The Rotary Club of Ponte Vedra Beach and the Ponte Vedra Recorder recognized seven local residents for their contributions to the community last week at the 29th annual Local Heroes Awards.
Held Thursday, May 27 at Marsh Landing Country Club, this year’s event honored residents whose service to the community includes providing fresh produce to families in need, aiding those affected by natural disasters, protecting the environment, providing critical medical care and supporting parents grieving the loss of a child.
Local Heroes Committee Chair Steve Crosby noted that the awards were started in 1993 by former Rotary Club member Vic DiGenti in partnership with the Ponte Vedra Recorder in order to recognize the “unsung heroes” who give back to the community and reflect the spirit of the Rotary Club’s motto, “Service Above Self.”
The “Local Heroes” Class of 2021 includes:
JoAnn Wallace: The president of the board for Dig Local Network – Farmers Markets, Community Gardens and Outreach, Wallace was recognized for her efforts to create and expand programs that provide sustainable food programs to serve the community. In accepting the award, she noted that the COVID 19 pandemic created an even greater need for her organization’s food programs. “We were able to sustain people through COVID with dignity,” she said.
Jim Gray & Keith Faver: Ponte Vedra residents Gray and Faver and their construction company are the longtime sponsor of Wolfson Children’s Hospital’s Patrons of the Hearts. In addition to bringing more than 50 underprivileged children to Wolfson to have corrective heart surgery, the duo have provided disaster relief in the Bahamas to victims of Hurricane Dorian. Faver recalled the impact meeting the mother of one of the children who received life-saving heart surgery had on him: “I thought, ‘Oh my God, this giving thing is pretty cool!’”
Bill Irwin: As a disaster action team captain with the American Red Cross, Irwin applies his leadership and asset management skills to coordinate team members for rotation, training and disaster responses. As a DAT captain, he coordinated the initial local response to Hurricane Matthew, the sinking of the El Faro cargo ship and a multifamily fire in Ponte Vedra. “There is nothing more satisfying than walking away from a fire at 4 in the morning knowing you were able to help people when they needed it most,” he said.
Debbie Shearer: After tragically losing her son to hospital-acquired sepsis 14 years ago, Shearer dedicated herself to helping others. In addition to donating a kidney to a stranger, she founded Parents with Hope, a local support group for parents who have lost a child. “This is a group no one wants to join,” Shearer said. “We have all struggled with finding community and being able to relate to people. But when you find others (to support you), the healing can begin.”
Kevin Brown: A marine science teacher and community volunteer leader, Brown organized students to plant sea oats in the dunes, educating them about the environment in the process. “People used to laugh at us,” Brown recalled, “until Hurricane Matthew and Irma happened, and those sea oats held the water back. Those kids thought they saved the beaches!
“We have a fabulous place where we live,” Brown continued, “and I just want to keep it that way.”
Janie Kratzert: The president of the Heartstrings Foundation, Kratzert recalled how the organization began when a group of local Ponte Vedra parents began hearing through the grapevine about local students or families in need. “We didn’t all have big pocketbooks, but we had big hearts,” she said. That heart for giving has led the organization to anonymously help local residents in need. “Whether it’s buying textbooks for a homeless student or providing groceries or gas cards to families, it may not seem like much, but it can make such a difference to them when they need it most.”