For 30 years, honoring community service

April 24, 2018

The six outstanding volunteer award recipients and 18 volunteers who were nominated at the Outstanding Volunteers of Kankakee County Recognition Luncheon on Friday, demonstrated that “whatever your talents or interest, there’s a volunteer opportunity for you.”

Those words came from Anita Wilson, co-chair of the event, which was coordinated by the Kankakee County Community Foundation, the Pledge for Life Partnership and the United Way of Kankakee County.

The annual luncheon, a part of National Volunteer Week, turns 30 this year. Established in 1989 by the Junior League of Kankakee County, it has honored hundreds of couples and individuals who have served in over 200 community organizations. More than 1,000 people have been nominated for the award, from diverse organizations such as Kankakee Valley Symphony Orchestra, to Illinois Veterans Home and the Modern Woodmen of America Teen Service Club.

“Each year it is astounding to see the scope of hardworking volunteers who serve the community,” Wilson said.

Among the winners was Monica Brigham, organizer and director of Easy Street Theater, a theater company for actors with special abilities. The success of the organization is the way it brings people from the community together with the actors. The group started in 2009 with nine actors and now more than 50 people are involved in every production. Classes are also offered in the fall, in subjects like cooking, music and dancing.

Another artistic volunteer honored was Mark Knowler, who has volunteered over 3,500 hours playing the piano at Riverside Medical Center.

Also recognized at the luncheon were two women who have dedicated their lives in service to their churches: Sister Mary MacIsaac of St. John Paul II Church and Beverly Emme of St. Joseph Parish.

At 90, MacIsaac is a bundle of energy. A former missionary to Guatemala for 30 years where she founded a school for orphaned children, she now advocates and empowers the Hispanic community, visiting immigrants waiting to be deported in prison and translating for uninsured and underinsured patients at the Azzarelli Clinic.

“I do it because I was once in a foreign land and didn’t know the language,” MacIsaac said. “I understand their difficulties.”

Emme began serving in fifth grade as an organist, and for six decades has worked in hospitality, organization and service.

“The world really is going to be a better place with our help,” Emme said. “Even in this world of computers and cars that drive themselves, they still need us — volunteers.”

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