Dick Anderson, left, Erek Hansen, Victoria Valle, and Jeff Wilbarger receive Jefferson Awards for community service. Mr. Wilbarger, founder of the first group recovery home for girls rescued out of sex trafficking in Ohio, will be in the national awards competition.
Jeff Wilbarger got choked up while discussing the work that earned him a Jefferson Award on Thursday.
Mr. Wilbarger, founder of the Daughter Project, a recovery home in Wood County for victims of human trafficking, was one of four people to receive the community service award at a breakfast ceremony at the Premier Banquet Hall.
The Jefferson Awards recognize community “unsung heroes” devoted to public service. The prize has been nicknamed the Nobel Prize for community service.
The 2016 Toledo-area winners, spanning more than 70 years in age, were chosen for their contributions to environmental, social justice, and other public service causes.
Mr. Wilbarger, 52, will represent the Toledo area at the national Jefferson Awards in June in Washington. He said Thursday that he was thankful to be able to bring more attention to the issue of human trafficking.
IN PICTURES: Jefferson Awards
“As great an honor as this is, none of us have done the things we have done to win a Jefferson Award,” he said. “We’ve done it because it’s the right thing to do.”
He encouraged attendees to not stand by and watch as people, particularly children, are pulled into sex trafficking, calling it “the greatest moral failure of our country” today.
He also called on the community to be part of the solution and to find a way to get involved.
Bedford High School Youth Jefferson Awards/Students in Action Initiative will represent the Toledo region at the Jefferson Awards Foundation national ceremonies in Washington in June. The students are, from left: Hunter Gandee, Rachel Staley, Kerragan Gandee (Hunter’s sister), Samantha Moore, Jillian Freel, and Brennon Jacobs. At far right is the students’ adviser, Bedford High School teacher Christy Avalos.
“None of us can fix this problem alone, but we can work together,” he said.
Dick Anderson, 86, chairman emeritus of The Andersons board of directors, was honored for his years of philanthropic work and leadership on area boards, including support of the Toledo Symphony, Rotary Club of Toledo, Toledo Museum of Art, and the Boy Scouts.
Mr. Anderson congratulated the other winners and thanked his family and wife, Fran, with whom he said he’s had “a 62-year love affair.”
“My overwhelming feeling is a simple word, thanks,” he said of the award. “I don’t know anybody who has been more blessed than I’ve been.”
Erek Hansen, 15, founder of recycling organization Go Green Ohio, began his efforts to recycle articles of clothing when he was 8 years old.
Since then, the organization has recycled 27,000 pairs of jeans and 15,000 pairs of shoes. The items are used in housing insulation or playground mulch, which keeps them out of landfills.
“It’s quite an honor for my name to be added to the distinguished list of Jefferson Award winners that have come before me,” he said.
Victoria Valle, 48, started the international scholarship organization Esperanza. The program, named for the Spanish word for hope, teaches young people in El Salvador skills such as carpentry and sewing, while giving them the opportunity to earn funds for their education.
The organization began after a mission trip inspired her to do more.
“My passion came on my first trip when I realized what a significant impact a small dollar made and that I could make a difference,” she said, adding that the goal is to make participants financially self-sufficient. “There is nothing better than giving hope.”
Other 2016 finalists were Mona Al-Hayani, Kelli Burkhardt, Richard Hylant, David and Kelly Kaiser, Lisa Kronback-Eisenbach, Clyde Scoles, Jennifer Scroggs, Rhonda Sewell, Janet Stoll, and Patrick Tansey.
Bedford High School students took home top honors in the Youth Jefferson Award/Students in Action award for their combined 66,440 hours of community service.
Silver-level awards went to students at Perrysburg High School, Lake High School, and St. Ursula Academy. Earning bronze were students from Toledo Early College High School, Lima Central Catholic High School, Toledo Central Catholic High School, and Maumee High School. Springfield High School was recognized in the Ambassador category.
The awards are sponsored by The Blade, Buckeye CableSystem, WTVG-13, and Leadership Toledo. The breakfast ceremony was sponsored by The Andersons and Waterford Bank.
Guidelines: Please keep your comments smart and civil. Don't attack other readers personally, and keep your language decent. Comments that violate these standards, or our privacy statement or visitor's agreement, are subject to being removed and commenters are subject to being banned. To post comments, you must be a registered user on toledoblade.com. To find out more, please visit the FAQ.