First Lady Abbott Hosts 39th Annual Governor’s Volunteer Awards In Austin
First Lady Cecilia Abbott last night hosted the 39th Annual Governor’s Volunteer Awards at the Texas Governor’s Mansion in Austin. As honorary chair of the Governor's Volunteer Awards, the First Lady honored 14 recipients from across the state who dedicated their time and talents to serving their communities in 2022.
“The true strength of the Lone Star State is found in the hearts of its people,” said First Lady Abbott. “Each awardee here tonight is a powerful testament to the exceptional character of Texas and demonstrates what it truly means to make a difference in the lives of others. Thank you for your hard work and selfless dedication to your communities. Together, we are building a brighter tomorrow for every Texan."
First Lady Abbott was joined at the awards ceremony by Senators Boris Miles and Charles Perry; Representatives Tom Craddick, Mano DeAyla, Carrie Issac, Mihaela Plesa, Carl Tepper, Ed Thompson, and Steve Toth; OneStar Foundation President and CEO Chris Bugbee; and other local philanthropists and leaders.
Presented in conjunction with OneStar Foundation, the annual Governor’s Volunteer Awards recognize the exceptional service and volunteerism of individuals and organizations making a significant impact in their communities across Texas.
The recipients of the 39th Annual Governor’s Volunteer Awards are:
Harriet Marmon Helmle (San Antonio): Governor’s Lifetime Volunteer Achievement Award
Harriet Marmon Helmle has dedicated most of her life to improving education, helping the homeless and disabled, improving medical care for all, and giving girls and women the tools needed to succeed. Over the past four decades, she has raised tens of millions of dollars for San Antonio-area nonprofits. In 1984, Harriet founded San Antonio Youth Literacy to reach high-risk high school students and their families in disadvantaged neighborhoods that now serves over 900 students on 75 campuses.
Mindy Gross (Fort Bend): Governor’s Lifetime Volunteer Achievement Award
Mindy Gross has worked with the Fort Bend Women's Center since the late 1990s to assist domestic violence and sexual assault survivors and their children in achieving safety and self-sufficiency. Mindy’s countless volunteer hours and continued commitment have enhanced the Richmond community, volunteers, and staff. In various leadership roles, Mindy has worked with Child Advocates of Fort Bend County and the United Way. She also founded the STARS volunteer auxiliary in 2004, co-founded and served as inaugural co-chair for their annual Girlfriends Giggle benefit, and raised more than $1 million for Fort Bend Women’s Center’s programs and services.
Rose Wilson (Lubbock): Governor’s Lifetime Volunteer Achievement Award
Rose Wilson continues to leave an outstanding legacy in Lubbock with decades of volunteer service that spans fighting food insecurity, mentoring students, and advancing social justice causes. At 95 years old, Rose continues engaging in new volunteer opportunities, helping organize events, and serving on boards. Rose has been active with the Lubbock NAACP since the 1960s, becoming the first African American woman to be elected president in 1978 and remaining president for 30 years. She continues to serve on the executive board of the Lubbock NAACP, helping with membership drives and fund development and serving on the finance committee.
Catherine Bai (Houston): First Lady’s Rising Star Award
After seeing the loneliness experienced by many nursing home residents, Catherine Bai started an Adopt a Senior program for residents rarely visited by family members. She soon realized the power of music therapy to help people with dementia and founded the Pearland branch of WeCareAct, a student volunteer organization to involve youth in community service in the Greater Houston area. So far, the group has more than 100 volunteers, 1,000 hours dedicated, nine formal holiday concerts organized, and 900 seniors and community members served. Catherine presented her music community service project to the 2022 Future Problem Solving International Conference to raise awareness of the elderly in need.
Vedha Vaddaraju (Dallas): First Lady’s Rising Star Award
Vedha Vaddaraju co-founded Letters of Gold, a Texas nonprofit with the mission of uplifting Texas residents and individuals around the world with letters of light in times of darkness. Letters of Gold delivers more than 3,000 letters to different groups in need every month, primarily in the Dallas-Fort Worth metroplex. As a senior in high school, Vedha leads a team of almost 100 youth volunteers throughout Texas and has chapters of her organization in nearly 10 schools in the DFW area. Having the opportunity to speak in global conferences for the past two years and featured on various news sources in Texas, Vedha uses her skills to empower those around her to write letters and offers monthly training sessions for youth to encourage them to act in their community.
Elizabeth Watkins (Frisco): Volunteer of the Year Award
Elizabeth Watkins founded Refresh Frisco in 2019 to provide hygiene products to students in need. With the mission in mind that proper hygiene is critical for a child's health and self-esteem, Elizabeth set out to ensure that every child in her community has access to personal hygiene items. As an example of their rapid growth, Refresh Frisco served around 150 students in November 2019 and, by May 2022, had expanded to serve over 1,400 children in K-12 in Frisco ISD. She has recently expanded to Refresh Little Elm, serving more than 300 Little Elm ISD students and growing.
Dr. Gary Beach (Austin): Volunteer of the Year Award
Dr. Gary Beach began volunteering with the Volunteer Healthcare Clinic in 2008 and has improved the lives of countless uninsured patients. As a Vietnam veteran, Gary received the Meritorious Mast from the U.S. Marine Corps and went on to become an acclaimed physician for more than 42 years. He has repeatedly won Top Doctor awards in both Texas Monthly and Austin Monthly. Gary also uses his volunteer time at VHC to mentor the next generation of healthcare providers. He has supported and taught many pre-med students who have gone on to medical schools such as Dell, Southwestern, McGovern, Baylor, University of Texas Medical Branch, Texas A&M, and Stanford.
Diana & Glen Egley (New Danville): Volunteer Family of the Year Award
Diana and Glen Egley are committed volunteers at New Danville, a rural nonprofit community in Willis for adults with intellectual and developmental disabilities. Diana is president of Legally Authorized Representative Alliance, an organization that sponsors activities and supports New Danville’s day program clients and residents, where Glen also volunteers. The family is central to the annual Christmas Market where clients shop for free gifts to give to their family and friends, and they are also key volunteers for theater productions performed by New Danville clients. The Egleys also volunteer for Love Fosters Hope, a nonprofit that serves children and teens in foster care who have been abused, neglected, or abandoned.
LGI Homes (Fort Bend, Harris & Montgomery Counties): Corporate Volunteering Champion Award
LGI Homes has made a tremendous impact by planning, completing, and funding a $25,000 project for SIRE, a nonprofit that supports individuals with special needs through therapeutic horsemanship. More than 40 LGI Homes employees provided over 500 hours of volunteer labor for the organization, constructing 10 stalls and outfitting a building for saddles and equipment. In October 2022, LGI Homes also oversaw the completion of a new 4,500-square-foot education and visitors center, valued at $1.2 million, which provides classroom space for SIRE programs, meeting space for local organizations serving people with disabilities, and office space for SIRE staff. LGI Homes is also very involved with Habitat for Humanity in Montgomery County and has employees serving on the board of directors at both SIRE and Habitat for Humanity.
Midland High School Football (Midland): Innovation in Volunteerism Award
The Midland High School Football program has developed a reputation of being the go-to for volunteers in Midland. Head coach Thad Fortune has built the MHS football program to include intentional and service leadership-based volunteer programming. It starts with his “Path of the Bulldog” principles given to every football player and parent beginning in 7th grade through 12th grade, reaching more than 600 students. MHS Football players are led by Coach Thad in intentional and coordinated volunteer service, including summer trash pickups in partnership with Keep Midland Beautiful and “Books and Bulldogs” summer reading programs with the Midland YMCA.
Unite & Inspire (Houston): Innovation in Volunteerism Award
Unite & Inspire is a youth-led nonprofit with a mission to unite and inspire children, youth, and adults into giving back to their communities through volunteering and to share resources that cultivate their growth as responsible global citizens. Their volunteer projects include disaster relief campaigns, STEAM education, cause-related internships, services for children and seniors, and medical and health support for cancer patients, first responders, and military. During Winter Storm Uri, they provided 500 families with hot meals, essential supplies, and recovery care packages.
Coastal Bend Disaster Recovery Group (Aransas, Bee, Kleberg, Nueces, Refugio and San Patricio Counties): Excellence in Disaster Volunteerism Award
Coastal Bend Disaster Recovery Group (CBDRG) is an established network of business, nonprofit, faith-based, private sector, and government organizations partnering to support long-term disaster recovery in 11 counties of the Coastal Bend. In response to Hurricane Harvey, CBDRG rebuilt 81 homes, replaced 79 manufactured homes, and completed 181 major repairs at a cost of $8.5 million. CDBRG provided disaster case management for 1,282 clients, with 450 of the clients fully recovered from the disaster. In Winter Storm Uri, they helped 133 clients restore basic water service that was lost due to freezing pipes.
Texas Search and Rescue (Statewide): Excellence in Disaster Volunteerism Award
Texas Search and Rescue (TEXSAR) is composed of volunteers who are dedicated Texans serving Texans with a spirit of “service above self” during times of emergency, loss, disaster, and pain. TEXSAR makes itself available as a resource to all 254 counties in the state when requested by local, state, or federal agencies. Though “search and rescue” is part of the organization’s name, TEXSAR has played particularly significant roles in disasters of various sorts, ranging from floods to fires to pandemics to winter storms. TEXSAR volunteers are valuable additions to the efforts of law enforcement, fire, and other agencies because of their spirit, dedication, training, empathy, professionalism, and preparedness—all of which adds up to excellence at times when Texans need it most.
Samiksha Deme (Houston): National Service “Make a Difference” Award
Samiksha 'Sami' Deme joined Sewa International’s Disaster Preparedness Group as an AmeriCorps Outreach Specialist. With her educational knowledge and skillset in environmental science, Sami is transforming critically needed disaster preparedness training for underserved and often marginalized communities. Sami’s preparedness trainings are centered on environmental justice, healthcare equity, and the crossroads between natural and human-made disasters. Sami also takes on volunteer projects outside her service responsibilities—from vaccine clinics to clothing drives for Afghan refugees to personal essentials for the homeless.
For more information, visit onestarfoundation.org/governors-volunteer-awards.