The NeighborLink Volunteer of the Year Awards are an effort to highlight and celebrate the individual, group, and corporate contributions made each year to advancing our mission through service. These awards are designed to celebrate the unique and note-worthy contributions through service that have made a tangible impact on those served, inside their communities, or within their organizations.
We celebrate each and every volunteer who uses NeighborLink as a tool along their journey to find neighbors in need and give of their time, talents, and treasures to love them well.
Below you'll find stories and insights from each of our eight winners. Keep scrolling to learn more.
Ray Martin has been volunteering with NeighborLink for about six years with the Carpenter’s Sons. Since then, he has become one of the key leaders for projects involving wheelchair ramps. Ray’s enthusiasm for life, service, and for his neighbors can be felt at each project site he’s on, which keeps work fun and engaging for everyone involved. Ray has a great sense of humor and doesn’t shy away from any projects that come his way.
One of Ray’s standout projects this year was a wheelchair ramp he helped build for Amber Nelson (video link below). “She had an infectious personality that, though she has faced tremendous challenge, was an inspiration to me. I remember having so much fun working on that ramp. Her kids, too, were great. I still remember making jokes with her son about the ‘chocolate and vanilla’ deck boards. I think I was a bad influence on him because she later told me about him playing a prank on her claiming there was ice cream on the ramp—chocolate and vanilla!”
As far as his thoughts on this memorable year, he said, “This year has shown us how much we need to show love to our neighbors. Evil has been putting in overtime to tear us apart, to turn us on one another, to try and slow us down. I think the Carpenter's Sons didn't let the that evil stop us (maybe quarantined us a few times) but our resolve has been hardened to keep pressing on. We are doing what Jesus would have us do.”
Thank you, Ray, for your unquenchable passion to love your neighbors as yourself!
Nancy Louraine always has her eyes on our website and regularly helps others with simple errands and grocery shopping. Frequently, and without hesitation, she pays for items out of her own pocket, often building long lasting relationships with those she helps. Nancy, the former CEO of Turnstone, may now be retired but that never kept her from getting more involved over time. We have been fortunate to have her encouragement on hand for the past two years that she has volunteered at NeighborLink.
On 2020, she said, “The pandemic prevented me from getting involved in some of the projects I wanted to do, so I tried to assist with grocery shopping and delivery projects that minimized contact.
“I was so touched by the appreciation these folks expressed to NeighborLink for helping them with food in their times of need. Money was short; they were sick and had no one to help them. I worked through the challenge of a Spanish speaking family (I don’t speak Spanish); saw one individual crying as they watched me deliver groceries to their porch; received many ‘Bless you’s.’ I messed up once when I forgot to bring dog food. Needless to say, I remembered as I approached the house to drop off the food and a pit bull placed his head against the window barking at me! I returned with that big bag of food.
"My heart was so full after each of these deliveries. I plan to continue helping in the next year...and do more after I get my vaccination!”
Thank you, Nancy, for your commitment to serve despite the difficulties in doing so!
Tom Smith was laid off from his job in the early days of the pandemic. He started helping with wheelchair ramp projects, rebuilding staircases, and has been very active with lawn care projects (as you can clearly see in the attached picture). Thanks to his servant leadership, he has turned a troubled year into a positive one by showing up and offering his gifts despite his own life circumstances.
One of the projects that enabled Tom to use his gifts was on a wheelchair ramp for a neighbor named Willie. “As each section of ramp was completed, Willie would roll down and watch. This went on all day, because when we got done he was going to lunch with his daughter, Mary. What an amazing day!” By the end of the early afternoon, when the ramp was all finished and father and daughter could make their way to lunch, the ramp was officially measured out to be the longest one in NeighborLink’s history.
Although the year started off in an unexpected way, Tom’s word for 2020 wouldn’t surprise any of his friends at all: grateful.
We at NeighborLink are just as grateful for your hard work as well, Tom!
Debbie Smith has been a volunteer and supporter of NeighborLink for many years. Proving that not everyone likes to ease into retirement, Debbie has only become more active over the past year as she became the key coordinator of volunteers through the YMCA of Greater Fort Wayne. Her passion to connect with people wanting to help, serve, and love neighbors in tangible ways has enabled her to play a critical role within the YMCA branches, and as a NeighborLink volunteer as well.
“Helping people has been a part of my DNA for as long as I can remember. Bringing volunteers from the YMCA and the community together to serve our neighbors has been a great opportunity for people to make new friends, feel good about helping others, and feeling a sense of normalcy in this crazy year. I came across a Bible verse which helped explain to me why I am so passionate about serving others. Ephesians 2:10 says, ‘For we are God's workmanship, created in Christ Jesus, to do good works which God prepared in advance for us to do.’”
Debbie worked on so many projects in 2020 that it would be impossible for her to choose one that stood out among the others. However, “I was able to meet some wonderful people and that is what I loved the best of this years' projects: meeting and working with wonderful people of all ages.”
We’re grateful that we’ve had the opportunity to work with you as well, Debbie, and look forward to what 2021 has in store!
Derrick Smith joined the NeighborLink staff in 2017 after volunteering for a year. Although he retired at the end of Be a Good Neighbor Week this summer, he quickly transitioned back into a role as a regular volunteer. Derrick works alongside the Carpenter’s Sons on a variety of projects. He’s a jack-of-all-trades and always keeps each project site fun and energized due to his work ethic and love of storytelling.
“Volunteering with NeighborLink has provided such a blessing to me. As I look at the projects we have been involved with, I am amazed at the variety. Many of the projects seem to be daunting in scope but God has provided so many resources for us. The neighbors we interact with show such graciousness. I must thank NeighborLink and many friends who have made this year special.”
When recounting a particular project that stood out in 2020, Derrick said, “I don't have specific stories to tell about this year that wouldn't embarrass me, but one project involved pouring a concrete slab. Something happened that it did not cure completely and needed to be replaced. Our team just rolled with it and got it done. It all worked out. This project exemplified that grace removes the sting of failure! Volunteering is a marvelous way to stay humble.”
That may be so, but we also feel the need to brag on you and lift you up for your commitment to loving the world around you. Thank you for your hard work and service!
When Kyle Zurbuch interned with NeighborLink over the summer, he completely immersed himself in our mission of practical, neighbor-to-neighbor expressions of God’s love. Part of his job was helping to get volunteer groups mobilized but he also spent a good amount of time in the field, jumping from project to project. After his internship was over, Kyle continued to engage in the community and help out with NeighborLink projects on a regular basis.
One of Kyle's fondest memories from this year took place on a grey and rainy day. “One project that really opened my eyes to NeighborLink’s mission and how to serve others was the very first project I was involved in. Jeff, Derrick, and I loaded a dryer into Foamie (one of NeighborLink’s vehicles) to take to a family in desperate need of one. It was a struggle getting the dryer into the house and the basement but we found a way. This was such a simple task but it meant the world to the mother and her family.”
Throughout the summer, Kyle continued to learn more about who a neighbor really is and what kind of impact kindness can have on others. It had such a profound effect on him that he continued plugging in on a regular basis. “There is not an easier way to show God’s love than to take time out of your day to help a neighbor here in Fort Wayne.”
We couldn’t agree more! Thanks for leading by example and making all of us at NeighborLink proud of you, Kyle!
Andy Schnipke has been a volunteer for many years. During that time, he has been a key organizer for service events within his church community at Northeast Christian. Andy has a growing and active family, along with a full career, but always finds times to lead his community into service by taking on NeighborLink projects. He and his family are involved in a number of other ministries and truly integrate service as an ongoing life discipline.
This year was certainly a standout year for Andy, particularly when it came to a friendship with a brand new neighbor. “A few guys from our Church gathered on a Friday afternoon and mowed some yards. We mowed a couple and decided we had time for one more. That's when we met George. George is a wonderful guy who has dealt with medical issues all his life. Mowing his yard led to us coming back another time and raking leaves, along with a couple more visits. But far more importantly, each time we went we got to know George by hanging out and listening. One of those times George told us he felt God sent us to him.
“What I continue to learn from NeighborLink is that God is using His people to do good deeds that temporarily fix things, such as: leaf raking (leaves come back), yard mowing (grass grows again), roofing (shingles will get damaged again) to show His love to those in need, and all for His glory.”
What an incredible perspective! It’s just one of the many reasons Andy is a truly driving force as a volunteer for NeighborLink. Keep it up!
Dan Sparling has been volunteering with NeighborLink for the past four years and is also the Serve Director for his church community, Elevate City. In 2020, Dan led his team to complete twenty service projects for twenty separate families in Fort Wayne, an incredible feat that unquestionably makes him a driving force within his community.
“During COVID we wanted to find ways to bless our community, so I contacted NeighborLink to find out what needs there were. It quickly became apparent that many families were struggling to maintain their lawn. With the help of NLFW and Chelsey Conroy, who is our new Serve Director, we were able to put together teams to go out and help with lawn maintenance and yard cleanup for 20 families. It was a great experience for all of us and we are so thankful that Fort Wayne residents have somewhere they can turn when they experience a need.“Serving has been a blessing to our congregation and we are hopeful to continue this in the years to come! “
We’re hopeful of that, too! Thank you, Dan, for your leadership and willingness to step up in a year of vast uncertainty. We look forward to working side by side in 2021!