Hometown Heroes 2010

Hometown Heroes 2010

In celebration of 100 years in business, the personal injury law firm of Allen & Allen is proud to recognize 100 Hometown Heroes. These are the folks that make Virginia a great place to live and work. We asked and you responded. We received an outpouring of nominations. Through a selection committee, the nominations were narrowed down to 100 Hometown Heroes. “It’s time to celebrate,” said Douglas A. Barry, President. “In honor of Allen & Allen’s one hundred year anniversary, we are thanking the people who make up the communities we serve and recognizing the everyday heroes who make Virginia a great place to live.”

The 100 HOMETOWN HEROES will be honored at a series of award events taking place in Richmond, Fredericksburg, and Charlottesville. Starting June 16th, the HOMETOWN HEROES will appear at various community festivities, such as Fridays After Five in Charlottesville, the Heritage Festival in Fredericksburg, and at a series of Flying Squirrels baseball games at The Diamond in Richmond. A grand finale will be held on August 25th at a Richmond Flying Squirrels baseball game, at which time all 100 HOMETOWN HEROES will be recognized.

Click on a Hero to learn more about these special Virginians:

Linwood Alford

As the founder of the Open Door Resource Center, Linwood cares for individuals with HIV/AIDS while focusing on the special needs community and disabled veterans. Born in Richmond, Linwood has returned to self-fund his nonprofit as a way to educate, inspire, and improve his hometown community.

Melba Atkinson

Melba spends her free time training dogs to become service companions for people with special health needs - such as amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), paralysis, and diabetes. Melba begins by working with the dogs as puppies, socializes them, and eventually trains them to meet the needs of specific individuals.

Cari Bartz

As the founder and president of Shadow Cat Advocates, Cari has dedicated her life to assisting abandoned and feral cats in Stafford County and Fredericksburg. In spite of Cary's working 20-plus hour days at times, her friends report that she always keeps a positive attitude, even when dealing with heartbreaking scenarios such as crawling under buildings to rescue abandoned kittens and trapping injured animals.

Corey Beazley

Dedicated to keeping his community safe, Corey serves as the chief of EMS for the Tappahannock-Essex Fire Department. He developed the area's first Community Emergency Response Team (CERT) and has passed along his skills to others by certifying hundreds of residents for CERT duty.

James Bell, II

A single parent who is raising three teenagers, James is known in the Charlottesville community as a dedicated father and concerned citizen. He is equally respected by his friends, neighbors and children.

Sheilah Belle

Known as "The Belle," Sheilah created the largest online Gospel Newsletter in the country and is known for helping others secure employment. In 2010, Sheilah launched the first annual Gospel Music Festival in Richmond.

Ram Bhagat

Ram, an award-winning chemistry teacher at Open High School, is the founder of Drums No Guns, a youth initiative that promotes cultural diversity and teaches nonviolent alternatives to conflict. Over the years Ram has created a synergistic network of organizations, community centers, and municipalities that host drum circles and other learning opportunities which promote a peaceful and diverse community.

Chad Bonadonna

When Chad was 7, his father was diagnosed with cancer. Chad helped care for his father while his mother worked, often running to a neighbor's house for help when his Dad would fall. After interviewing other children in similar situations, Chad wrote "Good Grief, A Child's Grieving Process" at the age of 11, with proceeds benefiting Bon Secour's Hospice.

Harry Bowen

Since the 1980s Harry has been the top booster and advocate for the state's premier wheelchair basketball program, the Charlottesville Cardinals. Harry has taken the team from very humble beginnings to a nationally ranked and recognized program that demonstrates just how much people with disabilities can achieve.

Nate Brown

As someone with a disability, Nate serves as a Peer Advocate for the Independence Resource Center (IRC) and as a disability advocate throughout the Charlottesville community. Nate also assists the Jefferson Area Disability Board and is known for his inspiring messages and spirituality.

Lester Burnett, Sr.

Lester, a dedicated employee of the DMV for over 50 years, overcame segregation and hardships with an unwavering spirit and positive attitude. Countless colleagues and community members - including the General Assembly - have praised Lester for his work ethic, friendship, and commitment to helping everyone he meets.

Robert Campbell

Neighbors know Robert as "Mister Soup," a Vietnam veteran who has never stopped giving back. From shoveling snow for others to organizing neighborhood kids for learning activities, Robert educates, entertains, and inspires hundreds of youth (and adults) in his community. He has transported Hurricane Katrina evacuees from New Orleans to Texas and Arkansas, led fundraising initiatives for the NAACP, and served as a youth advocate.

Dymond Carle

At the age of 5, Dymond was diagnosed with scleroderma, a chronic autoimmune disease characterized by hardening of the skin. By 14 she had emerged as an active spokesperson for the Arthritis Foundation, a cause that she continues to support today as a leading advocate, spreading awareness and raising funds for America's most common cause of disability.

Dr. Stephen Carley

"Dr. Carley is not only our boss but a great friend," write his colleagues. Volunteering for free health care programs for patients in Fredericksburg, Dr. Carley is committed to helping everyone receive medical care. His staff reports that Dr. Carley does his best to inspire, educate, and assist everyone he meets.

Tim Carlson

Tim is an energetic member of his community who rides with the Fredericksburg Rescue Squad, work as the public relations officer at Fredericksburg Rescue Squad, and serve as the founder of the EMS Bike Team. In his free time he is taking firefighting and search/rescue courses to find further ways to help his neighbors. Tim will be throwing out the first pitch at the August 10th Flying Squirrels Baseball Game.
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Sherrie Carter

Sherrie regularly collaborates with rescue groups and animal control agencies to help animals in need. She is a volunteer with Richmond Friends of Animals and is credited for raising awareness of animal abuse. Sherrie's peers say that "she will always make time for an animal in need."

David Coddington

David, a retired research chemist, has served his community at the West Hanover Volunteer Rescue Squad for over 25 years. A motor officer, David, 79, sees to it that ambulances are in superior shape. Not content just keeping the vehicles running, David earned his EMT certification in order to ensure that Hanover could always place a qualified ambulance on the streets.

Michael Cross

Michael champions sustainability in everything he does while simultaneously empowering his community along the way. As a LEED-accredited architect, his mission is to help people realize the accessibility of sustainability. Most recently he has designed and been a part of the development team on the first LEED-registered home in the City of Richmond, The Augusta Project, where he recycled a 1938 dilapidated Cape Cod using green building practices and products.

Vicky Cypress

An educational therapist in Petersburg, Vicky is known for her advocacy and passion for families and kids with autism. Her work at District 19 Community Services Board, in the Infant Program, has helped bring early intervention services to local families with children who struggle with developmental delays. Vicky will be throwing out the first pitch at the July 16th Flying Squirrels Baseball Game.

Lenny Dean

A sheriff's deputy in Hanover County for 32 years, Lenny is known not only for his efforts to improve public safety but also as a dedicated father. Lenny "retired in November to help me out with my children ... he has always been there for anyone who needs him, anyone," explains his daughter.

Karen DeShazo

Karen is known for providing exceptional care to a 92-year-old community member with Alzheimer's disease, a 12-year-old boy with Down syndrome, and countless abandoned animals in need of shelter. Her daughter, friends, and fellow neighbors credit her for having a big heart and desire to help anyone in need.

Patsy Dickinson

As the foster mother of more than 10 at-risk youth, Patsy has opened her home and created a stable environment for children who have been removed from their own families. Patsy's fellow community members know her as a dedicated and concerned citizen who has impacted the lives of many children and adults alike.

Dr. Michael Donato

"There is never a dull moment around him," report Michael's medical colleagues, who credit him for bringing energy, laughter, and excitement to everyone he meets. Always looking for new ways to help his patients, Michael has participated in numerous free health programs to help those in need. He is also known for helping local youth through hockey and other community activities.

Dean Dunn

Friends of Dean know him as a "good, honest, hardworking, simple man who loves his community." As a volunteer firefighter and EMT for Goochland County for 35 years, he has served as lieutenant, water rescue lieutenant, fire captain, and district chief.

Chad Dynski

At the age of 19, Chad is already a war veteran, having recently returned from Afghanistan. "Thank you for your sacrifices, thank you for being brave, thank you for being courageous, but most importantly we are thankful you are our son," explain his parents. Welcome home, Chad.

KB Eastman

Providing care for seniors in her community, KB is a nurse for AT Home Care who also finds time to run marathons for cystic fibrosis. She raised more than $11,000 in one race alone, and friends know her as not only a person who gives back to the community but also a hero capable of saving lives. In a race last year KB successfully performed CPR on a fellow runner who collapsed in front of her.

Ron Edwards, Sr

Ronnie, a veteran firefighter, has made a name for himself as a quiet yet confident leader. His peers credit him for always knowing how to get things done at the scene of a crisis and for his unique ability to inspire and mentor his peers.

Angela Flint

"One among you, Angela Flint, has been a giant when giving of herself," stated the superintendent of Hanover County Schools at the 2009 Atlee High School graduation. Angela is known for her regular visits to the classrooms of students with special needs, assistance with Homecoming festivities for special-needs peers, and for accompanying students to the prom.

Debbie Garde

A volunteer at the Children's Hospital for more than 20 years, Debbie helps children with special needs and serious medical conditions every Wednesday. Debbie, who met her husband while volunteering, invited kids she had helped to her wedding. She is dedicated to her church and is admired in her community for assisting those in need.

Gary Glover

Gary, owner of Puritan Cleaners, has helped clothe and feed hundreds of Virginians for more than 25 years. His community initiatives have included Coats for Kids, 100,000 Meals for Kids in Central Virginia, Great Bears for Kids in Danger, Puritan's Pledge of Allegiance, Thank You Patriot, and more.

Amy Godkin

Amy is the development director for ASK (The Association for the Support of Children with Cancer), a nonprofit organization in Richmond that provides direct support to children with cancer and blood disorders at the Virginia Commonwealth University Medical Center. "Amy is a pillar of strength for families that are faced with cancer diagnosis of their child," writes one nominator. "Amy personally understands the emotions and challenges faced by those she serves every day, and she is dedicated to making life better for children with cancer".

Maria Gonzalez

Maria, a single mom and dedicated volunteer, is known for her tireless commitment to community organizations such as the Virginia Food bank, Save the Seals, Virginia Greyhound Rescue, and the Pediatric Brain Tumor Foundation's Ride for Kids. She also mentors elementary school children and assists with Leave a Positive Legacy where she donates laptops and school supplies. In addition, she has devoted her time to international volunteer efforts such as beach cleanup in Mexico and donations for a community center in Jamaica.

Sarah Christine Habermehl

A recent graduate of Prince George High School, Sarah has always demonstrated leadership skills. While in school she served as the secretary of the Student Government and the Virginia State Student Government. She has helped lead an array of fundraisers, including Martha for the Homeless, Relay for Life, and World Visions 30 Hour Famine.

John Haid

Credited as being responsible for bringing youth lacrosse to Spotsylvania County, John has served as the local commissioner and advocate for youth sports. He has coached lacrosse in Stafford and is a certified referee. When not promoting local sports, John, who is a Fredericksburg Jaycee, helps organize the annual Christmas Parade, conduct Halloween fundraisers, volunteer for Habitat for Humanity, and is one of the top 10 fundraisers for the Big Brothers/Big Sisters Bowl-A-Thon.

Karen Hannon

A loving mother who has raised eight children alone, Karen is known by friends and neighbors as a "super woman." She is the founder of Operation Community Kindness as well as Spotlight Richmond, a group of individuals who promote and encourage acts of kindness in the community.

Camille Marie Hansen

For more than 20 years Camille has joined her mother in providing meals and services to the homeless in Richmond through Richmond Friends of the Homeless. She has also provided children with backpacks loaded with school supplies, new shoes, and clothes to start off the school year. In addition, Camille mentors children while school is in session. Camile is the daughter of Hometown Hero Shawnee Hansen.

Shawnee M. Hansen

As the founder of Richmond Friends of the Homeless, Shawnee has organized and assisted local churches, synagogues, and businesses in serving more than 3 million meals. She is known for not only helping others but also encouraging those around her to get involved in the community. Shawnee is the mother of Hometown Hero Camille Hansen.

Bill D. Henderson

Bill joined the Charlottesville Albemarle Rescue Squad in 1963 where he served for 46 years before retiring to Northumberland County. At 83 years old he joined his new community's rescue squad and continues to teach EMT classes. When not saving lives, Bill built a career at both the Mental Health Association and Multiple Sclerosis Society in Charlottesville.

Kara Hooker

Earlier this year Kara, 23, used all of her personal vacation time to become a kidney donor to a child in her community. A newlywed who had just launched her career, Kara was compelled to donate an organ and she now shares a bond with the healthy child. Friends report that Kara is "an example of doing good for others regardless of the cost."

Dr. Tom Hubbard

Tom, who is both a volunteer physician and a dentist, created a free dental clinic in the basement of St. David's Church in Aylett to bring dental care to individuals without insurance. The clinic quickly expanded to include primary care and optometry and now serves more than 800 patients a year. Tom has since created similar clinics in his community.

Satyendra Huja

For more than 25 years Satyendra served as the director of planning and community development for the City of Charlottesville where he is credited for creating the Downtown Mall and protecting green, open spaces throughout the city. Today he is the president of Community Planning Associates and is a City Council member. Residents lovingly know Satyendra as "the Sikh architect of Charlottesville."

Scarlette G. Hunley

As an employee of Petersburg Social Services for more than 18 years, Scarlette has helped lead the very agency that assisted her as child. Now giving back to her community, Scarlette has raised 11 children and served as the foster mother to 56 additional children. As one of the first clients to serve on her area's Welfare Advisory Board, she is known as a strong community activist and champion for the rights of welfare recipients.

John Hunter

In 1978 John created the World Peace Game, which pits the mental abilities and virtuous qualities of youth against the complexities of real life problems at an international level. John brought this game to his fourth-grade classroom at Venable Elementary School in recent years and has since worked with students on scenarios centered on problem-solving and world peace.

Van Johnson

For more than 35, years Van has served the City of Charlottesville through a variety of recreational, learning, and social activities. Impacting thousands of youth and adults, he is known as a positive role model who is always present at recreation centers, basketball programs, field trips, dances, exercise opportunities, roller-skating, and other special events.

Linda B. Jones

Linda, nominated by her daughter, feeds the homeless in Monroe Park monthly, regularly assist with Bible Study, and organizes breakfast for youth and seniors at a low-income facility in Henrico County. She actively demonstrates dedication to community and the value of giving back.

Diana Lacey

Diana is a single mother, Greene County school system employee, and full-time volunteer EMT with Greene Country Rescue Squad. When not volunteering, she answers backup calls and serves as the secretary for the rescue squad. Diana volunteers more than 1,500 hours a year and is known for not only taking care of patients on the ambulance, but also following up with the families of past patients on a regular basis.

Dr. Randolph E. Lanford

Randolph is a small-town doctor who serves the community he was born in. In addition to running his medical practice he plays the organ for his church, cares for his beautiful wife with multiple sclerosis, and serves as the school doctor for Fork Union Military Academy, taking care of more than 400 boys.

Timothy Longo

Timothy Longo has served since 2001 as the chief of police in Charlottesville where he is known for his leadership, fairness, and respect for others. Chief Longo, a recipient of the Police Commissioner's Award of Excellence, lectures across America in the field of ethics and professional standards. He is a member of the International Association of Chiefs of Police and the Virginia Chiefs of Police Association, and he serves on the Board of Directors for Special Olympics Virginia.

Herman Maclin

Herman is known for creating safe learning experiences and happy environments for kids through 4-H programs. He has organized 4-H Week in Waverly, where he teaches responsibility, sportsmanship, and sharing in a camp-like environment. "He loves his work, but most importantly, he loves his kids," report Herman's peers.

Tonya Mallory

Tonya is the co-founder of Health Diagnostic Laboratory, a new advanced testing lab located in the Virginia Biotechnology Park. Her quickly growing laboratory serves as a partner to patients and physicians in the quest to better manage disease in a proactive fashion. She has created "It Starts with the Heart," a community initiative in which her lab makes regular financial donations to nonprofits as well as encourages volunteerism by its staff members.

Richard Martin

Retired Sgt. Richard Martin served 33 years with the Albemarle County Police Department and more than 40 years as a Crozet volunteer firefighter. He has been honored as the Law Enforcement Person of the Year by the Elks Lodge #389 and continues to serve on the Albemarle Country Fire & Rescue Committee. Richard is credited as a "source of inspiration for local law enforcement and fire personnel" by his peers.

Pastor Rick McDaniel

As the senior pastor of Richmond Community Church, Pastor Rick has gained a reputation for motivating people to live high-impact lives. He has led initiatives to bring tents to Haiti, Thanksgiving meals to those in need, Christmas in April, RCC Free-Sale, Extreme Days, Rebuilding Richmond, and a program that brought more than 1,000 pairs of underwear to children.

Darlene McGee

Having overcome personal tragedy, Darlene has emerged as a strong and committed community member. "She always puts her needs aside to help anyone who is in need," friends and neighbors explain. From giving food to others to giving her car to those without one, Darlene is devoted to helping everyone she meets in her small community of Catlett and far beyond.

Harry McGee, Jr

Harry, a member of Sharon Baptist Church in Richmond since he was a child, is known by his neighbors as someone who is always willing to go out of his way to help. Peers call him "humble and hard-working" and point to the many small ways he lends a hand in the lives of others. Harry contributes to community outreach efforts such as helping at-risk children and feeding the homeless.

Ron Melancon

Ron is a hero who knows how to get things done. He is responsible for working with the General Assembly to pass numerous life-saving bills that have made trailers more visible. During the process he printed more than 5,000 fliers to improve the safety of highways, and he now operates www.dangeroustrailers.org. Ron has also led successful efforts to get specialty license plates for Mothers Against Drunk Drivers and United We Stand. Ron will be throwing out the first pitch at the June 16th Flying Squirrels Baseball Game.

Martha Merrit

For 25 years Martha, who was homeless as a child, has dedicated herself to helping disadvantaged citizens in Petersburg. Receiving no state or federal assistance, Martha uses a combination of her own income and donations from individuals and churches to feed the homeless. Using her home as a food center, she distributes more than 400 bags of food to families each year and she routinely transports those in need to doctor appointments.

Gary C. Miles

Gary, the owner of the American Karate Center, was comatose for seven days after being shot. Today he cares for his blind, diabetic mother before work; visits his father in a nursing home midday; and volunteers at an elementary school in his free time. On the weekend Gary teaches spiritual abundance and helps others improve their lives. Friends state, "A devoted parent; a caring friend, Gary Miles joyfully serves and never complains."

Solomon Miles

An accomplished musician with a disability, Solomon is known for using his musical talents and infectious personality to educate the community about diversity. He is both a sought-after front man for numerous bands and a leading disability advocate throughout Virginia. Solomon will sing the National Anthem at the August 25th Hometown Heroes Grand Finale at the Flying Squirrels baseb

Mary T. Miller

Mary, a dedicated volunteer, has assisted with Region Ten Community Services, Charlottesville Parks & Recreation, Charlottesville Albemarle VSA arts, Blue Ridge Clubhouse, and other programs that increase community inclusion for people with disabilities. Mary has been instrumental in creating opportunities for artistic expression as evidenced by her ongoing work with a poetry book series published by writers with disabilities.

Christopher G. Minter

As the district chief of Doswell Fire Station Four, Chris is known for his creativity, resourcefulness, and ability to lead others. Volunteers at his firehouse appreciate his unique ability to make everyone feel valued and appreciated.

Charley Morrison

Charley is a senior citizen who knows no boundaries when it comes to getting involved. He volunteers with Commonwealth Catholic Charities, the Catholic Diocese of Richmond, Little Sisters of the Poor, and Bon Secours.

Atiyyah W. Muhammad

Atiyyah created the Petersburg Islamic Center more than 34 years ago and has worked diligently within the community with at-risk youth and their families. He has facilitated interfaith dialogue, is a life skill counselor with Life Connection Program at the Federal Correction Institute, provides supervision for individuals completing community service hours, and is the founder of the Petersburg Jail Prevention Program, an intervention and prevention program for at-risk youth and adults.

Nicole Muller

Nicole, 16, is the founder of Neighbors-4-Neighbors, a national food drive that in less than six months collected more than 25,000 pounds of food and $2,300 from 30 participating states. She has raised awareness of the issue of hunger and has shattered records for food collected by an individual campaigner in Virginia. Thus far Nicole's efforts have fed more than 22,000 hungry "neighbors."

Janie Norris

Janie, a volunteer for an array of organizations throughout Charlottesville, is the founder of A League of Our Own Softball Program for teens and adults with disabilities. For more than 10 years she has supervised a host of volunteers and 50 players each week, giving athletes with disabilities an opportunity to play softball as part of a team.

Kathy Owen

Kathy, an inspiring leader with vision impairment, is known throughout her community for always helping others in need. Currently Kathy serves as the President of the Federation of the Blind. She has ministered in nursing homes and hospitals and has entertained thousands while playing music with her husband.

Toby Owens

Toby, now a retired deputy sheriff, started as a volunteer special deputy and quickly became known for his community involvement. Toby has dressed as Santa and ridden through neighborhoods on fire trucks, driven the DARE Mustang "seized from drug dealers," started the boat patrol at Lake Anna, and worked high-profile police cases.

Phil Paquette

Phil, a fire marshal for Goochland County, is credited for saving the life of a deputy sheriff who crashed into a tree. On his way to work one morning Phil discovered the accident, radioed for help, and immediately went to the deputy's aid, starting chest compressions until the Rescue Squad arrived.

Dr. H. Jackson Payne

Dr. Payne is known by his colleagues as someone who "teaches others to love and give unconditionally." His many fundraising activities include hosting events for the American Cancer Society at his home and volunteering for events and organizations such as the US Botanic Gardens, Toys for Tots, and various Garden Clubs throughout Northern Virginia.

Tony H. Pham

A refugee from the Vietnam War, Tony was the first person in his family to attend college. After college he went on to become a lawyer. Today he volunteers as the president of the Asian Pacific American Bar Association, the VSB's District Disciplinary Committee, Virginia Asian Foundation's Legislative Summit, and is a board member of the Virginia Asian Advisory Board.

Captain Harvey Street Powers

Harvey, who has been with the Richmond Police Department for 17 years, is known for making his community a safer place and for the respect that he has for the citizens he serves. Colleagues and community members respect Harvey for his leadership, respect for others, and resourcefulness.

Casey Quinlan

Casey's approach to her own cancer treatment has inspired millions. Her advice: be an active participant, not a passive consumer. Her book, Cancer for Christmas: Making the Most of a Daunting Gift, shares the questions she asked her doctors, what she did with the answers, and how she navigated surgery, chemo, and radiation treatment with determination, ferocity, and a large dose of humor.

Satya Rangarajan

Satya, a local socially conscious entrepreneur, is the chair of the Board of Directors for Medical Home Plus, a Richmond nonprofit that facilitates access to resources, services, and support for children with special needs and their families. He is also a mentor to numerous professionals starting their own businesses for the first time. When not inspiring future entrepreneurs, Satya turns his attention to Health Diagnostic Laboratories where he is helping reshape advanced testing for cardiovascular disease, metabolic syndrome, fatty liver disease, and diabetes.

Kathy R. Ratliff

A foster mother for more than 20 years, Kathy has raised two sons, three adopted children, and numerous foster children with physical and intellectual challenges. Her friends and neighbors report that Kathy is responsible for giving others "a full life."

James "Buzzy" Rawlings, III

Family and friends report that Buzzy is always there to be supportive and guide others in the right direction regardless of the situation. His stepdaughter says that he is "the man he didn't have to be." Dedicated to his family and his community, Buzzy is known as being a selfless friend, father, and neighbor.

Barbara Rea

Barbara, an inspiring senior citizen, has never met a volunteer opportunity that she didn't like. For more than 30 years she has inspired the Charlottesville-Albemarle community with her singing and storytelling. She visits local nursing homes and assisted-living facilities on a weekly basis to play music and to share her message of love, and she assists with numerous City of Charlottesville events for youth and adults. As the Charlottesville All Star Hero, Barbara will be throwing out the first pitch at the July 27th Flying Squirrels Baseball Game.

Xaiver Richardson

Known as Xave to some and "Grandpa" to others, Xaiver has mentored local teens as part of the Partnership for Academic Excellence, an initiative he created more than 20 years ago. An MBA grad from Harvard and top executive at MediCorp Health System, Xaiver grew up in an economically disadvantaged household. He has served as a father figure to more than 3,000 teens from single-parent homes.

Joyce Robbins

Joyce, a leader in the local business community, is known for her loyalty, integrity, and the knowledge she possesses of her industry. As a successful CEO, she coaches and mentors others while finding time to assist with more than a dozen nonprofit organizations. Her peers report that Joyce "seeks opportunities to support her community, whether its leadership, monetary donations, or hands-on projects."

Sara Ruh

As a young person with Down syndrome, Sara travels internationally to speak to large audiences about community inclusion and accessibility. Sara has served as the keynote speaker for Special Olympics Virginia, led disability advocacy workshops at Virginia Commonwealth University, and has been selected as spokesperson for disability issues for Wells Fargo and Dell. Sara is the daughter of Hometown Hero Debra Ruh.

Debra Ruh

Inspired by her daughter (fellow Hometown Hero Sara Ruh), Debra created a one-of-a-kind telecommuting model that allows people with disabilities, including veterans, to work in high-level positions within the IT profession from home. She has traveled the world advocating for disability employment initiatives and accessibility. Debra has worked with everyone from large corporations to the United Nations to create better disability initiatives.

Laura Russell

Laura, one of eight siblings, put herself through community college and then transferred to U.Va. where she first obtained a B.A. and then enrolled in the U.Va. School of Law. Midway through her second year of law school, her mother was tragically killed in a car accident. Since that time Laura has taken a leave of absence from school in order to care for her younger siblings and to help manage the family farm. In her free time she advocates for local farmers.

Fernando Sabino de Jesus

During a sunny day at Belle Isle in Richmond last summer Fernando sprung into action. While lounging on a rock by the water he noticed a man drowning in the rapids. Fernando quickly jumped in, following him through the rapids. Pulling the unconscious man to shore, he saved the stranger's life by successfully performing CPR.

Scott Sherrill

The day does not end for Scott, a popular teacher at Henrico High School, when the school bell rings. In fact, it's just beginning. Scott is known for his one-on-one involvement with students after school, support of athletic programs, and going the extra mile, as evidenced by recently helping a student without health insurance obtain dental care.

Charlie Sibley

Charlie, 70, is the owner of Sibleys Bar-B-Q, and is known in the community for giving his time, money, and skills to neighbors in need. Friends and customers report countless stories in which Charlie has paid the power bills for someone down on their luck, prepared food for a person experiencing an unexpected tragedy, and given clothing to a family who lost their belongings in a household fire.

Dr. Gymama Slaughter

Dr. Slaughter, a professor at Virginia State University, has championed regional efforts to encourage local minority middle and high school students to study science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM). Her program, known as RAPME, has educated more than 3,900 minority students, of whom 95% attend college.

Martha Slay

Twenty-four years ago Martha received the news no parent ever wants to hear, when her baby was diagnosed with spinal muscular atrophy, the number one genetic killer of children under the age of 2. After hearing her child's diagnosis Martha created FightSMA, a nonprofit organization that now has 19 chapters across the country, which have raised millions of dollars for spinal muscular atrophy research.

Tony Smith

For more than 25 years Tony has served as scoutmaster to Troop 400 sponsored by St. Paul's Episcopal Church in Richmond. He has mentored over 300 boys, helping them obtain the difficult and coveted Eagle Scout rank. Tony, 75, never misses the troop's monthly camping trips and continues to serve as an inspiration to youth and adults.

Doug Smythers

Doug has served the Seminole Trail Volunteer Fire Department for 32 years. In addition to his duties responding to calls for the fire department, Doug is a member of the Albemarle County Fire Rescue Advisory Board where he has served as chairman. His peers report that Doug is "an asset to this community - a distinguished individual who has improved the lives of all around him."

Mildred Spicer

A dedicated lifelong Charlottesville resident, Mildred is responsible for creating trendsetting therapeutic recreation opportunities for seniors and residents with mental illness, as well as people with and without disabilities. Her emphasis on community inclusion started more than 30 years ago, and she is credited as the driving force behind recreational, social, and artistic expression in Charlottesville. Those whom she has helped report, "Her love and encouragement has inspired us to go beyond our comfort zone and accomplish many things, and that has built self-esteem and self-worth in so many lives."

Sergeant Michael Talley

Sergeant Tally has taught thousands of inner-city children in Richmond how to rise above their circumstances through anti-gang, anti-drug, and anti-bullying classes. He awards bicycles and helmets to hundreds of these children every year, holds "Camp Class Action," and creates courses for elementary schools. Tally has also adopted a 17-year-old former gang member.

Brad Thomas

Brad, who is known as a hero at the Bowling Green Fire Department and throughout the community, was critically burned in a house fire in 2007 during a rescue. Brad is credited as being both fearless and selfless, and friends say it's an honor to be in his presence.

Penny Traber

Penny is known in her community as someone who is not afraid to get involved. She organizes home-cooked meals for residents of the Thurman Brisbane homeless shelter, provides backpacks and school supplies for school children, assists the local food bank, helps Habitat for Humanity, organizes coat drives for the Salvation Army, organizes care package for troops in Iraq, and is a partner with the Fellowship of Christian Athletes.

Hannibal Tuck

As the founder of the East End Youth Athletic Association and coach of a Richmond boy's basketball team, Hannibal is known as a mentor and educator for numerous youth and adults. As an innovative teacher, Hannibal is said to have the "ability to reach and connect with youth and serve as a role model."

Tom Vandever

Tom is the executive director of the Independence Resource Center, which provides support for people with disabilities, as well as the founder of the Charlottesville Cardinals, a 25-year-old wheelchair basketball team that has been national champion. Tom is also a former two-time City Councilor and was the mayor of Charlottesville.

Belinda Wallace

Nominated by her son who has special needs, Belinda is known for going out of her way for friends, family, and neighbors. Her son reports her willingness to give rides to others, her ability to stand up to drug dealers, and her dedication to ending animal abuse. He says that despite having heart disease, high blood pressure, and diabetes his mom gives back to others and is therefore his hero and "everybody else's hero."

Pastor Paul E. Walters

Paul, pastor of Grace Lutheran Church, created "gentle worship," a shorter service that accommodates the attention spans of special-needs children. He has implemented quiet, familiar songs for children with autism who do not like loud noises, and he uses puppets to capture attention of a diverse congregation.

Sarena Watkins

Sarena, a certified nursing assistant, is known for helping the residents of her neighborhood in a multitude of ways. To date she has done everything from saving a local woman who was on the cusp of jumping from a bridge all the way to helping a child, whose mother was on drugs and father was in jail, go back to school.

Phil Wendel

Phil is credited for singlehandedly creating one of Charlottesville's most successful businesses and best places to work. As the owner of Atlantic Coast Athletic Club (ACAC), Phil is passionate about preventative health care and has been nationally recognized for his physician's referred exercise program. Phil is known for his contributions in all shapes and sizes - from his donations to Martha Jefferson Hospital and local high school athletic programs to selling Girl Scout cookies.

Regina Wilson

Known as an exceptional educator, Regina has inspired the mind, body, and soul of youth in her community. Peers say that Regina "reaches out to people in need on a daily basis and enjoys her career... she is truly an inspiration to children and their families."

Constance Wyant

As head supervisor for the Post High Special Education Program, Constance has helped hundreds of youth from public schools transition to jobs and into the community. Her peers report that "day after day she provides love and guidance to the students she serves." When not working, she volunteers as a mentor to youth, helping students on a one-on-one basis to achieve their goals.

Laird Wysor, II

Laird is both a professional firefighter in Spotsylvania and a volunteer with the Beaverdam Volunteer Fire Department. He is known for his ability to train his peers and help others. Laird recently began the adoption process to care for an infant in need.


Gilly is a 35-pound Spitz with quite a "tail" to tell. A dog with a mission, Gilly is credited for saving the lives of Ronnie and Marsha Stratton, who uses a wheelchair, during a house fire in 2008. By barking and tugging at their covers, Gilly was able to alert her owners to the fire and escort them to safety.