For 23 years, hundreds of residents of the Fox Valley came together each spring for an awards gala celebrating people who went above and beyond to help make the community a better place with their gifts of time and talent.
The inaugural Celebrating Volunteers awards event led by The Post-Crescent was held in 1998, co-sponsored by the local newspaper in partnership with Community Foundation for the Fox Valley Region. The COVID-19 pandemic contributed to the cancelation of the event the last three years, although volunteer award recipients were still selected in 2020 and 2021.
The steering committee, led by the Community Foundation and including award and event sponsors, has decided to end the gala and volunteer awards.
During the gala, outstanding volunteer awards were given over the years in six to eight categories, with awards sponsored by various local businesses, Mielke Family Foundation, and most recently Volunteer Fox Cities. The awards recognized volunteers in nonprofit/business partnership, healthcare, lifetime leadership, volunteer of the year, mentoring, education, arts and youth.
The Community Foundation has been co-sponsoring the event from the beginning. For most of the event’s history, it shared event planning leadership and co-sponsorship with The Post-Crescent; NBC26 became an event co-sponsor in 2019. Award sponsors included Aid Association for Lutherans (now Thrivent), Mielke Family Foundation, Community First Credit Union, School Specialty, SECURA, The Post-Crescent, Ascension and ThedaCare. The history of the event, sponsors and most recent recipients are listed on the Celebrating Volunteers web site.
Each adult recipient chose one or more nonprofit to receive the $5,000 the sponsors donated with the awards. In addition to receiving a $1,500 scholarship, the youth recipient designated $1,000 to a nonprofit.
From 1998-2021, award sponsors made it possible for $749,500 to be given to local nonprofits chosen by their award recipients.
“Every nonprofit organization relies on volunteers to accomplish their mission. They lend their expertise, time, and energy,” said Curt Detjen, president and CEO of the Community Foundation. “Celebrating Volunteers was a great way to pay tribute to the hundreds of volunteers who make the Fox Valley Region a great place to live, work and play. Although the event is ending, the spirit of giving back flourishes.”
The late Paul and Elaine Groth were the inspiration for the annual Celebrating Volunteers, though they were never able to attend. The Fox Cities community leaders were killed in a car crash on April 30, 1997, in Green Bay. A circle of the Groths’ friends created the event to honor the couple’s dedication to volunteer service.
“Paul and Elaine loved the Fox Cities and gave back in many ways,” said Pam Gruner, Mielke Family Foundation Board President and a friend of the Groths. “They would have loved attending the many galas honoring individuals like them who selflessly give their time and expertise to the hundreds of valuable nonprofit organizations in the Fox Cities. I miss them – but they would be so proud of the volunteer community that has grown since their passing.”
Read about how the Celebrating Volunteers awards and gala came to be.
With the conclusion of the Celebrating Volunteers event, Volunteer Fox Cities and Celebrate Diversity Fox Cities will be combining their two summer events – Give Back Bash and the Fox Cities Community Cookout – for a family-friendly event focused on celebrating local diversity and volunteerism on June 17, 11 am to 3 pm in Menasha’s Jefferson Park. More information will be shared by both organizations this spring.
In a time when filling staff vacancies is difficult, especially in nonprofit organizations, volunteers are even more critical. Celebrating Volunteers steering committee representatives encourage individuals, businesses and organizations to:
- Volunteer with your favorite nonprofit organization.
- Check out the Volunteer Fox Cities web site for volunteer opportunities.
- Say thank-you to volunteers or send a note to someone who goes above and beyond to give their time.
- Set up an internal volunteer recognition program at your employer; offer paid volunteer time for employees.
- If you’re not able to volunteer, make a donation to a nonprofit organization that’s important to you.