Recognizing community stalwarts
The ceremonial aspect of Woodburn area's 69th Annual Distinguished Service "Alma" Awards proved to be the trickiest and most unique in the history of this recognition event.
Given that a pandemic waylaid original plans last spring then extended the postponement of the ceremony, Woodburn Chamber of Commerce and event planners had to be creative. That creativity came to fruition Friday evening, Oct. 9, when the chamber aired a Facebook Live event to ensure recipients were recognized.
Formally recognized were award recipients — Outstanding Youth, Jose Sanchez Jimanez; Outstanding Educator, Benito (Bubu) Puente; Junior First Citizen, Laura Dix; Senior First Citizen, Pastor Luis Molina — along with Business of the Year Northwood Health Center, French Prairie Kiwanian of the Year Debbie Wolfer, Woodburn Kiwanian of the year Gina Audritsh and Woodburn Rotarian of the Year Paul Iverson.
"We were supposed to have a ceremony back in March but the dreaded COVID (postponed) that," Chamber Executive Director John Zobrist said. "Now we're going to be able to do it as a Facebook Live event and get these people honored. They deserve to be honored, and this is the best way to do it."
In some ways the unique "venue" enhanced the recognition. Chamber board President Stephanie Wells emceed the event, and in addition to having responses taped last March from Alma awardees, each one added a written reflection largely focused on the unique challenges that emerged throughout 2020.
All recipients lauded the Woodburn community.
Outstanding Youth Jose Sanchez Jimenez: "Being named a Distinguished Service recipient is an honor. At the heart of it, it's always been about creating a sense of community through volunteering. Ever since Key Club started, I loved going around the community and helping out in the community garden, Music in the Park and other initiatives. I thought that my last year in high school would be filled with those experiences.
"Then, 2020 rolled around the corner of my senior year of high school. It's no secret that this year has been rough, not only for members of our community but for the entirety of the nation. We've experienced a pandemic, nationwide protests and serious wildfires in Oregon. When I think about these things, I can't help but feel grateful that I was raised in a community like Woodburn. During these difficult times, I've seen members of the community step up and help one another out."
Outstanding Educator Benito (Bubu) Puente, Jr.: "You do what you do not because you want recognition; you do it because you care."
"For me being from this Woodburn community for a very long time, graduating from Woodburn High School in 1998 … now after 20-plus years being able to give back as a home to school liaison here in the district at French Prairie Middle School for 12 years so far, It's been really a blessing. My job is unique: I get to love on kids; I get to hear parents; I get to do a lot of home visits; work with our local law enforcement. My job is really just touching lives."
Puente cautioned that the prevalence of social media can constrict important in-person contact, and he urged everyone to consider themselves a teacher in some shape or form, collectively leading youth and looking at that process holistically.
"It's one thing to teach the mind, but another to teach the heart," he said. "I love what I do and I get to do what I love."
Puente explained: "You see, I've learned that life is better when you're surrounded by people who make you better. You don't have to have it all together to help someone, you just have to be willing. Our Woodburn community is full of distinguished service worthy members that may never be seen up front, [but] what makes Woodburn special is that they look for ways we can bring change to the people around us and that is through serving them. In Woodburn, we don't just talk about it, we walk the walk and talk the talk; we see a need and fill it!"
"The best way to feel like you matter is to show someone else they matter," he added. "Love is the great equalizer, and I believe that out of tragedy comes triumph; 2020 is not the whole story, it is just a chapter in our story."
Laura Dix Outstanding Junior First Citizen
Dix is extensively involved with community activity, including the Woodburn Rotary, St. Luke's School, Woodburn Chamber of Commerce and a number of local events.
"I feel like if you just get out there and do it, then everything in the community and everything around us is just going to become better and a place that we can be very proud of," Dix said.
Reflecting on the year, Dix noted: "In a year filled with a pandemic, tragic and all-encompassing wildfires and elections, 2020 has been a year to be remembered ... I feel we need to take the attention off me as an individual and shine it on the community. As a hard-working, tight-knit community, we needed all hands on deck and I can say and observe, we answered the call.
"(The year) 2020 saw businesses fighting to keep employees, doors open and their margins if possible — but yet, when the community and those we call neighbors were struggling and needed a hand up, those same businesses, as well as others, came running. Whether it was time, endless phone calls, meals, donations and doing what they could to afford to donate from their business, we answered."
Dix evoked a proverb to illustrate: "If you want to go fast, go alone; if you want to go far, go together."
Dix added: "Those who know me well can attest to the fact that patience isn't my strong suit, but this year, we banded together and we traveled further than I could have imagined. I'm proud of this community."
Outstanding Senior First Citizen Pastor Luis Molina: "I want to start by just thanking a body of people who has made it possible for me to be who I am, and also allow me to do what I do. And that is my (Foursquare) church family."
Molina said his church family empowers him with support and resources to help others. He also tipped his hat to public safety crews, Woodburn Police and Woodburn Fire departments.
"You guys and your teams are my heroes," Molina said.
"I remember what (Woodburn City Manager) Scott Derickson said one time, and it is that Woodburn is a city where a dream can be fulfilled. I am an example of that; I am living the American dream."
In his more recent reflection, the pastor noted: "This year I have been honored to be the recipient of the Distinguished Senior of the Year Award. I would say that 5, 10 and even 20 years from now people will not remember this year because of me receiving this award, but because of all the events that have happened so far in 2020."
The pastor said going into the year his church family decided to make 2020 "rooted" with a challenge of attaching a word beginning with the letter "C" to each month: rooted in commitment; rooted in confidence; rooted in courage; rooted in community.
"Little did we know how different 2020 would be, and all the different circumstances that we would go through," Molina said. "We continue to thrive in such a way that we haven't allowed ourselves to give up, to blame others for the challenges we continue to face or to be discouraged. Instead, we see this year as a year of opportunities and as a year of growth.
"Woodburn has such a unique identity that when challenges come our way, we turn them into opportunities. There are many ways that everyone can help. Everyone has something to give or knows somebody that knows somebody who has the connections or resources needed and together we accomplish things that otherwise would go unmet. That is what Woodburn is all about."
Molina concluded: "This year continues to be a year of growth for our community. We grow in relationships. We grow in service. We grow in leadership. And most importantly, we are growing together. The greatest award that I have received this year has been the privilege to cultivate a deeper relationship with great people like you and to continue to invest my life and whatever else I can for the better of my community now and for future generations."
Northwood Health Center
"Someone who embodies a quiet constant in giving back before he is asked is Dr. Dan Miller of Northwood Health Center," Wells said. "He believes in a holistic approach to a healthy community and never seeks recognition for his willingness to show up, step up and give back to Woodburn."
Audritsh: "Every member of our Kiwanis club deserves recognition for their passion and commitment to the youth of our community. Our civic organization works hard and gives selflessly to ensure that we can support a multitude of youth programs: school supplies for fifth-grade classrooms, high school senior scholarships, sponsoring children and their families in Woodburn parks and recreation programs by way of scholarships, sponsoring Cub Scout Pack 625, sponsoring your leadership programs through the two Key Clubs and honoring middle school students through the Terrific Kids program.
"The year 2020 has been a challenge for our club by way of fundraising due to the COVID-19 pandemic. I know we are not alone in this challenge, but I am so proud of our members for thinking outside of the norm and being creative to raise funds to support the same programs."
Wolfer has been a French Prairie Kiwanis member for 20 years and has been a steady presence in leadership from the get-go. Club members said her activism on behalf of the Woodburn community extends far beyond club membership and activities: she is actively involved as a board member of Love Santa and serves an unofficial role as a liaison between the community and Woodburn School District.
Wolfer shops for Love Santa, working with store managers on discounts to maximize raised funds, and spearheads the annual Chuckwagon Breakfast. Club members laud her as an advocate for children and families.
Iverson: "I am especially proud of the work done by our Rotary club. I have played a small part in all the great projects, including sponsoring quarterly dental vans, helping to build the library park playground, providing scholarships, supporting small business grants due to COVID-19 and more.
"I am humbled by this recognition and am proud to work together with our Rotary Club to continue fulfilling our motto: 'Service above Self.'"
Summing it up
"Tonight's program has been unique, but I believe we were able to give Laura, Pastor Luis, Ben and Jose the recognition that their service to our community deserves," Wells said.
She added: "If this year has shown us anything, it's that if you look, you'll always find the good: you'll find the doers, and the helpers and the smiles."
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