For as long as anyone can remember, Unity Bowling has been passionate about her beliefs and a powerhouse of ideas to make positive changes in the world. When she was just nine years old she began spearheading a book drive for Read Aloud Virginia. This began a crusade which continues today to attack the plague of illiteracy. At nine, Unity was already organizing events, volunteering at her school, and developing connections to community groups. By the fourth grade, Unity was working with student having trouble in school. With Unity’s guidance and support, the student flourished – passing requirements to enter the first grade and reading advance books like Harry Potter by the fourth grade. In middle school, Unity created the Read Along with a Pal Program (RAPP) in which she recruited students to mentor others needing reading help, worked with teachers to develop study plans, and mentored a student herself. All of the students receiving help from the RAPP program passed their SOL tests that year and significantly increased their scores.
14 years old, Unity has organized, collected and distributed more than 6,000 books to children and families across the Commonwealth. She has even had international impact, due to her networking abroad sustaining a children’s library established in 2011 in the village of El Calejon in the Dominican Republic. Additionally, Unity has volunteered many hours at the Children’s Hospital of Richmond at VCU, has raised funds for Safe Harbor in Richmond, taught life skills through the Maddie’s Blankets, and raised more than $3,000 and 500 books by sponsoring a benefit ballet performance of Alice in Wonderland. She continues to participate in local activities throughout the year and most recently will host the second annual One School-One Book event at Broad Rock Elementary in Richmond, where she will provide a month of fun, motivational, instructional, reading and literacy activities – getting everyone involved excited about reading! Unity Bowling is a warrior against illiteracy – understanding that in order to eradicate it, the roots of family involvement and support must be nurtured and made strong.
Small Business: Williams Bakery (Mechanicsville, Hanover County)
Not only do Ron and Cathy Williams have a passion for delectable baked goods, but both have the compassion to feed their community. Williams Bakery, a hometown favorite since 1911, has been giving back through donations of food and service throughout their delicious history. Twice each month, the family-owned bakery donates enough bread, cookies, and pastries to the Western Hanover Emergency Action Team (WHEAT) food pantry to serve up to 100 families per month. WHEAT (of which Cathy is an active member) is a coalition of local churches in Western Hanover that respond to needs within that area of the county. This assistance alone serves more than 3,600 individuals every year and allows WHEAT to use their own finances to purchase other necessities for families in need.
Owners Ron and Cathy Williams, active members of Mt. Olivet Baptist Church, also provide bread and other items to their church’s CARITAS program. Williams Bakery also provides rolls for the annual Empty Bowl soup dinner fundraiser, coordinated by Patrick Henry High School to raise funds for emergency services provided by WHEAT. The bakery also regularly makes donations for door prizes for local United Way campaigns and breakfast items for youth events and church functions. Williams Bakery gives new meaning to the belief that the best way to care for each other is through the act of breaking bread and sharing a meal.
Senior Volunteer: Jim George Smith, Jr. (Dahlgren)
Jim George Smith, Jr., believes that families in crisis deserve a chance to come together to fashion their own resolution without costly and painful litigation. Mr. Smith has dedicated his retirement years working with families through mediations on cases referred by the Juvenile and Domestic Relations District Courts of Fauquier, Culpeper, and Stafford Counties. Many of these cases are quite sensitive and difficult involving custody issues, visitation, and child and spousal support for Virginia’s parents and children. Many families cannot afford attorneys and some are simply afraid of the courts process. Mr. Smith, a retired attorney, travels approximately 20,500 miles per year to mediate with these families, meeting with them where and when they are available.
Through his mediation efforts, he has worked through more than 250 cases per year resolving painful disagreements in a respectful manner allowing families to maintain their dignity and provide incentive to adhere to their agreements. Mr. Smith, a foster parent himself, works to help children continue to get the love and support from their parents and family members. He works a minimum schedule of 40 hours per week for the sole purpose of helping these families – especially the children caught in the middle. Mr. Smith continues to serve as a role model of how we can all continue to find our purpose to make a positive difference in the lives of others at every time in our lives.
Volunteer Family: Castelvecchi Family (Montpelier, Hanover County)
For the Castelvecchi family, service to the community isn’t something you do with your extra time left over at the end of the day. It is a daily way of life and a family legacy to be handed down through generations creating a ripple effect touching thousands of lives through the years. For six generations, the Castelvecchis have served their neighbors through the round-the-clock, life-saving role of firefighting. Today in Montpelier, if there’s an emergency -- chances are a Castelvecchi will be there when the alarm sounds. Frank Castelvecchi, son Francis, and daughter Margaret all serve the Montpelier Fire Volunteer Company and mom Peggy serves with the fire company auxiliary. Frank even continues to drive from his home an hour away in Waynesboro to serve. Frank’s brother Robert and his wife volunteers with Fife Company 4 in Goochland, his other brother Fred volunteers at Black Creek Station in Hanover, and his niece Jessica serves at Hanover’s Farrington Station. The family loves to tell stories about occasions when everyone on the fire engine were members of the Castelvecchi family.
Not only has the family served as firefighters, but members have also been active in promoting public safety, fire suppression, disaster planning, and other community outreach efforts. To the Castelvecchi family, civic duty means that being a part of one’s community is being a part of a larger family. This selfless attitude and approach to family volunteering passed down from generation to generation is what sets them apart as a family who not only cares about their neighbors – but is willing to step up and make their community a better and a safer place.
Educational Institution: Virginia Commonwealth University’s ASPiRE Program (Richmond)
For enthusiastic college students, excited to serve their communities, Virginia Commonwealth University’s (VCU) ASPiRE program is a chance for them to live and serve together in a unique university service experience. The program enrolls more than 200 undergraduates who commit to live, learn, and serve together for at least four semesters. Each ASPiRE student completes nine hours of academic coursework and at least 100 hours of off-campus service. Between August and December 2013 alone, ASPiRE students contributed more than 7,500 service hours to the Richmond community. Since beginning in 2012, ASPiRE has created 30 long-term partnerships with a wide variety of community organizations and associations identifying service projects that address critical needs in the areas of education, affordable housing, mentoring, healthy living, urban revitalization, and environmental stewardship. Whether registering voters, creating community gardens, rebuilding houses, or distributing school supplies and food – ASPiRE students are making an impact in the community.
Not only has the program impacted the community locally, but it has become a model for community engagement-focused living-learning programs in higher education. The innovative model’s building of a strong relationship between community partners and volunteers, helps the community partners in deeper and broader ways such as in grant writing and research. After the first year, the community wasn’t the only benefactor. Several students in the program received academic scholarships, more than 80 were on the Dean’s List, and several students qualified for the Presidential National Service Award. The VCU ASPiRE program is already having a life-long impact on their students teaching them what it means to serve their communities and practice social responsibility - - a message that will hopefully spread across the country.
Community Organization: Newport News Community Emergency Response Team (Newport News)
Even though it was one of the last developed CERT programs developed in the Hampton Roads region, the Newport News Community Emergency Response Team (NN CERT) has become the model for excellence for other programs. Through collaborations with area organizations and maintaining high standards within every facet of their organization, NN CERT volunteers have donated more than 3,100 hours in 2013 alone. Serving a community of 187,000 residents, NN CERT is comprised of citizen volunteers, committed to building community preparedness and resilience through outreach, emergency shelter and point of distribution response, and emergency response within their own neighborhoods. Their collaboration with the Commonwealth Catholic Church has resulted in a highly successful program preparing non-English speaking immigrant refugees in disaster preparedness --winning several state and national awards. Additionally, NN CERT stepped up following Hurricane Katrina to establish a pet shelter program in response to the Pet Evacuation and Transportation Standards Act and the Post-Katrina Emergency Management Reform Act. Nearly 60 CERT members enrolled to provide logistical support to establish pet shelters and were activated for Hurricane Irene in 2011 and Superstorm Sandy in 2012.
Each year, NN CERT hosts the Peninsula CERT exercise, which trains CERTs from neighboring jurisdictions in a realistic disaster environment. Collaborating with law enforcement, NN CERT has also hosted active shooter exercises and has partnered with BayPort Credit to train their employees on basic CERT skills and receive mobile ATMS following disasters. NN CERT regularly delivers disaster preparedness, fire safety, first aid, and terrorism training to several local schools, universities, and AmeriCorps programs through its unique Zombie Apocalypse program. The NN CERT program is the only one in the region that has developed lesson plans to supplement the national curriculum established by FEMA and the program conducts monthly and quarterly drills on a variety of topics. With NN CERT leading the charge to make the Commonwealth a safer and more prepared place, Virginians can breathe easier knowing that, together, we can handle any situation.
When Nicole Paige Muller learned that more than 30,000 individuals in her Charlottesville community needed assistance with food every month, she decided to do something. Four years later, Nicole has raised donations of more than 650,000 pounds of food through the Neighbors-4-Neighbors National Food Drive Initiative she started when she was just 16. Even as a full-time college student at the University of Virginia, Nicole donates her time every week to continuing her quest to feed those who are hungry. She personally organizes and runs two annual campaigns – a local campaign through public and private schools in March and a national campaign in October. Her campaigns are responsible for food donations feeding more than half a million hungry Americans and monetary contributions providing more than 220,000 meals.
Making the donation process as easy as possible, Nicole often picks up food to deliver to food banks, encourages local groups to collect food for their service badges, and makes arrangements for food to be picked up from businesses and schools. Networking through community volunteer days, schools, businesses, civic organizations, health clubs, and universities to donate during events like United Way’s service days or Make a Difference Day has also been a key to her success. She also conducts extensive email campaigns encouraging other states’ governors to ask employees to donate to local food banks. Her original goals may have begun in her own community, but today her Neighbors-4-Neighbors initiative has spread to all 50 states and is close to reaching a million pounds of collected food – proving that one person can make an enormous difference.