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HILLSVILLE — The community and the Southwestern Virginia Training Center strengthen each other.
That was the message at the training center's volunteer reception dinner April 23, as officials recognized the special efforts of a handful of community members and thanked the residents for their work for the good of the community.
The reception in the training center's gymnasium was an opportunity for the staff to show its gratitude for the time people devote to the facility's residents throughout the year, said Abby Adkins, the volunteer coordinator and banquet organizer.
"You enrich the lives of the individuals who live here with everything you do, from Christmas parties, presents, singing, cards, parade participation, one-on-one visits, phone calls, birthday parties," she said. "There is no task too big for you and we cannot thank you enough."
Adkins also thanked the staff for making the lives of training center residents more meaningful.
Adkins then handed out plaques made at one of the center's vocational programs as Dale Woods, director of the training center, spelled out the reasons for the honors.
First, they recognized those who live at the training center and make a difference in the community.
Three groups of residents were recognized, including:
• those who worked on the care packages for overseas military personnel.
"They helped gather, package and prepare for shipping items donated by staff and local businesses," Woods said. "Their volunteering efforts brought smiles and comfort to many soldiers away from home over the Christmas season."
Residents Randy, Brett, Curtis, Kenny, Timmy, Hampton and staff members participated in this effort. (The center does not release last names as a matter of privacy.)
• the members of a Relay for Life team who raised more than $1,000 last summer.
"To raise this money, they had several fundraisers and auctions and then participated in the walk that took place at Carroll County High School," Woods said. "This money will be put to good use by the American Cancer Society in their efforts to find a cure for cancer."
Team members were Tim, Timmy, Conley, Nobel, James, Aaron, John, Kevin, Johnnie, Raymond, Leigh and Gary.
• a group of residents that worked on a beautification project at Joy Ranch Children's Home.
"They cleaned the grounds, picked up trash, put up fall decorations and helped with the annual fall and Christmas banquets," Woods said. "Their volunteering efforts at Joy Ranch have really helped to make the campus a beautiful place for the children to live."
The residents who worked on this project were Joe, Terry, Tim O., Tim M., Robbie, Andy and Mark.
Several other residents also volunteer in the community, including Jerry, Elwood, Robert, Luther, Cheryl, Amanda, Rita, Ronnie, John V., Larry, Sam, Randy, Danny, Linatte, Wanda and Kathy.
Those honored with Volunteer of the Year awards included:
• Wayne Marshall and his quarterhorse Three Stockings, who were both on hand to visit with other attendees, behind a white plastic fence near a double door entryway to the gym.
Adkins presented the man and the horse not only the wooden plaque, but also a big bag of carrots to munch on for the Volunteer Group of the Year Award.
Marshall and Three Stockings have participated in summer day camps at the training center for several years, Woods said.
Marshall has brought several kinds of animals to visit the residents, but Woods called Three Stockings "the most dedicated" among them.
"He has proved to be a very kind and gentle horse and has helped many individuals with their various therapeutic needs," the training center director said. "Thank you, Wayne and Three Stockings, for your commitment and dedication throughout the years."
• Evelyn Gunter received the Volunteer of the Year Award for coming to the training center to conduct Sunday services.
Gunter, who attends Genesis Full Gospel Church in Mount Airy, N.C., makes sure that everybody has a great time.
"She is a faithful volunteer who does whatever she can to bring a smile to faces of the individuals who live here," Woods said. "With this special honor, we recognize Evelyn for her dedication and commitment."
Training center officials took time to remember Michael Lupien, who died Jan. 1, as Honorary Volunteer of the Year.
Lupien worked at the Office of Reimbursement Services in Richmond, Woods explained.
He visited the Southwestern Virginia Training Center four years ago and fell in love with the people there. He made it his personal mission to see they had amazing Christmases.
"For the past three years, he has found sponsors in Richmond for over 60 of our folks and brought those presents on Christmas Day in a U-Haul wearing a Santa suit," Woods said.
Though Lupien got sick just before Christmas, his co-workers brought the presents in his place and have pledged to carry on the Christmas tradition in honor of Lupien.
Adkins gave the plaque to Lupien's son Edward, who was in attendance.
Woods also took the opportunity to recognize Brandon Jones, a senior at Carroll County High School and member of the High Country Kickers dancers who has been visiting the training center for eight years with the group and is now going into the military, Woods said.