teyei Pam
The Davis Project


In the capacity of a volunteer, Katharine Johnson does a lot for The Davies Project, especially regarding driving families for their child's medical appointments and moderating/ facilitating volunteer driver's onboarding training sessions. She stepped in without hesitation to help when we had to move the training to zoom and fills in as many drives as possible. She volunteers with other organizations such as Meals on Wheels and has not hesitated to drive and help out during this pandemic. She is always willing to and offers to help where needed.


L. Robert McConnell

Nominated by Gerald Coffin and Ken Slater

Bob McConnell has compiled an extensive list of volunteer activities since his retirement. However, my nomination is being made based upon his 12 years of service on the Eaton County Parks and Recreation Commission which ended in 2020. During the past nine years, he has annually been selected as its chairperson, reflecting his peer's high regard for his leadership skills. My organization, the Friends of Eaton County Parks, has worked closely with the Park Commission and has had extensive opportunities to work with Bob over the time he was chair.

Bob McConnell has made volunteerism a part of who he is. He has volunteered for numerous organizations in our community for decades. He has provided leadership to these organizations and has been steadfast in his commitment to serving others. I know of very few other people who have volunteered for so many organizations for so long. It is both the depth and breadth of his volunteer efforts that qualify him for this award.


Paul Schmidt

 Nominated By Emily Blauiere

Child and Family Charities

Mr. Paul Schmidt is a master storyteller who truly loves his community. When the pandemic hit  in 2020, many of us were completely lost on how to navigate this new “virtual” world. Child and Family Charities, like many nonprofits, was left wondering how we were going to fundraise to    support our crucial programs in the community and the rapidly growing number of families we   serve. The idea of hosting virtual meetings and events that were actually successful seemed to be impossible, but Paul helped us make it happen. Paul’s skillset directly aligned with our  changing needs and his willingness to volunteer his time and share his expertise became an invaluable asset to the agency.


Erika Shinno

Nominated by Renee Brown
MSU Center for Community Engaged Learning

Erika fits the role 2020 Volunteer of the Year in more ways than one.  Erika has dedicated 351 hours during the global pandemic this past year to serve her community. This task has been extremely difficult for those involved in service work, as all opportunities were put to rest at the beginning of the pandemic. But, that did not stop Erika. Because she is passionate about serving her community, she searched for meaningful virtual opportunities. While she did this, her educational career did not slow down. Erika is an Honors student in the MSU College of Natural Sciences. Erika has proven to be a model citizen, student, and volunteer.


Brien Simpson

Nominated by Tracie Yurkinas

Hospice of Lansing

Brien as been an assest to Hospice of Lansing and Ionia Area Hospice for years.  His passion for helping others is evident.   Brien dedicated himself to visiting a patient weekly for two years.  When Brien saw this specific patient, he wheeled him around the facility he was at, played countless hours of checkers, and visited the patient through the window when Covid hit. He never gave up or missed a week.  


Kevin Smith

Nominated by Teyei Pam

The Davis Project

Kevin Smith is more than a volunteer driver at The Davies Project. Besides driving families for their child's medical appointments, Kevin is always willing to help in the office when needed—always giving his time and expertise as long as it makes someone or a situation better. He is kind, gentle and caring, considerate, and always willing to offer help where and when needed.


Jenny Thurber

Nominated by Susan Porrett

Davenport University

Volunteering and serving others comes naturally for Jenny. She always has time in her already busy schedule to give back to others, but most importantly, she inspires, mentors, and teaches others to give back. Everyday she makes a difference in someone's life by the way she treats others with a calming voice and tremendous empathy toward others. This year was very challenging times for our students and Jenny was there for our students with a listening ear and the ability to assist them with kindness and understanding. She went out of her way to advocate for resources and to be able to meet their needs as they navigated in these challenging times. She is a fantastic listener and when you are in her presence, you know that you have her undivided attention. With these important characteristics, she is able to give others hope. Volunteering is in her wheelhouse by participating, developing, coordinating, and leading others in the many volunteer initiatives internally at DU and externally within our community.


Raj Weiner

Nominated by Narda Murphy

Raj is the most selfless, humble, and dedicated person I know. She is the very definition of a Volunteer of the Year. She serves on many committees and boards in her community (i.e., MSU, Saginaw Valley State, Sparrow Health System, Lansing Regional Sister Cities Commission). Although retired, her experiences as an attorney and as Director of MI Department of Public Health have been essential to her contributions to serving others.  Some examples: she organized and implemented the making and distribution of face masks;  an awareness campaign; she led efforts to provide and distribute learning materials to students; delivered food to families for the local Food Bank; helped supply and maintain the Blessing Box; held a Teacher Appreciation event in Williamston and two neighboring districts to thank teachers for their dedication during these extraordinary times; helped individuals schedule their COVID-19 vaccinations; organized an MLK Jr. event that included an opportunity for community members to honor loved ones who lost their lives to COVID; she was instrumental in the "Duck Safari," a scavenger hunt organized for families. Before COVID, Raj organized, prepared, and delivered evening meals to Haven House and helped Open Table, which is sponsored by her church.  


Dr. Timothy J. Zielinski, DDS

Nominated by Amber Moe
Care Free Medical Clinic

Dr. Zielinski is a qualified nominee for this award because of his long record of volunteerism in our community. Dr. Zielinski has been a longtime volunteer in the Dental Clinic at Care Free Medical, a nonprofit committed to providing high-quality low-cost care to the uninsured and underinsured. He sees patients who would otherwise not have access to dental care, many of whom are people receiving routine dental care for the first time in their life. For many, dental care is still not accessible even with the changes in healthcare laws and without insurance, choose to forgo critical routine dental care. The outcome is serious and sometimes deadly.


Mara Zile

Nominated by Penny Myers
Capital Area Humane Society

Mara was one of our essential volunteers in 2020. Due to COVID, we had to supsend our volunteer program, and limit the amount of volunteers from 1,200 to 10. Mara was at the shelter when many of our staff were laid off, due to state mandates. She stepped up to the plate and worked even harder to ensure that all of our dogs were walked, excerised, and provided socialization and enrichment every day. Mara did not let the fear of COVID keep her away from coming to the shelter to volunteer.


Annie Garcia

Nominated by Tracy Russman
Capital Region Community Foundation- YAC

Annie Garcia, a senior at Okemos High School, is very involved and engaged both at school and in her community. She is such an enthusiastic person with incredible dedication to philanthropy and serving the community! Her positive energy influences those around her and leads to awesome activities, discussions and mentoring. She has accumulated an impressive list of volunteer activities and sincerely cares about making a difference in the world. And all this is in addition to maintaining a 4.0 GPA since 7th grade!  

In her own words: ""I'm extremely passionate about helping others and being the best version of myself that I can be!""
- Annie Garcia"


Avery Grace Karber

Nominated by Kari Simon-Peters
St. Johns High School

Avery Grace Karber is the model candidate for the Capital Area United Way Youth Volunteer of the Year. Avery exemplifies the United Way's mission to solve community problems & improve quality of life with a focus on impoverished youth. She has embraced United Way's vision to be a catalyst for change in our St. Johns Community by establishing a student pantry and our first philanthropic club to serve & lead youth. Avery has developed the previous services while practicing the United Way's values of philanthropy, inclusion & education.


Anne Towns Cantine

Nominated by Margaret Kyser
Eaton  Community Palliative Care

Anne Towns Cantine has spent many years volunteering. She was one of the original hospice board members going back to 1983. During these nearly 40 years, she has not only served on the hospice/palliative care board of directors, she has directed patient care, managed volunteers, organized fund raisers, worked in the office and spent many hours caring for hospice patients in their homes and at the Hospice House.


Dr. L. Robert McConnell

Nominated by Rev. Lila R. Martin
Trinity AME Church

Dr. McConnell has been a member of Trinity all his life and has served the church in many capacities from his youth until now. He is also a teacher . Dr. McConnell's work ethics and faithfulness has greatly impacted many young people in the church and community. He is sought after for advice, guidance and example. Dr. McConnell is acknowledged and very highly spoken of by those he has touched. When young people seek you out and encourages others to do the same that is a great testament to your character and the impact you had on their lives.


Ron O'Connor

Nominated by Sallie Campbell
Lansing First Presbyterian Church

Ron has been a dedicated volunteer, serving others for most of his life (Ron is in his eighties). Ron was a significant influence in moving the original First Presbyterian Church (FPC) pantry from a small closet organization to its current operation, which serves over 6,000 people per year. Ron continues to be willing to work to address food disparities across the City of Lansing, reaching out far beyond the original borders of the designated geographical boundaries for service to others while still following the rules of the Greater Lansing Food Bank. Ron's passion for seeing that nobody goes hungry is what motivates him in his work.