By Mary Jo Coulehan
Special to The SUN
The 2019 Community Awards were announced at Friday’s WinterFest Gala. The categories were citizen, volunteer, small business and nonprofit of the year.
Citizen of the Year
The nominees for Citizen of the Year were Neil Umali, Kimberlie Hamilton Fleming, Annie Sewell and Dale Johnson. The winner was Johnson.
Johnson has changed the face of culture and educational impact in our community. Long before Thingamajig and professional theater, there was the Music Boosters, now Curtains Up Pagosa.
Creating community theater and strengthening the youth of Pagosa has been this nominee’s passion since 2001, impacting almost 20 of the 30 years of its existence. She has been a board member since 2001, and has choreographed shows, worked on sets, costuming, makeup, securing the artistic licensing to produce the shows and writing grants. She is the cheerleader, mentor, bulldog and workhorse for the organization, producing two shows a year.
Along with volunteering her time to make this happen, she dedicates her time to students, giving outside coaching, taking them to competitions and even giving of her own time and money to help out an actor or young performer. She is the “go to” person or mentor for a lot of kids, even in their personal lives, offering a safe place to go for guidance, advice and just someone to talk to. Because of her guidance, many young Pagosa youth have pursued theatrical professions. She volunteers for other organizations helping with the productions and collaborates with other agencies such as the Pagosa Center for the Arts and Seeds of Learning with costumes, staging and even acting.
Whether watching a cast of four or 40, Johnson has changed the caliber of show and quality of performance of community theater in Pagosa. Where once theater in Pagosa was an option, it is now an expectation and Johnson has been the driving force for this cultural shift and theatrical educational pursuit. Congratulations to Johnson for her lasting effect to culture and education in Pagosa Springs.
Volunteer of the Year
In the Volunteer of the Year category, the nominees were Loren Foster, Annie Sewell, Pauline Benetti and Yvonne Wilcox.
The winner was Sewell. She is the backbone of the fairly new organization DUST2. In 2013, she started the initiative to get grant money to build a safer route for children to get to the elementary school. The completion of the sidewalk on North 8th Street this year is a result of her hard work, as is the trail on 10th Street in conjunction with the Town of Pagosa Springs.
The outdoors, safe routes and trail access is her passion. She has taken this passion to create a system of new single-track trails throughout the Town of Pagosa Springs, including Dakota Springs behind the high school for people, especially youth, to get out and get out safely. Her collaboration skills are a model.
She organized the Southwest Conservation Corps to have kids work on trails on Reservoir Hill. She is partnering with the Forest Service and its partners to work on trails that need rerouting and maintenance for access for all kinds of activities. You can find her at a WinterFest bike race thawing out ingredients and making delicious crepes, all with a smile. In 2019, the DUST2 organization took several high school students to the state finals in Durango. Organizing this student team and its coaches would not have been possible without her involvement.
It is not only DUST2 that she helps. She contributes her time and talent to individuals and organizations to help them succeed. Since 2015, she has contributed over 1,000 hours a year to just one organization. Sewell was selected as Volunteer of the Year for her contributions to changing and improving the lifestyle, safety and activity of our community.
Nonprofit of the Year
The nonprofit organizations nominated this year included DUST2, the Small Business Development Center, the Pagosa Multi Purpose Pavilion, Aspire Medical Services and Education, and Habitat for Humanity.
The winner was Aspire Medical Services and Education. Aspire has been in business for 20 years. It started as an organization dedicated to safe and confidential pregnancy information, testing and assistance to those in need of infant and toddler food and clothing. This nonprofit also now conducts men’s parenting classes and court-ordered parenting classes for clients of the Department of Human Services. They have built a relationship with San Juan Basin Public Health, who actually now refers clients to Pagosa who cannot find affordable prenatal care in Durango. They provide services to more than 80 percent of the pregnant women and have lowered the low birth weight and preterm birth percentage in the area. From being known only as the Pagosa Pregnancy Center to Aspire Medical Services and Education with a large menu of services many in the community are not even aware of, Aspire was awarded the Nonprofit of the Year.
Small Business of the Year
In the small business category, the nominees were Funky Trunk, Two Chicks and a Hippie, Lantern Dancer Gallery and Gift Shop, and Pagosa Veterinary Clinic.
The winner was Lantern Dancer. Lantern Dancer has been in business since 1990. It changed ownership 15 years ago. Retail is tough in this tourism-based economy, but this store has increased sales by having a great website presence and online store.
They have continued to work on the business by upgrading their inventory system to a point-of-sale system and can offer their store inventory to the online world. Their customer service skills are exemplary, even referring customers to other businesses should they not have a product the customer is looking for and being ranked 4.9 out of 5 in the Google rankings.
Rarely has a nonprofit agency been denied an item to be auctioned off at a fundraiser and much money has been raised from their generous donations of significant items of jewelry or works of art. Owner Doris Green has served on the Chamber board, and spearheaded and was president of the Pagosa Springs Arts Council for years.
Other staff members such as Leanne Goebel have helped the community by serving as president of the Pagosa Makers, volunteering for the Arts Council and working on the Art Walks.
Always willing to assist other businesses, they offer guidance in business practices, retail dos and don’ts, and general cheerleading efforts.
As one customer noted, “They obviously know their business and they definitely care about their customers, even if they may likely not see them again. However, for me — I will return.”
Congratulations to Lantern Dancer Gallery and Gift Shop, 2019 Small Business of the Year.