YONGSAN GARRISON ---- During a family vacation on a cruise ship in April, Marie Twiss opened an email from a good friend and read the news -- She couldn't believe it.
"I knew I was nominated for Area II volunteer of the year, but I didn't expect to win!" Twiss said. "There were so many great candidates, people who volunteer just as much as I do, but in different ways."
According to the people who nominated her, Twiss was very deserving of the award.
"She does a great job for the kids in church as a key facilitator for the youth ministry," said Sylvia Bae. "Many parishioners requested that I nominate her because she is a real hero -- as a volunteer, a mom and a great example for other people."
In fact, Twiss received three separate, lengthy nominations for her work with the Holy Family Parish Catholic Church (5th grade Catechism teacher), Seoul American Middle School PTO (as fund raising chairperson), and the Seoul American Elementary School (as PTO President).
"Being nominated really shows you the generosity of people," Twiss said, humbled by the support of her fellow volunteers and parent community. "I put 110 percent into every position, to make it better for everyone."
As a Catholic youth ministry leader, Twiss separated the teenagers into two age groups, enabling each to focus on Catholic virtues and issues specific to their maturity level through fun activities.
"What drives me is that I know if I work hard enough I can make it what I envision it to be," Twiss said.
"She has endless passion for educating children and is full of brilliant ideas to help our community," Bae said. "Everybody in our parish recognizes her efforts to teach and guide children and teens."
"She has always been a dedicated volunteer who supports wherever needed," said Kimie Bruch, SAMS PTO president. "She clearly serves as an example to those around her."
"She has an undefeatable spirit, and as SAES PTO president, she has energized the group," said Wendy Stallings, one of Twiss' nominators. "We have raised $27,000 this school year to help fund programs for our children. None of this would be possible without Marie's vision of how a community can support the school, and the number of hours she puts in each week."
Twiss credits her four children with motivating her to volunteer.
"I do this to help make their lives better," Twiss said. "I've coached everything from T-ball to soccer. If it matters to them, then it matters to me."
Her advice to people who want to volunteer.
"If you have children, I recommend you find things they enjoy doing, and follow that," Twiss said. "Give your time to that and you all win."
She encourages people to find out what they like and just go do it.
"It's very difficult to get a job here, but there are always volunteer opportunities for people to get involved and help the community," Twiss said. "In Korea, you can sit in your house and be absolutely miserable, or you can get out and volunteer and get to know your Korean neighbors."
She said there are times when the laundry doesn't get done, or the floors don't get cleaned in her home, but her husband is incredibly patient and supportive of her volunteer work.
"It's important to me and the kids, for them to learn how to give back to our community," Twiss said. "The rest can wait."
Twiss said many young children greet her by saying, "Hello lollipop lady," and give her flowers they've picked. She said what makes her most proud is the fact that people notice what she does.
"I didn't realize what it meant to them, or how much of an impact I had on people here."
She quotes poet and author Maya Angelou, who said, "I've learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel."
"And that is what I feel is most important," Twiss said. "People will remember me because I made them feel wanted, appreciated and happy."
She wants her children to understand why she has accumulated nearly 1,400 volunteer hours in 2012, and by including them she is helping them with their volunteer hours for National Junior Honor Society.
"I think me being this involved is a catch 22, its good because they're happy their mom is involved in their lives and activities, but I am not there 24/7 for them, so they may be frustrated," Twiss said. "The percentage of time and energy we are able to give to others changes every day. It is a life lesson and helps them realize there is more to life than just their needs that have to be met. Sometimes they have to figure things out for themselves, but I am always their mother."
Twiss said she is still overwhelmed by the news.
"I grew up in a small town in California, and now here I am the volunteer of the year in Seoul, Korea," Twiss said. "This just shows you you can go anywhere and make a difference."
Laughing, Twiss adds that of all the awards she received for this honor, the one she most covets is the on-post parking pass.
"That is really going to come in handy for me!"
Her husband, Lt. Col. Donald Twiss, works in the chemical biological warfare department on USAG Yongsan. They have four sons, Michael (14), Tyler (12), Alex (9) and Cody (6).x