4th-grade super-volunteer + more honored as Hands On Birmingham celebrates 5 years

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2021 Ignite Awards
Fourth-grader Ethan Hill receives his 2021 Ignite Award. Photo via United Way of Central Alabama

Thousands of selfless Birminghamians work overtime every year volunteering at their schools, churches, work and other areas to make a substantial impact. The 2021 Ignite Awards, presented by United Way Hands On, recognizes those outstanding community members who give their time to make the city we all love a better place.

2021 Ignite Awards honors unsung heroes

Local artist Amy Soverow, owner of The Glass Studio, LLC, designed the 2021 Ignite Awards. Photo via United Way of Central Alabama

It’s the little things, which aren’t so little, that made the most meaningful difference in how people receive help. United Way Hands On partners with over 150 nonprofits to connect people with significant volunteer opportunities in Birmingham and beyond.

Every opportunity helps bring about positive social change to the six counties United Way of Central Alabama serves. The differences these volunteers make in each of them aren’t always noticed, until now.

Drew Langloh, President and CEO of United Way of Central Alabama, makes a video for the virtual Ignite Awards. Photo via United Way of Central Alabama

“Volunteers are the lifeblood of nonprofit organizations. The Ignite Awards are unique and that they honor what I call the everyday volunteers—those volunteers that show up every single day, every week, and they serve the meals and they swing the rakes and the paintbrushes, and they do the incredibly important tasks and work that nonprofits need to be successful.”

Drew Langloh, President and CEO, United Way of Central Alabama

Embodying United Way Hands On’s mission

Pre-pandemic Hands On Birmingham planning staff. You can help Hands On purchase needed supplies such as hammers, nails, lumber, paint, paintbrushes, trash bags, brooms, mops, etc by donating today. Photo via United Way of Central Alabama

United Way Hands On opens nominations on the first of September each year and closes them by November 30. Nominees come from all ages and backgrounds, but at the core, their mission reflects that of United Way Hands On.

“Today, our mission is based on three words, honoring community volunteers. We are here to celebrate you, the volunteer, you are the goodness and the light in our community and you bring our community hope.

You are the connector. You who choose to voluntarily serve, support, and give to your community. For that, you have made and continue to make a difference. Thank you.”

Benga Harris, Director, United Way Hands On

All nominees are bonded through their passion for service. In 2020’s case, commitment looks like helping students develop their reading and math skills, using a small business to form important connections in the community or leading a summit focused on social justice.

Meet the 2020 recipients

The Community Volunteer of the Year Award goes to Brooklyn Pickle from Gardendale Elementary School. Photo via United Way of Central Alabama

Their work ranges from helping schools, nonprofits, small businesses and corporate entities to faith-based and governmental organizations. In a year like 2020, it’s needless to say volunteers worked overtime.

“When I think about 2020, it was a hard year for nonprofits. And, what I was impressed with is that the volunteer spirit remained alive and well. It was not deterred by the pandemic.

We saw volunteers, find ways to continue to help nonprofits and continue to help our entire community grow and be successful in the face of the pandemic. So this is a really special year. And our fifth award year that we’re honoring those individuals that that really do help make our organization stronger.”

Drew Langloh
See the full list of 2020 recipients:
  • Nonprofit: Anamaria Santiago, Volunteer Co-Director of Anytown Alabama, a teen leadership summit focused on social justice and conducted through the YWCA.
  • Community Volunteer: Brooklyn Pickle, Volunteer at Gardendale Elementary where she helps students develop their reading and math skills.
  • Corporate: Cristina Almanza, a Six-year volunteer with Fiesta!, using experience from her position as Business Development Coordinator at Buffalo Rock Company to grow Fiesta’s impact throughout the Hispanic community.
  • Small Business: Dulce Rivera, Board Member for Fiesta!, using connections from her family’s supermarket, Mi Pueblo, to promote inclusion and celebrate culture.
  • Student: Ethan Hill, fourth-grader at Phillips Academy, who led initiatives to raise over $6,000 for Birmingham’s homeless community.
  • Hands On Legacy: Mauri Robinson, Ignite Co-Chair, who goes above and beyond expectations and is highly regarded by the Hands On leadership and staff,
  • Government: Ronnie Vaughn, Public Works Superintendent for the City of Mountain Brook and active volunteer
  • Faith Based: Thomas Russell, Woodlawn United Methodist Church, who devoted his retirement to service making hundreds of trips and deliveries for the Community Food Bank of Central Alabama

The 2021 Ignite Awards also paid tribute to the late Thomas Russell and Lee Ann Petty, for their commitment to making Birmingham a better city for all.

Inspired by the great members of our community? Find volunteer opportunities with United Way Hands On.

Learn more ways to get involved with United Way of Central Alabama through their website and when you follow them on FacebookInstagram and Twitter.

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