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Carol WilloughbyCarol Willoughby, shown with her service dog Midas, co-founded St. Francis Service Dogs, an organization that helps place professionally trained dogs with disabled children and adults.
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Amy WallerAmy Waller’s Student Outreach Services program provides clothing, holiday gifts, school supplies and more to disadvantaged local students.
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Angie LeonardConcerns for her son led to the founding of a school and to helping many other parents of a child with autism.
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Brent CochranHaving volunteered at a farmers market in another town, Brent Cochran had gathered great ideas to help Grandin Village and the West End Center for Youth develop farmers markets that would best serve the community.
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Bruce BryanBruce Bryan promotes Roanoke through various outlets and, through his radio show, helps get the word out about nonprofits and other community service organizations.
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Dr. J Burks Logan and Frank Chapman Jr.Dr. J. Burks Logan Jr. and Frank Chapman Jr. love their hometown and to give back, they spearheaded efforts to raise funds for the expansion of the Salem Museum.
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Carol WilloughbyCarol Willoughby, shown with her service dog Midas, co-founded St. Francis Service Dogs, an organization that helps place professionally trained dogs with disabled children and adults.
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Chris CraftChris Craft didn’t let going on disability slow him down. He found that giving back to the community was the perfect way to stay active.
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Gary HuntGary Hunt, also known as Bookbag Santa, takes one ton of school supplies to Belize each year to assist children and schools in need.
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Peter LewisPeter Lewis started Apple Ridge Farm to give children below the poverty level a safe and educational place to spend their summers.
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Sara OrrickSara Orrick, founder of Star City Greyhounds, dedicates her life to helping these dogs find loving homes.
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Orrick's GreyhoundsSara Orrick, founder of Star City Greyhounds, dedicates her life to helping these dogs find loving homes.
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Helen FitzpatrickHelen Fitzpatrick writes letters to strangers every day.
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Brian and Carol DuvallThe Duvall family stays in motion.
We reached out to Roanoker readers and Facebook fans for nominations of unsung heroes living in and around the Roanoke Valley. And we received some wonderful stories of heroism. Read on to discover just what made these folks stand out to their relatives, co-workers and peers:
Executive Director of Blue Ridge Autism and Achievement Center (BRAAC)
Nominated by Karen Turner
When Angie Leonard’s son was diagnosed with autism, she had difficulty finding intervention and schooling for him in the Roanoke Valley. She later learned about the Virginia Institute of Autism in Charlottesville and the school’s use of Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA) to work with autistic children, and wanted the same for her son.
“I set up my basement as a classroom and worked with Roanoke College to have psychology majors come and work with him,” she says.
While searching for other parents of autistic children, Leonard met Sue Crenshaw, and the two started a chapter of the Autism Society of America. The chapter met as a parent support group. Upon learning of Leonard’s makeshift classroom and seeing her son’s progress in communication, other parents encouraged her to start a school. She approached her pastor at Rainbow Forest Baptist Church, where they formed Blue Ridge Autism Center. In 2009, the school merged with The Achievement Center and serves children with learning disabilities as well.
The most rewarding part of Leonard’s job? “Giving families hope and the kids the opportunity to be successful,” she says.
Karen Turner knows firsthand that Leonard does just that. With two autistic grandchildren, she has witnessed the impact BRAAC can have.
Leonard “has helped so many ‘autism’ families find their way and learn what is life after an autism diagnosis,” Turner says. “And she does all of this with lots of love, a gentle voice and boat loads of persistence. She never stands to take a bow, she just keeps working for the children and families.”
For more on Blue Ridge Autism and Achievement Center, visit braac.org.
Director of Star City Greyhounds
Nominated by Laura White
What happens to racing greyhounds when it’s time for retirement? Sara Orrick saw a television program 20 years ago that indicated many perfectly healthy greyhounds were killed. She wanted to see that change.
While working for Petsmart, she was in charge of getting adoption groups involved, so she contacted the nearest greyhound adoption group and visited the kennel.
“I met my first greyhound and was hooked,” she recalls. “I volunteered for this group for several years before starting Star City Greyhounds in 1999.”
Orrick first ran the kennel out of her Salem home before moving to a location in Roanoke County in 2007. Since seeing the disturbing television program, Orrick says greyhound adoption has improved and most are sent to adoption groups.
“When their racing days are over, the retired racers want nothing more than a nice soft bed and love and attention,” she says. “I take care of the dogs by myself and I normally have between 20 and 40. I have a wonderful bunch of volunteers that help out with transports to the vet and attending meet-and-greets on weekends.”
Orrick places between 50 and 75 dogs per year with new owners. She enjoys the opportunity to get the dogs in front of the public as often as possible to show “how sweet and special they are” and find them homes.
According to Laura White, Orrick’s life is dedicated to caring for and finding loving homes for these dogs.
“To call her an unsung hero is an understatement,” White says. “To these dogs, she is their everyday hero.”
For more information on Star City Greyhounds, visit starcitygreyhounds.org.
Volunteer for numerous organizations
Nominated by Diane Martin
When Chris Craft was placed on disability due to several health issues, he was determined not to let it get him down.
“I thought, ‘why not give back to the community?’” he explains.
And he’s certainly gone above and beyond to do so. Since the beginning of the school year, Craft has volunteered 1,500 hours of service at Patrick Henry High School. He helps with security, running errands, making sure students are in class and “anything else that is needed.”
“My number one priority is making sure the kids and staff are safe and that the students are getting a good education,” he says. “I don’t do what I do for honor or glory or prestige, I just do what I think everyone should do. If everyone would volunteer in our community, especially schools, I feel our schools would be much better off.”
Craft also helped organize a Back to School Extravaganza to collect school supplies for students in need. He says he feels rewarded when students graduate or show him a good report card and thank him for ensuring they went to class.
“If something benefits a kid, he is there to do whatever is needed,” says Diane Martin. “He wants to make a difference in his community.”
It’s evident volunteering is in Craft’s blood. In addition to his service at the high school, he offers his time to the Rescue Mission, Jingle Bell Run for Arthritis, the Square Society and countless other organizations.
Frank Chapman Jr. and
Dr. J. Burks Logan Jr.
Spearheaded fundraising for expansion of Salem Museum
Nominated by Catherine Mosley
Facing the fact of tough economic times, the Capital Campaign Committee for the Salem Museum had a long road ahead. After the museum outgrew its space, the committee was charged with the challenge of raising funds for an extensive expansion. Enter Frank Chapman Jr. and Dr. J. Burks Logan Jr., two longtime Salem residents with a passion for their community and the preservation of history.
The two led the committee in efforts to obtain grants, gifts and pledges for the nearly $3 million they needed to raise. They were so successful that museum director John Long says other museums contacted him to find out their secret.
“When I came back from the Navy, my dad said ‘if you hang a shingle in Salem, you have to be sure and give back to the community,’” Chapman recalls.
Having such deep roots in Salem, both Chapman and Logan are well known in the community, which helped move fundraising efforts along. Thanks to their perseverance, the expanded museum opened in 2010 with new gallery space, archive and exhibit prep areas, a “green roof” for outdoor programs, meeting space and handicap accessibility.
“We have been most fortunate and blessed to have quite a few interested folks in Salem and the surrounding communities to help in so very many ways,” Logan says. “We are confident that folks will come through and make a commitment to help us complete our goals and make this a successful endeavor.”
There is still work to be done, including paying off debt for Phase I of the project and moving forward with Phase II, which involves finishing basement space for the Salem Fine Arts Commission and constructing an archive and local history research library.
“I feel sure they will be successful through their perseverance and love for their community,” Mosley says.
Learn more about the Salem Museum and how to donate at salemmuseum.org.
Co-founder of Saint Francis Service Dogs
Nominated by Niki Voudren
Carol Willoughby was diagnosed with rheumatoid arthritis at the age of 22. As the condition continued to impact her mobility, she decided to get a service dog for assistance. Her need for a service dog showed her that the community also had a tremendous need for a local organization that places professionally trained dogs with people with disabilities.
In 1996, she and Sherri Spell founded St. Francis Service Dogs, working tirelessly to raise funds and get the word out about such a great cause. Fast-forward to present day, and the nonprofit has a state-of-the-art kennel and training facility on an 18-acre former horse farm. Willoughby served as executive director for several years before transitioning to an advisor. But her enthusiasm and love for the organization still remains.
“When I visit the St. Francis kennel, I feel so much happiness I can barely take it in,” she says. “Everything about it has gone beyond my expectations.”
Niki Voudren says Willoughby’s accomplishments in forming and helping St. Francis grow are immeasurable and profound.
“Her persistence and sheer determination continues to benefit an incalculable amount of children and adults with disabilities in Virginia and beyond,” Voudren adds. “The ripple effect of her work cannot be quantified.”
St. Francis serves the entire state of Virginia and communities in other states within a 300-mile radius. The Assistance Dogs International accredited organization features Veteran and Prison Pup programs that help support the goal of placing service dogs.
For more information, visit saintfrancisdogs.org
With Mother’s Day and Father’s Day just around the corner, what better time to spotlight some great moms and dads in the area.
Brian and Carol Duvall: The Joys and Challenges of Foster Parenting
Growing up in a large family, Carol Duvall knew she would want the same when she got married and started her own family. While dating her husband Brian, she told him she wanted 12 kids. Luckily, that didn’t intimidate him.
Today, combining their three biological children and seven foster children – one of whom they adopted – the Duvalls have almost met Carol’s goal. They may even surpass it one day.
The Duvalls’ desire to become foster parents began about 10 years ago when Brian was installing a pool table at the Baptist Children’s Home, where many foster children reside when a home is not available. Wanting to help those in similar situations, the two went through foster parent training. But after having their third child, they realized that the resources for a foster child as well were not available at that time.
Years later, a friend working at social services called Carol, upset because two siblings would be separated in foster care. With means in place, the Duvalls pursued foster parenting again with a specific goal.
“We stressed that we wanted to help keep siblings together,” Carol says.
They also requested children ages seven and up because “we wanted kids that could keep up with our lifestyle,” Brian says. The Duvalls enjoy backpacking, kayaking, skiing and other outdoor recreation. Each summer, they take their children on an adventurous vacation.
“We consider the foster children ours,and give them at least as much as our kids have,” Carol says.
And their biological children embraced the idea of having foster siblings, always on board for more when others would leave.
“Initially, none of us knew what we were in for,” Carol says. “But I felt like there was such an increased need for foster homes that it was almost unfair not to use our resources.”
Their efforts certainly have not come without challenges, though.
“When foster kids come to your house, they don’t look at you as a friend,” Brian explains. “They might behave at first, but then test their boundaries.”
“It takes a long time to get to the point where they have a level of acceptance of their new life,” Carol adds.
Brian says they have been lucky enough to have each child for long periods of time, enabling them to see growth and maturity in the children.
“When conflict is over and they realize life is good, it makes this worthwhile,” he says.
“Even if we don’t have the reward of seeing if they go on to succeed, we know we’ve exposed them to a normal lifestyle and given them something to strive for,” Carol adds.
Being foster parents is like a full-time job, Carol says. And as business consultants for the Roanoke area, the Duvalls are able to work from home and spend more time with the children.
Director of Local Environmental Agriculture Project (LEAP)
Nominated by Katherine Devine
Recognizing the need for a farmers market in the Grandin area, the Roanoke Natural Foods Co-Op approached Brent Cochran about starting one.
“I had volunteered at a farmers market in another town,” Cochran says, “so approached the project from a customer’s prospective” to nail down what would serve the community best.
As the director of LEAP, a nonprofit organization that looks to strengthen access of locally grown, healthy food to everyone in the region, Cochran decided even more could be done. About a year after the opening of Grandin Village Community Market, he started the West End Community Market at the West End Center for Youth, a facility that offers programs for disadvantaged children.
Taking the projects a step further, Cochran worked with the Virginia Department of Social Services to get a two-year grant for wireless credit card machines. This helped him – with assistance from other local organizations and the Co-Op – implement the acceptance of Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) benefits as payment, as well as a two-for-one dollar value for SNAP users.
“It is inspiring to see someone take their vision, make it happen, and affect the lives of so many people so positively,” says Katherine Devine. “By extending the market to the West End Center, Brent has helped make this food available to a part of our community that is underserved.”
For more on LEAP, visit leapforlocalfood.org.
Founder of Bookbag Santa
Nominated by Elliott Wheeler
He doesn’t have a big white beard or red suit, but Gary Hunt has become a veritable Santa Claus in his own right. About 22 years ago, he traveled to Belize, where he met a couple with five children who were in need.
“Each year, I saved toys, pens, pencils and other things to take to them on my next trip,” he says. “The surplus of supplies would go to their school.”
From there, his generosity snowballed into Bookbag Santa. In addition to saving school supplies himself, Hunt has placed boxes in local schools to gather even more items and keep good supplies that may otherwise be thrown away out of the landfill.
Hunt organizes a trip to Belize every year, now typically with 20 or more other people willing to help out, and takes one ton of those supplies to schools in the country. The other ton goes to churches that are planning mission trips or other organizations that may have a use for the supplies. He sent items to Haiti following the massive earthquake.
Hunt says he enjoys getting people together for such a good cause and finds it rewarding when the children thank him with notes and songs. One school created a poster that spelled “Thank You Bookbag Santa” with clippings of letters from magazines.
“And having strangers walk up and say ‘thank you,” he says, “that’s heartwarming.”
Elliott Wheeler says he admires Hunt’s dedication to getting school supplies to children who are in need. “He does this without being into self-aggrandizement, and he’s been doing it for many years,” he adds.
Hunt’s next trip is July 21-Aug. 5; an option to stay just one week is also available. He will have a Belize booth at the Local Colors Festival on May 19, where he will provide more information and sign people up for the trip.
For more on how to donate or sign up for the trip, visit bookbagsanta.com
Promotes Roanoke through various projects
Nominated by Stephanie Koehler
Bruce Bryan says most of the mid-sized cities he’s lived in – like Roanoke – have had self-esteem issues. Since moving here in 2007, he has worked hard to prove that Roanoke has tons of potential.
“People say there’s nothing to do here,” he says. “You can find cool things about where you live; I started trying to help people see what there is to do.”
According to Stephanie Koehler, Bryan invested his “personal human resources into furthering the revitalization of Roanoke that was already in play. He also made it his personal mission to make newcomers feel that the Roanoke region was a place filled with creative ingenuity, business opportunity and cultural vibe.”
About three years ago, Bryan co-founded Down by Downtown, a multi-cultural live music festival that utilizes many music venues throughout downtown. He also hosts a radio program on 101.5 The Music Place called Roanoke Valley Conversations, during which he promotes area organizations, nonprofits and others.
Thanks to the radio show, Bryan has “learned about so many cool things that people are doing for the community. There is amazing stuff happening right under our noses.” The show “gives people or organizations more of a voice to get the word out about what they are doing,” he adds.
In addition to community-improvement and cultural projects, he is involved with Roanoke Valley Reads and is an advocate for Help Save the Next Girl, which was organized following the disappearance and tragic death of Virginia Tech student Morgan Harrington. Bryan says he definitely had to find a balance between running his business, B2C Enterprises, and giving back to the community.
“It’s hard because there are so many good things happening that I would love to be more involved in,” he says. But if he can’t participate, he’s sure to look for ways to help others connect to projects.
Founder of Apple Ridge Farm
Nominated by Janie Meggers
Janie Meggers says Peter Lewis is one of the finest and most selfless men she has ever known.
“He was a local educator who saw a need for inner city children living at or below the poverty level to have academic support in the summer – as well as throughout the year,” she says.
Because of this, Lewis purchased land in Floyd County in 1975 to start Apple Ridge Farm and host summer camps and educational retreats for economically disadvantaged children. Today, an average of 450 students attend summer camp for free each year and as many as 3,000 third graders come to the farm’s James A. Meador Natural Science Center for science and nature field trips, Lewis – known as Uncle Peter to the students – says.
“He’s worked so hard to help kids learn,” says his wife, Carla, who also helps with Apple Ridge programs. “When groups come here, they want to learn something different and feel freer to explore new horizons.”
Activities at the science center, where a mural portrays animals native to Floyd and a “touch table” allows kids to feel feathers, antlers and other elements of nature, are based on third-grade SOLs to help them prepare for their tests, Lewis explains.
Summer camps (four, two-week sessions) incorporate reading, writing, environmental science, and other subjects, as well as swimming and tennis programs. Older students also take college field trips and attend a Career Day. These activities help “increase their knowledge base and give them new experiences” they may not otherwise have the opportunity to enjoy.
The farm also features an observatory and outdoor stage, as well as a challenge course that includes a climbing/repelling tower and zip line. Businesses/organizations are welcome to host conferences on the property as well.
Donations from companies, organizations and individuals have helped Lewis accomplish his goal of “helping kids grow.” He also lauds the adult volunteers that serve as camp counselors and in other positions.
It’s all rewarding for Lewis “when I have adults who come to me and sight this as one of the most rewarding things they’ve ever done,” he says.
For more information on Apple Ridge Farm, visit appleridge.org.
Founder of Student Outreach Services
Nominated by Jill Loftis
As a transient teen – attending six high schools during those years – Amy Waller knows first hand what it’s like to be viewed differently or accepted based on whether she had adequate clothing.
Now, says Jill Loftis, Waller works “tirelessly and fearlessly” to provide for local students in need through Student Outreach Services.
“We have so many students who quit attending school because they can’t bear to go one more day with the same worn-out clothing and shoes and without supplies,” Waller says. “The needs are great and some of the circumstances our students find themselves in are heart-breaking.”
Many of the students served through the program are in crisis situations, live in poverty, have little or no family support or have turned 18 and had to leave their homes. Waller provides these children with school clothing, personal care bags, winter coats, shoes, holiday gifts, book bags, school supplies, food and more.
“It is humbling to see a 17-year-old boy have tears in his eyes when you hand him a pair of shoes,” she says.
Civic organizations, places of worship and individuals often assist with item collections or monetary donations.
This year, Student Outreach Services provided fall school clothing, shoes and supplies for 511 students and holiday gifts for 623 students.
“Some of our holiday gifts included blankets requested by homeless children who move from place to place with a guardian, alarm clocks for students who are responsible for getting younger siblings ready for school and a basketball for a boy who made the team, but couldn’t practice because he didn’t own one,” Waller says.
Learn more about Student Outreach Services and how to donate items at studentoutreachservices.info.