First Lady Cecilia Abbott Honors Winners Of 2019 Governor’s Volunteer Awards

October 15, 2019 | Austin, Texas | Press Release

First Lady Cecilia Abbott, honorary chair of the 2019 Governor’s Volunteer Awards, hosted a reception at the Governor’s Mansion last night honoring the 10 winners of the 2019 Governor’s Volunteer Awards. In their 36th year, the awards — presented in conjunction with OneStar Foundation — honor individuals and organizations in Texas that have gone above and beyond to enrich the lives of those in their communities and throughout Texas through volunteerism and service. 

"During floods, fires, and hurricanes, or even in the challenges of daily life, we have seen again and again that the true strength of the Lone Star State is found in our people," the First Lady said. "The winners of this year's Governor's Volunteer Awards are a powerful testament to that strength, and serve as an example for all of us. Both Greg and I extend our deepest thanks to the winners of this year's awards for their service to their fellow Texans."

OneStar Foundation was created to support the State of Texas by strengthening the nonprofit sector, encouraging civic engagement through service and volunteering, promoting innovative strategies to address local issues, and facilitating public-private partnerships to expand the reach of the sector. OneStar Foundation is the Governor-designated National Service Commission in Texas and administers the AmeriCorps State grant program. OneStar is also home to Texas’ Faith-Based and Community Initiative. OneStar Foundation connects partners and resources to build a stronger nonprofit sector in Texas. Learn more at

The recipients of the 2019 Governor's Volunteer Awards are:

Governor’s Lone Star Achievement Award – Sammy Nieto

In 1997, Sammy Nieto founded the Valero Juvenile Justice Mentor Program, which works directly with the courts to connect truant youth with Valero volunteers. Gang violence, abuse, teen pregnancy, and drugs define the lives of many of these students. Sammy knew in his heart that a caring adult could make all the difference. The program has grown in scope and impact under Nieto’s consistent leadership. Since its inception, thousands of at-risk youth have turned their lives around and found a more positive path to successful adulthood.

First Lady’s Rising Star Award - Kara Weld 

17-year-old Kara Weld is a 2019 graduate of Northeast School of the Arts at Legacy of Educational Excellence High School in San Antonio and will be a freshman at Texas A&M University in the fall. Kara is known for her strength of character, her academic prowess, her talent in the arts, and her heart of service. Kara volunteers her time to many causes and is a passionate advocate against cyberbullying. During the 2017 Texas Legislative Session, Kara worked tirelessly to make lawmakers aware of the issue. Due to her tenacity, David’s Law was passed and signed by Governor Greg Abbott, making cyberbullying a punishable crime in Texas.  

Partners in Education Award - Reading with Barbers

The Reading with Barbers Initiative was established by Fort Worth ISD’s Equity and Excellence Division and local barbers in support of the district’s collaboration with the City of Fort Worth’s 100X25 Reading Initiative. The program helps students ages 4-14 maintain and improve their reading skills in a safe, trusted, community space — the local barbershop. FWISD provides the bookshelves and books. Barbers serve as adult role models and mentors for young children and their parents. Children select a book to read while waiting or getting their hair cut. Barbers help with pronunciation and ask questions about content to guide their young clientele.

Service to Veterans Award – H.O.N.O.R Mentoring

H.O.N.O.R. Mentoring is a program for veterans directly impacted by the justice system. The H.O.N.O.R Mentoring program operates within the Texas Department of Criminal Justice and teaches participants to use their educational and life skills to tutor other veteran and non-veteran inmates. H.O.N.O.R Mentors are veterans who have successfully worked through their own traumatic issues arising from their time of service. They teach math and reading to GED students, English as a second language, college prep, and reentry classes. H.O.N.O.R Mentors are modeling the way for all of the inmates they serve, showing that they too, can not only survive their trauma, but also learn to thrive.

Higher Education Community Impact Award – University – St. Mary’s University   

St. Mary’s students engage in intentional relationships that reach far beyond the physical boundaries of their campus. Whether it’s hosting a summer camp for neighborhood children from low-income households, providing pro bono legal services to veterans at the VA Hospital, facilitating ID recovery and warrant-relief services for individuals experiencing homelessness, navigating resources and services for individuals with intellectual disabilities, providing free tax preparation, or assisting Texans recovering from disasters, St. Mary’s students are truly making a difference in San Antonio and beyond.

Higher Education Community Impact Award - Community College - Austin Community College

The Office of Student Life at Austin Community College provides students with a wide variety of student leadership, campus engagement, and experiential learning opportunities. Each program incorporates an aspect of service to reinforce learning outcomes and to encourage students to begin a lifetime of volunteering. One example is the ACC Food Pantry and Resources Program. ACC Student Life established food pantries, operated by student volunteers, on all 11 ACC campuses. With the ACC Board of Trustees supporting the charge, the entire institution answered the call for non-perishable items to stock the pantries. 

Corporate Community Impact Award -Noble Charities Foundation 

Established in 2015, Noble Texas Builders is a recognized brand in South Texas. One of their core values is COMMUNITY. To facilitate giving back to the communities in which they work, Noble Texas Builders created Noble Charities Foundation, focusing primarily on improving education and health outcomes in the Rio Grande Valley. Their mission statement is: “Inspire Hope, Improve Lives & Strengthen the Communities We Live In.” Examples include scholarships for students enrolled in construction and public safety Programs at South Texas College, child care renovation projects for Easter Seals Rio Grande Valley, and the renovation of La Esperanza Park into an all-inclusive playground where both disabled and able-bodied children can play.

Community Leadership Award - Dr. John Fink

Dr. Fink, a retired physician from Medina County, has been instrumental in engaging members of the community in numerous projects over the years, including Texas Ramps Project, Blessings in a Backpack, Medina County Food Pantry, Feast of Sharing, and Hondo Helping Hands. John also serves as president of the board of the Medina County Food Pantry. When notified that the regional food bank would no longer be able to partner with them due to the poor condition of their building, Dr. Fink found funding for a new facility. John’s selfless service is an inspiration to all.

AmeriCorps “Make a Difference” Award – VISTA - Katie Blair

As an AmeriCorps VISTA, Katie Blair works at Network of Community Ministries in Richardson. Katie took the lead in a large-scale project that has changed service delivery in Network’s Food Pantry and Clothing Closet. Clients are issued a Network debit card and allotted “Network Cash” to shop in either the Food Pantry or Clothing Closet. A complete remodeling and restructuring of the Food Panty was required to make the area more “retail-friendly.”  To ensure the successful implementation of these new programs, Katie oversaw the training of over 200 volunteers.

AmeriCorps “Make a Difference” Award Senior Corps - Douglas Brown 

Douglas Brown has been an active volunteer with the RSVP Senior Corps Program in Denton County since 2003. A WWII veteran, Mr. Brown taught himself how to use, refurbish, and repair computers. Although Mr. Brown volunteers for many causes, his passion is repairing and donating computers at no cost to veterans. He also connects veterans to resume writing and job search skills, helping them translate their military service into skills suitable for civilian employment. Douglas takes at least three computers with him each Friday to give to the veterans he works with. At age 93, Douglas has donated over 1,000 computers.