Golden Heart Awards Honor Door County Volunteers

“No matter how small, we can all make a difference.”

Those were the words that keynote speaker Paige Kassner – the 13-year-old founder of the winter clothes gathering charity Warm Hands, Warm Hearts – used to open this year’s Golden Heart Volunteer Celebration at Stone Harbor Resort in Sturgeon Bay April 26. And they were words that resonated throughout the evening.

The event, which is run by the Volunteer Center of Door County, honored 26 groups and individuals, all of whom were nominated by someone else in the community for their outstanding charitable achievements. The nominations fell into five categories: Adult, Group, Arts and Culture, Youth, and Lifetime of Service.

Gina Wautier, who took home the Adult award, was nominated for her extensive work with the Family Centers of Door County. Gina has served as the director of the Family Centers for the last 10 years and, through a savvy strategy which involved utilizing volunteers and giving up her own pay, saved the non-profit from having to shut its doors.

The Group award went to the volunteers at Leadership Door County, which has been providing leadership training to residents since 1990 and whose classes actually prompted the development of the Volunteer Center.

Arts and Culture winner Steve Graf was the first-ever nominee to be nominated by two different organizations. Both the Third Avenue Playhouse and Isadoora Theatre Company felt that Graf’s work behind the scenes, which includes but is not limited to building sets, hanging lights, and even constructing entirely new theatres, deserved to be recognized, and the Volunteer Center agreed.

Only one young man, Matthias Olson, was nominated for the Youth award, but he deserved the recognition. Matt coordinates blood drives for the American Red Cross at Southern Door High School, each of which brings in an average of 75 pints and saves up to 225 lives. When he was given the microphone, he used his time not only to say thanks, but also to get the word out about the next blood drive he was coordinating.

As for the Lifetime of Service award, that went to Gloria Dernbach, who has served on the board of Neighbor-to-Neighbor Volunteer Caregivers for the last nine years. Gloria initially stepped in to complete her husband’s term when his health was failing, but has stayed on and also served as a peer companion, a telephone companion, an artist, and even a rib chef when necessary.

Each winner took home a unique heart-shaped art piece designed by Chad Luberger of Plum Bottom Pottery and was given $500 to donate to the Door County charity of their choice. Olson, in addition to the other gifts, received a $500 academic scholarship.

The Celebration also featured a performance by the Ministry Door County Medical Center Children’s Choir and a lyrical dance by Kassner.