First Lady Cecilia Abbott Announces 2017 Governor’s Volunteer Awards Recipients

June 15, 2017 | Austin, Texas | Press Release

Texas First Lady Cecilia Abbott, Honorary Chair of the 34th annual Governor’s Volunteer Awards, today announced the 2017 award recipients. The Governor’s Volunteer Awards, administered by OneStar Foundation, honor the contributions of individuals, businesses and organizations in Texas that have made a positive impact in their communities or across the state through service and volunteering. Through her Texanthropy Initiative, Mrs. Abbott has made promoting volunteerism and service to others her primary focus as First Lady of Texas.

“It is no secret that Texas is filled with generous individuals and organizations, but these eleven awardees are truly extraordinary,” Mrs. Abbott said. “I am touched by all of the amazing things they are each doing to help their fellow Texans. Their example is truly inspiring.”

The awardees will be honored in the Fall at an evening reception at the Texas Governor’s Mansion. The recipients of the 2017 Governor’s Volunteer Awards are:

Governor’s Lone Star Achievement Award — David Godwin

David Godwin has performed decades of volunteer service in the Houston area. His longest-running charitable endeavor is with Literacy Initiative for Today (LIFT) at the University of St. Thomas in Houston, where more than 10,000 adult students from over 20 countries have learned to speak English. David has also served as coordinator for the Center for Cultural Interchange since 2002, he has served as a board member of “Families with Children from China” since 1999, coordinated a silent auction to raise funds for the organization, and he has taught ESL at Houston’s Chinese Consulate. Additionally, David and his wife Lucy have hosted more than 75 students from 28 different countries who are in the U.S. attending intensive language schools in Houston.

First Lady’s Rising Star Award — Micah Pinson

Micah Pinson is only twelve-years-old, but he has already performed several years of volunteer service. In 2011, at the age of seven, Micah decided that he wanted to give back to Dallas Texas Scottish Rite Hospital for Children, the hospital that has helped him with a hand deformity. Micah conceived a community service project – a toy drive – that today stands as the largest single toy donation for the hospital. In total, more than 25,000 toys have been collected over the last six years, and 2016 was the best year ever with over 10,000 toys donated. Each year, Micah seeks ways to involve more community and business leaders in this project, and sees this not only as a way of giving back to the hospital that helped him so much, but also as a blessing in his life. 

Partners in Education Award — Fort Bend Education Foundation

In 1992, Fort Bend County business and community leaders came together to form the Fort Bend Education Foundation (FBEF). FBEF’s mission is to “inspire and equip all students to pursue futures beyond what they can imagine.” Throughout its twenty-five year history, FBEF has provided support to the 75 campuses that house the more than 74,500 students and approximately 5,000 teachers in Fort Bend ISD. FBEF works collaboratively with the school district, and has given $32 million in grant funding to provide an exceptional learning experience, helping enhance educational outcomes by implementing programs that support teachers and equip students for a brighter future, while also utilizing the work of more than 800 volunteers.

Service to Veterans Award — Tony Smith

Retired Veteran Tony Smith has turned his service to country into a more-than-full-time, unpaid second career as a county-appointed Veterans Service Officer in Coryell County, which has one of Texas’ largest populations of disabled veterans. Two years ago, Tony found free office space and began reviewing a backlog of veteran’s cases where assistance had been requested but not acted upon, helping local veterans navigate the sometimes-challenging waters of the VA system. Tony serves as the commander of the local Disabled American Veterans Chapter 74, and is a trained small group facilitator through “Bring Everyone in the Zone”, where in less than two years he helped grow local peer-to-peer veteran groups from one poorly-attended group to four thriving groups. Tony has provided for the veterans in his area in other ways as well, including counseling and support for several successful suicide prevention engagements, securing a motorized scooter for a disabled elderly veteran so he can be mobile on his rural property, raising funds for the burial of a veteran who died with no family to pay for the expenses, and assisting veterans’ family members with finding cost-effective funeral services and volunteer pastors.

Higher Education Community Impact Award — University of Houston SURE™ Program

The SURE™ Program, based at the University of Houston’s Bauer College of Business, stands for Stimulating Urban Renewal through Entrepreneurship, and that is exactly what the program has been doing with remarkable results. SURE™ trains students to provide current and aspiring entrepreneurs with free financial and business education, ongoing business consulting, and access to startup capital. The students are led and aided by a small staff and a large army of executive volunteers that guest lecture for each class and provide one-on-one consulting when needed. The program culminates with a graduation ceremony and pitch day. Since 2012, SURE™ has trained over 500 entrepreneurs from underserved and disadvantaged backgrounds and helped launch over 80 businesses.

Corporate Community Impact Award — USAA

USAA’s signature corporate responsibility cause is promoting military family resiliency, and a key pillar of this cause is supporting the needs of the 5.5 million caregivers who care for wounded, injured or ill service members and veterans. In 2016, USAA supported the PsychArmor Institute in its efforts to develop a free online school and call center catering to the unique needs of military caregivers. Within the first year, over 13,000 learners completed 36,000 training courses.Within the first year, over 13,000 learners completed 36,000 training courses. According to the Elizabeth Dole Foundation, USAA is the first business to dedicate a pillar of its corporate responsibility program to addressing the nation’s military caregiver crisis, highlighting its commitment to programs that recognize the sacrifices and address the needs of our military and veterans, as well as their caregivers and families.

Corporate Community Impact Award for Small Business — Granite Properties, Inc.

Granite Properties, Inc. is a commercial real estate development and investment firm with offices in Dallas and Houston, and has made growing servant leaders an integral part of its corporate fabric. Since it was founded in 1991, employees have been encouraged to “show up, stand up, speak up and contribute.” Each year Granite gives its employees 40 paid hours toward community service, and many employees strive to go above and beyond this commitment.  In 2016, Granite employees completed over 5,000 volunteer hours, servings organizations in Texas such as the Richmond State Supported Living Center, Children’s Medical Center in North Texas, Collin County Meals on Wheels, and Easter Seals. Through their volunteering, employees at Granite Properties are creating a lasting impact in the communities they serve. 

Community Leadership Award — Haven for Hope
Haven for Hope of Bexar County is the largest homeless service center in the State of Texas and is a national model in moving the homeless to self-sufficiency. Founded in 2010 with a focus on seeking innovative solutions to San Antonio’s homeless problem, Haven for Hope guides a person from homelessness to housing through a recovery framework and comprehensive on-site social services. With 137 nonprofit partners housed either on campus or in the community, Haven for Hope provides services to address the systemic causes of homelessness, including job training, basic reading to college preparation, professional certifications, financial literacy, behavioral health services, spiritual care and more. Its Ambassador Program is led by men and women residing at Haven and addresses community needs while providing those experiencing homelessness with the opportunity to give back.  More than 3,600 Haven resident volunteers have participated in the Ambassador program through neighborhood cleanup and beautification projects, demonstrating Haven’s strong commitment to the San Antonio community. Through its unique model, Haven for Hope is making a difference in the lives of San Antonio homeless, local businesses and the community at large.  

AmeriCorps “Make a Difference” Awardees

AmeriCorps — Erin Moody

Erin Moody is currently completing her second term of service as an AmeriCorps member with Communities In Schools of Central Texas, a dropout prevention program. During her service term, Erin has carried a caseload of more than forty 6th through 8th grade students at Lockhart Junior High School with whom she meets individually for at least one hour per week. Last year, one hundred percent of Erin’s students improved in academics and behavior, ninety percent passed all four of their core classes, and one hundred percent were promoted to the next grade level – making Erin the only AmeriCorps member to have these results with such a large caseload of students. Erin has also facilitated numerous student-led projects on campus during her service. Erin has gone above and beyond to build relationships and initiate strategies that encourage and empower the youth at Lockhart Junior High so that they have the best opportunity to reach their full potential as well-educated, engaged young citizens.

AmeriCorps VISTA — Shelby Thomas

Shelby Thomas is an AmeriCorps VISTA serving in the Disaster Relief and Recovery Division of the Alliance of Community Assistance Ministries, a member of the Greater Houston Storm Recovery Network and the Texas Gulf Coast VOAD. Houston was impacted by four major storms from 2015 to 2016, and Shelby’s work as a VISTA was invaluable to recovery efforts.  One of the greatest challenges in times of disaster is communication across the many volunteer organizations involved in response and recovery.  Seeing this, Shelby implemented systems and processes to address this challenge. Not only were Shelby’s efforts a success, but they are already being replicated by associated ministries, and will remain in place even after her service is completed. This will ensure that Shelby’s significant contributions during her time as a VISTA will have a lasting impact.

Senior Corps — Arlen and Mary ’Beth Lohse

For over 30 years, Arlen and Mary ’Beth Lohse have been volunteering as drivers with Meals for the Elderly in San Angelo. In 2004, upon their retirement, the Lohses started volunteering full time through West Texas RSVP, a Senior Corps Program. They deliver meals on at least seven routes within a 5-day work week, though they often go beyond that by serving as substitute or emergency drivers. But they Lohses don’t just deliver meals – Mary ’Beth is known as the “napkin lady” for always providing a seasonally inspired napkin with the meals, and they also provide clients with special packages of cookies on milk delivery days, bologna on bread days, and lollipops – including sugar-free lollipops for diabetic clients. Many in the San Angelo community say there is no one who does more for the Meals for the Elderly program or the clients served than Arlen and Mary ’Beth Lohse.