Be More Awards Recognize Volunteers For Service To The Community

(BLOOMINGTON) – Twelve Bloomington residents were honored in an online presentation of the Be More Awards on Tuesday, July 14.  The recipients of this year’s awards honoring local volunteers for committed community service were revealed in a video presentation Tuesday at noon that may be viewed here.    

“Congratulations to all of the dedicated volunteers selected for the Be More Awards this year,” said Mayor John Hamilton.  “You make Bloomington better, stronger, more equitable, more vibrant, and more resilient through your labor of love. Now more than ever, I encourage all of our residents to get involved in volunteer opportunities by checking in at”  

The twelve award recipients were selected from among twenty-eight individuals and fourteen groups nominated by community members for their dedication to making life better for others, through their work across a number of fields, from the arts to the environment to education, and more.  Honorees were selected in ten categories, with two additional residents tapped to receive  “Activate” awards this year at the selection committee’s discretion.  

Each of the recipients in the ten traditional categories was presented with a commemorative plaque; and the principal organization he or she serves recognized with a $500 contribution from the Community Foundation of Bloomington and Monroe County.  The “Activate” Award winners were honored with a certificate and a $100 contribution to their respective organizations. The Bloomington Volunteer Network’s descriptions of all of the award recipients are included below.   

Originally scheduled for Tuesday, March 31 at the Buskirk-Chumley Theater, the Be More Awards ceremony was cancelled due to the pandemic.  “Creating a way to honor this year’s nominated volunteers and award recipients in a virtual fashion was a challenge that we knew we would take on,” said Volunteer Network director Lucy Schaich. “The Be More Awards are a beloved tradition and an opportunity to celebrate the goodness and giving nature of our community. It is a celebration of gratitude and good news in a time when that can sometimes seem scarce.”  

The Be More Awards event is sponsored by the City of Bloomington Volunteer Network, a program of the Community and Family Resources Department, with IU Credit Union, United Way of Monroe County, and WTIU Public Television serving as co-sponsors. 

Award recipients in 10 categories were chosen by an independent selection committee, which included representatives from each of the sponsors of the program. The virtual reveal videos concluded with the presentation of the Be More Dedicated Award to Shirley Fitzgibbons. Fitzgibbon’s service includes over 20 years of service to Monroe County Court Appointed Advocates as a CASA, being on the board of Directors for Monroe County VITAL, Friends of the Library, the Monroe County Women’s Commission, Bloomington Worldwide Friendship, and the South Central Indiana Sewer Board. She has also been a crisis line volunteer at Middle Way House and volunteered with the Monroe County Democratic Party. Her nominator said, “Shirley Fitzgibbons’ generosity with her time, expertise, and effort has benefited the community enormously. Her commitment to helping children live fuller, safer lives is evident in her volunteer work with numerous community agencies.”

The 2020 Activate Awards (Award & $100)

Descriptions provided by the Bloomington Volunteer Network

Activate Recipient #1: Jerry Gonyo from IU Health Alzheimer’s Resource Service

Summary: Jerry Gonyo is a tireless volunteer who constantly advocates for those living with dementia. While supporting his wife living with dementia, Gonyo volunteered with Bloomington’s Community Dementia Alliance (a group of people living with dementia and their care partners who start supportive programs). He also volunteers time doing clerical work, runs a local care partner book club, helps set up and tear down for the monthly support groups, organizes and raises funds for the Walk to End Alzheimer’s local team, and contributes to many committees for Dementia Friendly Bloomington. Because of Gonyo’s involvement, our Dementia Friendly Communities have been able to thrive.

Activate Recipient #2: Don Byrd and William Ellis from Braver Angels (formerly Better Angels)

Summary: Don Byrd and William Ellis worked together to bring Braver Angels, a national organization formed after the 2016 election as a response to the deep divisions in our communities, to Bloomington. Byrd, a lifelong progressive Democrat, got the idea to start a chapter in Bloomington and approached Ellis as head of the Republican Party simply to ask him to recommend someone. Instead, Ellis responded to the opportunity himself. Together they have hosted a series of workshops and events. These events enable participants, who would normally not talk to each other because of their preconceived ideas about the other, find ways to understand each other and discover common ground. Byrd and Ellis have devoted countless hours creating this important organization.

The 2020 Be More Award Recipients (Award & $500)

Descriptions provided by the Bloomington Volunteer Network

Be More Empowering Award (Judge’s Choice)

Recipient: Women Build Committee of Habitat for Humanity of Monroe County

Summary: The Habitat for Humanity Women Build Committee is responsible for planning the Women Build each year, a blitz build that constructs two homes in less than two weeks with Habitat for Humanity of Monroe County. Every year, this group of women coordinates nearly all aspects of the build, recruiting a community of nearly 400 women volunteers and fundraisers, procuring breakfast, lunch, and snack donations for each day of the two-week build, and encouraging every woman to raise at least $250. Since its creation 20 years ago, Women Build has raised nearly $2,000,000, constructed 29 homes, and helped house nearly 70 people, including 39 children.

Be More Uplifting Award (Judge’s Choice)

Recipient: Cindy Neidhart from Bloomington Thrift Shop

Summary: Cindy Neidhart is a shining example of giving beyond oneself. As a past two-term President for the Bloomington Thrift Shop, Neidhart now acts as an advisor for the board. Neidhart has been fundamental in establishing key communication tools. One significant way she has done this was the development of The Thrifty Shopper, an online newsletter featuring weekly specials. Neidhart worked hundreds of hours to develop the list-serve and to learn how to create an attractive weekly flier. She has continued to work with the Shop publicity even while traveling. If everyone conducted themselves as humbly, cheerfully, and diligently as Neidhart, our world would have no want or pain.

Be More Bloomington (General)

Recipient: Shawn Rector from Best Buddies International

 Summary: For 6+ years, Shawn Rector has volunteered at the Best Buddies International Leadership Conference at IU as a Speech Coach, helping the person to whom he’s assigned create, perfect, and deliver a speech about their life, advocacy in their community, and how being part of Best Buddies has impacted their lives. He also organizes and sets up the Friendship Walk in Dunn Meadow and the International Dance at IMU Alumni Hall. Rector experiences life with a physical disability but that is not a hurdle to being one of the most driven volunteers each year, signing up for hours of duties each day of the three-day weekend that hosts over 2000 individuals from around the globe.

Be More Phenomenal Award (Board Member)

Recipient: Sara Laughlin from Teachers Warehouse

Summary: Sara Laughlin is a difference maker.  Her capacity to strengthen the organizational underpinnings of Teachers Warehouse as a board member and volunteer extraordinaire has moved TW to a higher level of service, accountability, and competency in the community. She has increased the client base of teachers, resulting in more students’ needs being met. Her gifts of wordsmithing, persuading, and networking have resulted in increased donations that are needed to offset the costs of purchasing classroom supplies.  Without Laughlin, Teachers Warehouse would not be the progressive, dynamic nonprofit organization that it has grown to be.

Be More Collaborative (Group)

Recipient: Shalom Community Center Volunteers

Summary: Shalom Community Center is an all-inclusive resource center for people living in poverty and experiencing hunger, homelessness, and a lack of access to basic life necessities. None of the center’s resources could be offered without the help of volunteers. Kitchen volunteers prepare breakfast and lunch, serve, and clean up, seven days a week, every week of the year. Hospitality desk volunteers attend to the personal needs of guests. Volunteer job search coaches help guests navigate online job searches and develop resumes. Volunteers provide activities and services like haircuts and arts activities. There are clerical and administrative support volunteers too. Most importantly, our volunteers do all this while treating everyone with compassion and respect.

Be More Knowledgeable Award (Education/Literacy)

Recipient: Laura Jesseph from Kids with Absent Parents

Summary: Laura Jesseph is a board member of the local NAMI chapter and for the past two years, her volunteer activities have also included the Kids with Absent Parents (KAP) program. KAP began in response to the needs of children who are separated from one or both parents, often as a result of incarceration, mental disabilities or addiction. Jesseph organizes 90 minutes of activities for up to 20 kids for KAP’s bi-monthly meetings. She coordinates a crew of caring volunteers who plan creative activities, including crafts, drama, music, and games.  Guitar in hand, Jesseph often leads songs, tells stories, and prepares cool craft projects herself. Her kind, loving and humorous spirit touches everyone she works and plays with.

Be More Involved (College Student)

Recipient: Nathaniel Prather from Generosity Feeds

Summary: Indiana University student Nathaniel Prather is devoted to serving the needs of children and combating child hunger. Prather has contributed a great deal to Generosity Feeds, including organizing the Generosity Feeds local event, which makes over 12,000 meals to be distributed to students. Prather also encourages other IU students to volunteer being the  head of the IU student organization St. Jude Hospital Volunteers and Advocates. He also volunteers at the Salvation Army, Pantry 279, and organized the Foundational Friendships mentoring program at Batchelor Middle School. Prather is a great example of an IU student contributing to the Bloomington community.

Be More Sustainable Award (Environmental Sustainability)

Recipient: Matt Wessel from Bloomington Trash Haters

Summary: Matt Wessel works toward making public places safer and more pleasant for all in the Bloomington Community. Wessel spends most of his days picking up trash around public places and has the mission of picking up all syringes within the community. In addition to undergoing safe syringe handling and disposal training, Wessel has donated time and funds to beautify our city by buying all needed materials for the cleanup, for himself and other volunteers, himself. Wessel encourages others to keep Bloomington clean and founded the Bloomington Trash Haters group to help spread the word. 

Be More Creative Award (Arts/Culture)

Recipient: Katherine Devich from Middle Way House

Summary: Katherine Devich began her work with Middle Way House 25 years ago when she began buying purses for MWH residents and filling them with small essentials – like alarm clocks, paper, pens, and more. She now plays an active role in Middle Way House’s Wrapped in Love project and serves as this year’s Wrapped in Love Volunteer Chair. Devich helps organize volunteers from the beginning to the end of this project, manages data with trees’ sizes and locations for over 40 sweaters, donates appliances to families in need, and raises funds for the Middle Way House. Throughout her 25 years volunteering with Middle Way House, she has impacted thousands of lives with her service.

Be More Dedicated (Lifetime of Service)

Recipient: Shirley Fitzgibbons from Monroe County Court Appointed Special Advocates

Summary: Shirley Fitzgibbons’ generosity with her time, expertise, and effort has benefited the community enormously. Her commitment to helping children live fuller, safer lives are evident in her volunteer work with numerous community agencies. Her service includes over 20 years of service to Monroe County Court Appointed Advocates as a CASA, being on the board of Directors for Monroe County VITAL, Friends of the Library, answering the crisis line at Middle Way House, serving as commissioner on the Women’s Commission of Monroe County, the South Central Indiana Sewer Board, volunteering with the Monroe County Democratic Party, and as a board member of Bloomington Worldwide Friendship.

For more information about the awards, or photographs of the honorees, please contact Lucy Schaich at 812-349-3433 or