Golden Heart Awards find the best among us

The annual Golden Heart Awards ceremony has become one of the premiere events in the Tri-Cities.

It honors some of our best known citizens, and sometimes some of our least-known.

The Golden Heart Awards are sponsored by the Benton-Franklin Volunteer Center. They honor those in our community who work long and hard for no pay to make the community a better place.

And wow, do they succeed.

There are seven categories in which the annual awards are given, from board leadership to youngsters doing what they can for others.

The people honored aren't in it for the publicity. They're not looking to get their names in the paper.

Yet here they are, along with some well-deserved accolades from their nominators:

Youth volunteer 17 or younger -- Tabitha Johnson, for her efforts to help the Edith Bishel Center for the Blind.

The nomination noted her eager support for individuals, hawking raffle tickets at Fever games and many other useful projects. "Being a 4-H leader for over 16 years now," wrote her nominator, "I can easily recognize an outstanding youth when I have one. Tabitha is the little pot of gold at the end of the rainbow, and I and all the staff at ... Edith Bishel Center ... adore her and that beautiful smile of hers."

Female volunteer age 18-54 -- Ronni Dreisbach, for service to Kennewick General Hospital Foundation and Playground of Dreams.

"Ronni has a can-do attitude about whatever she undertakes," one admirer wrote.

That includes her service as a board member of the Kennewick General Hospital Foundation, where she is the annual Gala fundraiser's co-chairwoman for the second year in a row. Planning and managing the event requires a year-round commitment, her nomination pointed out.

Dreisbach was also head of the steering committee for the initial and subsequent rebuilding of the Playground of Dreams.

Male volunteer age 18-54 -- David Carl, for many projects for Columbia Industries, Dial-A-Ride, Children's Developmental Center and Special Olympics.

"David wants to work as a paid employee but ... cannot. Instead he chooses to volunteer.

"David spends his life in a wheelchair. But David handles this challenge as he does all others, with strength of character."

Female volunteer, 55 and older -- Jean Stacy, for service to Cooper's Corner.

Stacy is an extremely active volunteer with CHIPS (Citizens Helping in Police Service), which includes operating Cooper's Corner at Columbia Center mall, a scale-model town where youngsters learn traffic safety. It is manned entirely by volunteers.

She also volunteers every year to help Kennewick police with the bicycle rodeo, the safety patrol crossing picnic, the abandoned vehicles program and the citizen academy.

Male volunteer, 55 and older -- Steve Haberman, for bringing the gift of music to volunteerism in the Tri-Cities, especially Volunteer Jam.

"The Tri-Cities is a culturally richer, more musical place since 1997. That's when Steve Haberman came to town, bringing his nationally heralded talents in piano, in coaching voice and in theater.

"His generosity in sharing those talents for the good of many civic and charitable organizations here ... is absolutely amazing."

Haberman was instrumental in organizing Volunteer Jam, a 12-hour musical telethon-style benefit for the Volunteer Center.

Board member -- Nancy Russell for her exceptional leadership of the Safe Harbor Crisis Nursery board.

Russell was chairwoman for the Beggar's Banquet fundraiser, which raised over $43,000 for the nursery. She is also a member of the Safe Harbor Nursery Guild and works alongside Safe Harbor staff.

Volunteer group -- Sails Outlet for Safe Harbor Crisis Nursery, a dedicated cadre of volunteers that operates the thrift store, generating substantial operating money for the nursery.

"Many of the volunteers are older. Some ride the Dial-A-Ride bus. Some drive. Some come with their walkers, but they all come and spend long hours volunteering. All of these ladies are unique.

"They have hearts of gold. They never want recognition. They never ask for compensation. They do all they do out of the goodness of their hearts."

That last paragraph is an accurate summary of all the volunteers honored this year, and every year. And hundreds more throughout our community.

Congratulations to all.