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The Distinguished Service Awards honor community members commited to volunteer work

INDEPENDENT PHOTO: JULIA COMNES - Chamber member Bob Rhoades presented WAAST Principal Geri Federico with the Outstanding Educator award during a WAAST staff meeting on Friday morning.The Woodburn Area Chamber of Commerce announced the winners of this year's Distinguished Service Awards at the Feb. 24 Greeters meeting.

The awards honor individuals in the community who have extensive volunteer experience, have participated in more than one community project or committee, have given time outside of their business or profession and are recognized leaders in community affairs.

Graciela Martinez, a senior at Wellness, Business and Sports School, was presented with the Outstanding Youth award. Jason Horton, communications coordinator for the city of Woodburn, was given the Junior First Citizen award. Debbie Wolfer, vice president of Love Santa, Inc. and an employee of the Woodburn School District, was given the Senior First Citizen award. And Geri Federico, principal of Woodburn Academy of Art, Science and Technology, was given the first-ever Outstanding Educator Award.INDEPENDENT PHOTO: JULIA COMNES - The Woodburn Area Chamber of Commerce presented (pictured from left) Debbie Wolfer, Jason Horton and Graciela Martinez with Distinguished Service Awards at the Feb. 24 Greeters meeting.

The recipients will be honored at the 66th annual Distinguished Service Awards banquet, held on Friday, March 10 at Legacy Health in Woodburn. The event starts at 6 p.m. with a social hour and no-host bar, followed by dinner at 7 p.m. and the awards program at 7:45 p.m. Tickets are $40. To attend, call the chamber office at 503-982-8221 by noon March 3.

Outstanding Youth: Graciela Martinez

Martinez serves on the city's Youth Advisory Board and volunteers each year at the Woodburn School District STEM Festival. She's also volunteered by helping with the Daddy Daughter Dance, the school district's summer lunch program, Woodburn Proud Clean Up Day and downtown events at Halloween and Christmas.

Martinez maintains a 3.5 GPA and has been accepted to Western Oregon University, Portland State University and Warner Pacific College. She hopes to enter the field of medicine, likely with a focus on dentistry, and she hopes in the future to serve her community as well as travel abroad to help communities in need.

Martinez was born in Madera, Calif., and grew up in Washington. Her family would spend the summers in Woodburn doing field work. During Martinez's sophomore year in high school, her family moved to Woodburn permanently. Martinez works alongside her parents in the fields during the summers.

"One of the reasons that motivates Graciela is how hard her parents have worked and how much they've sacrificed to give her these opportunities," a nomination letter for Martinez reads. "Having worked in the fields side by side with them has led Graciela to not only appreciate how hard they work but to make the most out of their sacrifice."

Junior First Citizen: Jason Horton

Horton has worked as the city's communications coordinator for four years and worked at the Woodburn Independent for nearly 13 years before that, serving first as sports editor and then editor. He's also the current president of Woodburn Kiwanis, is the chair of the Woodburn Area Chamber of Commerce Ambassadors, and was the president of the Woodburn Area Chamber of Commerce in 2012.

"Jason is truly a public servant," reads a nomination letter for Horton. "While he conducts many meetings and emcees a lot of community events, he does not seek the spotlight for himself. He celebrates the achievements of others and community successes."

Horton also volunteers as the league commander of Upward Football, a Christian sports league that serves hundreds of K-8 children each year. He is also on the board of his church and has volunteered for Love Santa, Inc.

"Jason is a person that follows through with what he says and stands behind what he does," a nomination letter reads. "He is a person that wears many hats at multiple times and (it) is all done for the good of everyone. I feel Jason deserves this Junior First Citizen because of the kind of man he stands for in today's society, and with all he does for our community it is well-deserved."

Senior First Citizen: Debbie Wolfer

Wolfer is the student data specialist for the Woodburn School District. Her nominations highlight her extensive work for Love Santa, Inc., a nonprofit that donates gifts and meals to hundreds of Woodburn-area families each year. Wolfer is vice president of Love Santa, has served on the Love Santa Board of Directors for over 10 years, and has long served as the organization's primary toy and gift buyer.

"She works yearlong but especially serves many extra hours in the weeks leading up to distribution day, mid-December each year," a nomination letter reads. "She often works behind the scenes to ensure the continuous and seamless flow of service to the families and her fellow board members, so she is also the unsung hero of the group and their efforts. She is there when needed, she fills in the gaps when they come and she does it all in a quiet and humble manner."

Wolfer's nominations also mention her role as a wife, mother and grandmother, as well as her work as secretary of the French Prairie Kiwanis Club Board of Directors and as a teacher of driver's education. "She is moved by the needs of our community and specifically the youth of our area," a nomination letter reads.

Outstanding Educator: Geri Federico

Federico is the principal of Woodburn Academy of Art, Science and Technology and has worked for the Woodburn School District since 1975 as a teacher, district director and principal.

Nominations for Federico highlight her commitment to building positive relationships with students and families, her role in shrinking Woodburn's achievement gap and lowering the dropout rate, and her focus on equitable teaching practices that value diversity.

"Her work in our district has benefited thousands of students' lives and those of their family members and demonstrates her supreme dedication and love for the Woodburn community, its students and families," a nomination letter reads.

Federico was part of the team that in 2002 applied for and won a grant from the Oregon Small Schools initiative, which led to the conversion of Woodburn High School into four smaller academies. Soon after, Federico became principal at WAAST.

"Under her leadership, her staff created a blueprint for the school, developed rigorous academic programs, embraced the need for equitable practices, and created a cohort advisory program where teachers were partnered with students," a nomination letter reads.

And, nominations highlighted Federico's longtime commitment to Woodburn schools. "Geri's distinguished service is evident in longevity, in the success of her students, and in her commitment not only to education, but to education in Woodburn."

Julia Comnes covers all things Woodburn. She can be reached at 503-765-1195 or This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

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