Volunteers, staff, youth representatives, and board members from all across the U.S. gathered in Tucson for our national conference October 6-8, 2017. The conference theme was "Raising A.R.I.Z.O.N.A." for Awareness, Respect, Inspiration, Zero Stigma, Ongoing Support, National Concern, and Attention to the Plight of our Youth. The Tucson program hosted the conference. With input from the Executive Director Advisory Council, the conference featured some tremendous sessions, not only to share best practices and do hands-on outreach, but also to focus on raising leadership capacities and technical skills to meet the complex mental health needs of our youth.
An annual tradition at our conferences is the granting of national awards. This year, a cross-cutting committee solicited nominations from all 17 of our programs and selected one winner in each category. The work wasn't easy because all of our volunteers and staff are tremendous.
Lifetime Achievement Award: Jo Clark (Kitsap County)
This very special award, named in honor of long-standing San Diego Executive Director Terilyn Burg, our 2016 awardee, is presented on a periodic basis to anyone who, by their own efforts, has enhanced the reputation and prestige of StandUp For Kids through a long-term contribution of exceptional leadership and service to StandUp For Kids and the greater community.
"Jo Clark served as Executive Director of the Kitsap County program for 16 years, holding it together and continually growing it in service to help our kids in countless ways. The chapter was formerly known as StandUp For Kids – Bremerton. Jo retired as E.D. in December 2012 at the young age of 81! She stayed on as an active member to train and assist and mentor the current E.D. She still serves as an advisory council member, uses her contact list for fundraising, connecting members with each other, and offers to pitch in with whatever the Bremerton leadership team might need help with."
Distinguished Leadership Award: Michele Huntzinger (Silicon Valley)
We recognize our most exceptional leaders through the Distinguished Leadership Award, given to one StandUp For Kids leader, whether paid or unpaid, who is actively serving in a leadership role. The awardee must have provided sustained, outstanding leadership at either the local or national level for a minimum of two years, which includes superior performance of increasingly challenging responsibilities; Demonstrated exceptional leadership qualities, whether in a formal leadership role or through more informal teaching and mentoring activities; Provided leadership that significantly contributed to the fulfillment of the StandUp For Kids mission; and Exhibited strong commitment to StandUp For Kids, our vision, and values.
"Michele is the Executive Director of StandUp For Kids - Silicon Valley. She came one day to donate beanies to homeless youth and less than a year later was voted in as Executive Director. Since taking over this position she has brought this organization to the best level and financial status to keep our Outreach Center open. And it has been four years. She refuses to ever see these doors close on homeless youth and has gone to levels such as contributing thousands of dollars out of her own pocket to make sure we keep these doors open. She has built more trust with our kids than some have ever experienced in their entire lives. For the first time in their lives they truly know their worth and value and that has so much to do with the work Michele does within this organization."
Rookie Volunteer of the Year Award: Azhar Ravji (Washington, D.C.)
This award is presented to a volunteer who began service within the past calendar year, or any volunteer who began a new position within the past calendar year, whether the person worked directly with youth or in other program capacities. The awardee must show exceptional involvement which could include outstanding service at a particular moment, oversight or ownership of an initiative or project, or increased involvement in a volunteer role.
"Azhar began as a volunteer with the D.C. chapter in March 2017 and quickly became a regular volunteer at the Monday night drop-in center. Azhar does not hesitate to jump in wherever he is needed and goes out of his way to engage with youth. Azhar always remains calm and supportive in the face of challenging personalities and events at the drop-in center. Azhar's easy nature and ability to connect with our youth has made him a wonderful addition to our team and a much-needed welcoming presence at the drop-in center."
Volunteer of the Year Award: Rheala Melesio (Denver)
This award recognizes one volunteer that made a positive impact on a program and/or homeless youth over the previous calendar year.The awardee must have provided significant contributions to a program and/or youth through their time, actions, talents and dedication, displayed teamwork and leaderships strengths, and sustained long-term commitment to a particular volunteer role and to the mission of StandUp For Kids.
"Rheala has been with StandUp For Kids since the age of 15 and has become an incredible mentor to youth her own age out there! She is the epitome of reliable, loyal and trustworthy. The youth love her, she stands up for what we believe in and doesn't falter when it comes to service. She has done all this even while juggling the role of Director of Volunteers for StandUp for Kids Denver, serving as an outreach counselor, a full-time student, and having a full-time job. Rheala is always a presence we can count on! It is rare that she misses a Sunday dinner or Tuesday night outreach, and she always says that StandUp For Kids is the best part of her week."