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Six Watauga County Residents Receive Governor’s Volunteer Service Awards

Watauga County’s winners of the 2023 Governor’s Volunteer Service Awards pictured with Rebecca Hall, Executive Director/High Country United Way, from left: Ken Connelly, Gerald Traudt, Curt Gillespie, (Hall), Judith Phoenix and Lisa Shelton. Not pictured William Butler.  Photo by Sherrie Norris 

By Sherrie Norris

Six Watauga County residents each received the 2023 North Carolina Governor’s Volunteer Service Award during an evening ceremony on Thursday, May 18, at the Blue Ridge Energy Community Room in Boone

William Butler, Ken Connelly, Lisa Shelton, Judith Phoenix, Curt Gillespie and Gerald Traudt are among the  state’s most dedicated individuals currently being recognized across the state for their selfless sacrifices of time, talent and energy.

The local event was sponsored by High Country United Way, the assigned coordinator for the governor’s volunteer recognition  program in Watauga, Avery, Mitchell, and Yancey counties;  presiding was the organization’s Executive Director, Rebeca Hall, assisted by Director of Operations, Susan Stuber.

As Hall introduced the recipients individually, reading from the original nomination forms, she welcomed those who nominated them to join her in the presentation.

  • William “Butch” Butler was unable to attend, but his nominator, Angela McMann, Volunteer Supervisor with Western Youth Network’s Mentoring Program, received the award on his behalf. Butler was described as one who provides outstanding volunteer service by his extraordinary commitment to mentoring youth. “Butch has been a consistent, caring friend to a young man since 2013, when the boy turned 8, committed on a weekly basis. They have maintained a relationship that has withstood the test of time, as well as life challenges, moves, heartbreak and success. Butch is a constant in this boy’s life and he has been working to help him find his passion for a future career. The boy is now 17 and exploring what he might want to do as an adult. Butch has helped to connect him with a welding program, as well as put him in touch with a military recruiter. Butch is always thinking of creative ways to engage with his mentee. Butch has not only been an outstanding WYN mentor, but he has embraced our program by supporting a variety of WYN Mentoring monthly events, as well as recruiting friends to become mentors.”

  • Ken Connelly, nominated by Mollie Bolick, Supervisor/Director of the Meditation & Restorative Justice Center in Boone, “for his exemplary service and commitment to our organization and the people they serve.” Connelly volunteers 24 hours or more each week, with a number of peer-led programs: Homestead Recovery Center, Watauga Law Enforcement Assisted Diversion (LEAD) and the Watauga Detention Recovery on the Inside. “These programs are operated by people in recovery for people seeking recovery, in an effort to help people reach their goals through instilling dignity, compassion and understanding. Ken has shown up with a willingness and determination to be present in all of the ups and down that come with working alongside people in active addiction, or who are experiencing a mental health crisis; he has become one of the finest examples of a recovery ally we have known. We particularly admire Ken for how he uses his skills, knowledge and abilities to lift up the voices of people with lived experiences and remains curious and teachable in order to increase his impact on those around him. Ken has a keen sense of empathy, of identifying those in need, whether clients or staff. When he is not volunteering with us, he is often volunteering at other local nonprofits; he has volunteered for the last 14 years through various jail and prison ministries. He is a shining example of enthusiasm, teamwork and superior volunteerism to MRJC.”

  •  Lisa Shelton was nominated by Debbie Aragon, in the area of Health & Human Services. “Lisa gives of herself in so many meaningful way to many. Her career, prior to her retirement as a social worker in a hospital setting, allowed her gifts to be used to improve the lives of many for years. Now retired, Lisa is the creator and administrator of an online group called ‘Just Trying to Live Our Best Lives.’ Every day for a number of hours, Lisa inspires, encourages teaches and mentors over 1000 people in North Carolina and beyond; (Update, over 1200 people with 39 countries are now represented), with quotes, wisdom, care and love. She always knows exactly the right thing to say, to encourage and motivate others with her words. Lisa is a rare individual who truly cares for all and does so in tangible ways that truly makes a difference. During 2022, Lisa grew this group from a few hundred to over a thousand, largely because of her kindness, wisdom and compassion for all.”

  • Judith Phoenix, nominated by Liz Whiteman/Blue Ridge Women in Agriculture, is described as one “who makes our community a vibrant, more livable place;” she has volunteered with multiple nonprofit organizations since moving to Boone in 1998, “cutting across healthcare, the environment, human services, local food and tourism.” Her volunteer service includes, but has not been limited to, Moses Cone Park, Blowing Rock Art & History Museum, Blue Ridge Women in Agriculture/Food Hub, Middle Fork Greenway Task Force, St. Luke’s Episcopal Church and Appalachian State’s Lifelong Learners program and The Jones House. She is a “mentor and coach . . .  who makes connections happen.” She can be found at most community events and meetings, but never seeks attention for herself, always heralding how great our community’s organizations are. “She sees how our community can be stronger and learns what resources are needed, quietly pulling together others to make real change happen.” Prior to retirement, Judith worked for Watauga Medical Center and as a social worker at Appalachian State University. 

  • Curt Gillespie and Gerald Traudt (Team Nomination), nominated by Sarah Grady/Watauga County Habitat for Humanity. “Curt and Gerald are both technically retired, but they work part-time volunteering on the job site for Watauga Habitat while they are in the High Country, April-October. They are dedicated volunteers who show up without a reminder or a phone call. Curt show up in a fully-loaded sprinter van. Curt has every tool imaginable in his van and he knows how to use these tools, as he has built his own home. Cut and Gerald both have homes in Blowing Rock and in Florida. In 2022, we started a new home in the beginning of May, as soon as they arrived here; it was nearly complete when they returned to Florida in October. Watauga Habitat is blessed with many volunteers, but Curt and Gerald volunteered the most during our most recent build.”

Prior to and following the presentation, a time of refreshments and fellowship was enjoyed by the award recipients, their family members and some of their nominators, as well as representatives from several local nonprofit organizations representing HCUW.

More About the Governor’s Volunteer Service Award

The NC Governor’s Volunteer Service Award honors the true spirit of volunteerism by recognizing individuals, groups and businesses that make a significant contribution to their community through volunteer service. Any person, group or entity from the public, nonprofit and private sector many be nominated for an award. 

The application/nomination form requires reasons for nomination, name of person nominating, in addition to references to verify same. 

As regional coordinator for the awards, it is the responsibility of High Country United Way to make the public aware of the nomination process in November, accept the nominations, and then submit same to the North Carolina Commission on Volunteerism and Community Service, usually in February. 

In return,  HCUW is notified of the winners, (in late March), then notifies the nominators and winners, and organizes the award distribution and ceremonies. 

For more information about High Country United Way, visit www.highcountryunitedway.org, or call 828.265.2111. The office is 

located at 1675 Blowing Rock Blvd Suite 400 in Boone.

Courtesy of The HighCountry United Way