CAMBRIDGE — At the Feb. 18 Annual Hometown Heroes awards ceremony, sponsored by the Dorchester Banner, each of the eight recipients joined those honored in the previous three years. Banner Publisher Darel LaPrade said in his opening remarks, they are “unheralded, unrecognized and often taken for granted, but these citizens continue with their good deeds just to make a difference.”
“These folks capture the true spirit of America. One of courage, generosity, and tireless devotion,” noted Mr. LaPrade. “Heroes warm our hearts and reveal a face of America that we need to hear more about. It occurs to me that the quiet accomplishments of your Hometown Heroes are a blueprint for building the kind of community in which we all want to live.”
“One of the Banner’s intended goals is to recognize and encourage the desire to serve others. An important part of my mission as the publisher is to see to it that the Banner, venerable local institution that it is, does everything in its power to promote and build a genuine sense of community. We want Hometown Heroes to be the centerpiece of this effort.”
Winners were selected by last year’s winners, including: Lorraine Henry, Pat Wilcox, Ken Malik, Steve Rideout, the Rev. George Ames, Dr. Oluwole Olusola, Jake Coleman, and Steve Bloodsworth.
Selection criteria were: Positive role model; history of volunteerism; sacrificing personal gain to achieve noble goals; special awards and recognition; brought positive recognition to the community; embodies the finest example in the following areas – family values, the importance of education, the arts and culture, environmental consciousness, economic contributions to the community, leadership and courage, consistent dedication to worthy causes, representative of the diversity in the community, spiritual leadership, and dedication to public service.
Mr. LaPrade noted, “The spirit of this program is to recognize those folks who for no other reason than a desire to help, step forward and out of caring, friendship, forgiveness, and love form an army of great compassion.”
Downtown Cambridge business owner April Dean Goodman received the Business Volunteer Award. Helping people or worthy causes is her passion. She recounted her connection to a once homeless Cambridge resident who slept on benches rather than beds. Ms. Goodman helped him re-connect to the world: She gave him a place to sleep, helped with his medical issues, and put him in touch with his son in Arizona with whom he now lives. The owner of Bliss Jewelry in downtown Cambridge, this worthy recipient is “always ready for the next challenge.”
Pastor Cesar Gonzalez of the Cambridge 7th Day Adventist Church received the Spiritual/Faith Award. “Thank you guys for doing this. For trying to build community,” he said. “My wife and I love Cambridge. All the good parts that we need to do great things are already here. The one thing I keep seeing…is that some people don’t want to work with other people. This is difficult to say but I wouldn’t be able to accept this honor if I don’t say the difficult things. It is no longer enough to be polite to each other in public; no longer enough to wave and say ‘hello’ and move on to your own little world. We have to do it together if we want to move forward.”
Veterinarian Dr. Carol R. Lewis, winner of the Emergency Responder Award, is the president of Snip/Tuck neuter/spay clinic as well as running her own practice. “My wards are homeless, often teenage, pregnant misfits. They are cats. I couldn’t do this without the 20 or 30 volunteers who get together every month to spay and neuter 80 to 100 stray cats.”
No one cares for the stray or feral cats and they can spread rabies which is fatal in humans. Since 2008 the volunteers have trapped, spayed/neutered, vaccinated, and returned to their habitats at least 8,000 cats. “I’m very passionate about it,” said Dr. Lewis, “and we try to help those who cannot help themselves.”
Jerry T. Burroughs received the Community Volunteer Award. He said, “First I want to give honor to God, who is the head of my life. I want to thank my mother who on her bed of affliction came out to join me tonight. I’m so proud to have her here with me. I’d like to thank the other people who are here tonight. These are people who helped me to be standing here with you and sharing this plaque. We did some hard work and it all paid off for the city of Cambridge.”
Ric Otey was the winner of the Youth Leader Award. Mr. Otey said, “I definitely want to thank Coach Jake Coleman for giving me a chance to have a platform to show the traits and skills that God has blessed me with. Mentoring youth is a God-given talent. I taught history for five years at Mace’s Lane elementary school, I taught in an alternative school, and am now a deputy sheriff. I just have a passion to know that in order for a town to grow, the youth is a turning point we have to emphasize. For me it’s easy to do what I do when I have so much support.”
The Mentor/Coach award went to David Cannon. With over 30 years coaching Little League, Pop Warner football, recreation basketball leagues, YMCA basketball leagues and more, Mr. Cannon always has time to help others. He said, “I’m very glad for my family to be here with me tonight,” adding, “It’s a great joy to see a kid’s face when he does something special on a field.”
Bessie Griep received the Educator Award. A volunteer for 12 years at Maple Elementary, Ms. Griep believes that “every child is precious.” She helps kindergartners begin their educational journey, and said, “Thanks to the good Lord for giving me the ability to do it, and thanks to my Maple School family because without them I cannot do it.”
The coveted Lifetime Achievement Award went to Herschel F. Johnson. He thanked the Banner and said, “I don’t think that what I do is any more than I’m supposed to do and I’m sure they (other honorees) feel the same way. You don’t do it for applause but you do it because you enjoy helping people. My mother’s here and she always said, ‘you got to slow down.’ I feel that if I keep going I’ll stay here longer.” He said he will continue to volunteer because he feels he is “supposed to.”
Susan Bautz is a freelance writer for the Dorchester Banner.