First Lady Dunleavy and her selection committee are honored to continue the tradition of recognizing the outstanding contributions of these dedicated individuals. First Lady Bella Hammond founded the First Lady’s Volunteer of the Year awards in 1974. Each year, the awards celebrate and encourage the spirit of volunteerism in Alaska.
“It’s always a great honor to award these hardworking Alaskans who do not often receive recognition,” said First Lady Rose Dunleavy. “These individuals are selfless, caring, and make positive impacts on the lives of other Alaskans and our communities. We received many impressive nominations this year, and the seven we decided to award have an uplifting story to tell. I look forward to sharing their stories with Alaska.”
2023 Volunteer of the Year Honorees
James Akeralrea (Scammon Bay)
James Akeralrea has dedicated much of his career to serving his country and community. From military and tribal government service to accommodating countless boards and councils within Alaska, James puts Alaskans and Alaska communities first. James previously served in the Army National Guard, where he graduated as a Finance Specialist, and in April of 2022, James became a First Lieutenant in the Alaska State Defense Force (ASDF). ASDF is an all-volunteer organization, and it is a component of Alaska’s Organized Militia. His work with ASDF has brought him across rural Alaska to support disaster-affected communities. The recent Typhoon Merbok affected multiple villages across Alaska’s Bering Sea Coast, and Mr. Akerelrea, along with fellow ASDF members, had boots on the ground in Hooper Bay, Chevak, and Scammon Bay to assess community damages, retrieve lost boats and subsistence supplies, and support community members with their immediate needs. In addition to his longstanding dedication to supporting Alaska’s emergency and natural disaster response efforts, James founded a program to raise funds for youth sports in Scammon Bay to combat suicide, and the program now raises approximately $80,000 and 100,000 air miles annually. James Akerelrea is an exemplary leader and community service member, and our state is a better place to call home because of his commitment and humble approach to supporting communities, places of worship, and underserved youth across rural Alaska.
Mindy Eggleston (Delta Junction)
Mindy Eggleston is the embodiment of volunteerism, and she is passionate about encouraging healthy lifestyles and providing opportunities for her community. Mindy has lived in Delta Junction for almost 50 years and has volunteered throughout that time, even while raising two children and working at the local school. The Eggleston family led an all-volunteer Ski Patrol at Black Rapids Ski Hill, trained working dogs, and volunteered with the Alaska Search and Rescue Dog Team. Mindy helped form the Delta Dog Mushers and the Delta Ski Club to hold races in the local area. Under Mindy’s tutelage and leadership, the ski club has grown into two hugely successful programs: the Delta Junior Nordic Ski Club and the Delta Junction Trails Association (DJTA). The Delta Junior Nordic Ski Club provides equipment and instruction to approximately 75 elementary school students annually and utilizes upwards of 15 adult volunteers. With Mindy’s involvement and guidance, DJTA created a Community Trails Plan that led to the design and completion of two new trail systems. As a result of Mindy’s hard work and leadership, DJTA has received over a million dollars in grants since its inception. In her community, Mindy is known as an inspirational leader that is always there to lend a hand to all in the community.
Carol Fraser (Anchorage)
Carol Fraser is not only the founder and visionary of the Trend Alaska Fashion Show, but she also embodies the heart and spirit of the organization. Trend Alaska Fashion Show is a non-profit organization dedicated to showcasing Alaskan artists while raising money for an important cause: protecting women’s health. This year, Trend Alaska Fashion Show partnered with Let Every Woman Know (LEWK) – an organization committed to supporting and educating women about the five gynecological cancers. With Carol’s leadership, passion, drive, and desire, the event raised over $175,000 to benefit Let Every Woman Know! Carol worked tirelessly and without complaint for months on the event to secure sponsors and donors, as well as plan every detail of the night. Carol is a true volunteer who gives her time, energy, heart, and soul to Trend Alaska Fashion Show to help women throughout the state. Carol’s commitment makes a positive impact on Alaskan artists and people in need across the state.
Cindy Harris (Soldotna)
Cindy has been a champion for individuals and families in Alaska dealing with Alzheimer’s disease, and sadly, she knows first-hand the impact that dementia has on a family. Cindy’s mother battled Alzheimer’s for 13 years before she passed away in 2010. The passing of her mom was the catalyst for Cindy’s activism. Prior to 2014, Alzheimer’s awareness had little presence in Alaska, so Cindy made it her goal to change that. She started by contacting the Alzheimer’s Association about local volunteer opportunities, which led to Cindy becoming the first and only Alzheimer’s Ambassador in Alaska to serve for nine years as ambassador to all three of Alaska’s members of Congress: Senator Lisa Murkowski, Senator Dan Sullivan, and the late Representative Don Young. Prior to 2019, Alaska was the only state that did not have an official chapter of the Alzheimer’s Association, but due largely to Cindy’s unyielding efforts, that has since changed. Without Cindy Harris, Alaska would not have progressed as far as it has in raising awareness surrounding Alzheimer’s disease. Cindy’s advocacy led Alaska’s members of Congress to sponsor or co-sponsor several pieces of Alzheimer’s legislation, including the BOLD Infrastructure for Alzheimer’s Act, the HOPE for Alzheimer’s Act, and the Younger Onset Alzheimer’s Disease Act. Cindy’s advocacy has guided policies at the federal, state, and local levels that improve the quality of life for all those impacted by dementia.
Shawn Olsen (Kodiak)
For over ten years, Shawn has volunteered every week in the Kodiak jail. Shawn offers his knowledge and experiences by helping others break the cycle of addiction and incarceration. Over the years, as he has connected with individuals inside the jail, he has continued mentoring them as they navigate the Department of Corrections prison system. A daily telephonic ministry that started out with a few individuals has since grown to include dozens of inmates that participate in the call to be guided by Shawn’s positive influence. Through his work, Shawn experiences the hardships and victories of inmates as they work toward sobriety and recovery. Shawn is also the president of a Christian faith-based support program called “The Kodiak Area Mentor Program” (KAMP), which offers support and direction to those released from jails and institutions. Shawn’s faith has guided his passion for helping others break the destructive behavior of addiction, and he manages to volunteer his time while working a full-time job on the U.S. Coast Guard Base in Kodiak, where he maintains fire and emergency rescue equipment. The community of Kodiak is truly blessed to call Shawn one of their own.
Monte Pearson (Fairbanks)
Monte, locally known as the “pay it forward guy,” has been working tirelessly the last few years to help guide Fairbanks back to the so-called old ways – when people were always willing to help their neighbors and support their fellow townsfolk – to sustain Fairbanks as the golden heart city that it is. Monte’s heart of gold has successfully led to over 800 thaws and the start of local vehicles since 2019. This past January, Monte started over 97 frozen vehicles amid brutal -40 to -50 temperatures in only six days. He never lets that bone-chilling cold stop him as he gears up and travels around Fairbanks, Fort Wainwright, and the North Pole to thaw, jump, and start people’s vehicles, and he often spends all day going from vehicle to vehicle as the requests flood in by the dozens. This past holiday season, Monte picked several families from local nominations and delivered food and gifts to the families to ensure that they had a wonderful Christmas, despite any shortcomings in their current situations. Monte embodies the Alaskan spirit through his volunteerism, and the community of Fairbanks is better off because of him.
Teffonie Wyman (North Pole)
Ten years ago, Teffonie had a vision that would help the youth in the North Pole community. Due to her hard work and commitment, her vision came to fruition as the World’s Biggest Backpack at the North Pole. This one-day event generates enough support to provide school supplies to each and every child in the district. It has grown from 1,000 to 5,000 children from Kindergarten through 12th grade who receive free school supplies regardless of income, which helps to reduce the burden on parents that cannot afford supplies for their children. Teffonie has created a dream team of volunteers and families that assist with collecting supplies and volunteering on the day of the event. Teffonie continues to advocate for children in the local school district by volunteering endlessly in the community, whether it is for her children’s sports team, to help gather donations and cold weather gear for the Coat Closet at Summit Church in North Pole, or to find a set of winter gear for some child in need. Teffonie is a true inspiration, believer, and advocate in the small community of the North Pole.
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