By Eric Pilgrim | Fort Knox NewsApril 15, 2019
"Army Volunteers … The Heart of the Army Community"
Several from the Fort Knox community gathered at Sadowski Center April 10 to recognize tireless work from the post's volunteers at the 2019 Outstanding Volunteer of the Year Recognition ceremony.
The ceremony culminated three events throughout National Volunteer Week April 7-13. At the event, Maj. Gen. John Evans Jr., commanding general of U.S. Army Cadet Command and Fort, lauded the volunteers for going above and beyond.
"They've got work, they've got school, they've got responsibilities with their family, and yet somehow still, they find any opportunity to give of themselves to others," said Evans.
Several leaders and family members were also in attendance to celebrate the efforts of 62 nominees throughout the year, efforts that Evans said equated to over $1.15 million in cost savings to the community.
"With no expectation of recognition, or payments, or really even appreciation, they take time out of their lives, away from their families, away from occupations in some cases, away from the things that you and I get to enjoy by virtue of who we are and what we do, and they give that back to the community," said Evans. "That's the greatest gift that you can ask for."
The ceremony began with a speech from DeShaun Davis, the 2019 Fort Knox Junior Youth of the Year, followed by the reading of each nominee and accomplishments.
With an impromptu drum roll, Dr. Rushaunda Farmer, emcee for the evening, began reading the names of those who earned top honors in each of six categories: youth; active duty military; family member; retired soldier; civilian; and family team.
Having to wait until the very end to find out her and her daughter Brittany had won in the Family Team category, Col. Wendy Rivers said she never suspected they even had a chance. Competing against five other nominees, Rivers gasped when Farmer called their names.
"I was quite surprised," Wendy said. "We were amongst a lot of nominees who have put in a lot of hours in this community, so we were honored just to be a part of the group."
The two ladies devoted several hours of their time throughout the year split between several different organizations to include Big Brothers Big Sisters -- in which Wendy sponsors an 11-year-old girl every month -- the You Cannot Be What You Cannot See, and Feeding America Food Bank.
Brittany said it is a big blessing and honor to be Rivers' daughter, but it also carries a responsibility.
"Everyone always knows my mom," said Brittany, who is a sophomore in college. "They say, 'You're Col. Rivers' daughter!' so I always make sure I'm on my best behavior."
As the first name called, Youth nominee Juan Ortega looked shocked and then high-fived the girl sitting next to him. He won in the largest category, with 16 nominees competing for top honors.
"I wasn't expecting it, but I'm really thankful," Ortega said. I've had a wonderful time with the Red Cross. It feels great to help with the community and the other volunteers, and it's nice to see them recognized; but I wasn't expecting this."
Ortega has been helping the Red Cross for a year, and said he volunteers to help people.
"In my future career I want to help people, whether it be like physically or mentally, I feel enjoyment out of it," said Ortega.
As Farmer took a breath from reading the long list of accomplishments by Active Duty Military nominee Sgt. 1st Class Kerrilee Case, from 1st Theater Sustainment Command's Special Troops Battalion, Case suddenly walked back to her seat to the laughter of the audience. After she realized what she had done, she laughed and cupped her hands in her face.
Afterward, she said her emotions were strong.
"I don't volunteer to get anything, but getting this, I tried to hold back my tears," said Case. "I'm just very grateful, and honored."
Other winners include Family Member nominee Tiffany Bender from the American Red Cross; Retired Soldier nominee Charles Green from You Cannot Be What You Cannot See LLC and Bluegrass Sergeants Major Association; and, Civilian nominee Raymond Hama from Child and Youth Services, Devers Middle School and Teen Center.
Near the end of the ceremony, Command Sgt. Maj. Garrick Griffin, garrison senior enlisted advisor at Fort Knox and a nominee, made an announcement that shocked the audience; this would be Dr. Yolande Jackson-Smalls' last award ceremony as manager of the Army Volunteer Corps Program. She said the realization is bittersweet to her: sad because her 16-plus years in the position, 29 years at Army Community Service and 35 overall years of government service is coming to an end.
Happy because it's been "wonderful," said Jackson-Smalls; "this has been the most rewarding. When you think you know everything the volunteers are doing, they'll come and do something so far out of the box that it will shock you every time. When I think of this position, it's humbling -- very humbling.
"I feel blessed that God even allowed me the opportunity to serve people willing to serve without pay."
Rivers summed up what Jackson-Smalls expressed about volunteers.
"Serving is in our DNA," said Rivers. "This community just allows us to be a part of that action. Brit takes her time and makes sure she mentors young teens, and I do the same as well; just wanting to give of ourselves because serving is just something that we love to do."