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JBLM recognizes volunteers of the year

This year’s JBLM Volunteers of the Year and Volunteers of Merit award recipients gather with installation leaders. Photo credit: Pamela Sleezer, JBLM Public Affairs

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JOINT BASE LEWIS-McCHORD - The year's most outstanding volunteers at Joint Base Lewis-McChord were recognized by the installation's senior leaders May 29 with a banquet in their honor at the McChord Field Club.

The JBLM Volunteer Recognition Ceremony paid tribute to volunteers from various communities across the base including active-duty, civilian and one family who all used their personal time to make a difference in the lives of others and provided inspiration through their dedication.

"In the past year, JBLM volunteers unselfishly gave in excess of 64,000 hours of time to your community," said Maj. Gen. Matthew McFarlane, I Corps deputy commanding general, during his remarks at the banquet. "You volunteer for different reasons, but the significant impact to our community solely from your contribution, is invaluable."

To make that impact tangible, McFarlane, alongside Col. Kent Park, JBLM commander, and Col. Patrick McClintock, 62nd Operations Group commander, were presented with a mock check in the amount of over $2 million to represent the monetary value of the total combined volunteer efforts over the past year.

Of the volunteers recognized during the luncheon, seven were named Volunteer of Merit for their contributions, and five others were named Volunteer of the Year.

Air Force Staff Sgt. Rebekaira Dickerson was named this year's JBLM Community Volunteer of the Year for her efforts in raising awareness about the Pacific Islands cultures and for leading a team of 30 volunteers to assist with building eight Habitat for Humanity homes.

This year's Retiree Volunteer of the Year award was presented to Regina McDaniel for her work at the Madigan Army Medical Center. While volunteering with the Red Cross at the Madigan Information Desk and emergency department, McDaniel helped organize the emergency department's supplies which involved inspecting 424 different types of supply items.

Staff Sgt. Solomon Katumba was named the Active-Duty Volunteer of the Year. Katumba served as the point of contact for the Airmen Against Drunk Driving campaign, scheduling weekly events that led to a 45 percent reduction in drunk driving incidents last year. Katumba also recruited a team of 15 volunteers to help with the McChord Thrift Shop renovation, and he served as trustee for the Air Force Sergeants' Association where he collaborated with Operation Homefront to distribute 267 grocery gift cards to families and airmen at JBLM.

Senior leaders also recognized the Perez family for their combined work in starting the Grace Gospel Children's Church, contributing more than 50 hours a week designing curriculum, art projects, Bible lessons and skits for the children to perform for the congregation. Their efforts led to a 250 percent increase in children's church attendance.

This year's highest honor, the 2024 Volunteer of the Year award, went to Linda Bates. Bates donated over 500 hours of her personal time volunteering with Santa's Castle, a nonprofit organization at JBLM.

Bates was responsible for processing over 700 donations brought into Santa's Castle, carefully barcoding and shelving every single toy in the organization's building. Bates also fulfilled the role of a shopping elf, guiding families through the building and assisting them in selecting the best toys for their children.

Outside of the Christmas season, Bates helped with Back-to-School supply giveaways and stuffed over 1,000 backpacks while also coordinating an information table at the Nisqually Wildlife Refuge Watershed Festival.

If that wasn't enough, she also volunteered three hours a week at Olympic View Elementary School and five hours a week at the Nisqually Wildlife Refuge.

"It's what I love to do, honestly, and simply that's it," Bates said. "I get satisfaction in being able to help in whatever way I can. To receive this award is an incredible honor and I'm genuinely so surprised and appreciative for being selected."

Bates, like all nominees, was nominated for her award by her teammates and supervisor.

Donna Handoe, Santa's Castle board president, said Bates was deserving of every accolade she received.

"Linda is amazing, all of our volunteers are amazing, and volunteers are the reason we can do what we do each and every year," Handoe said. "Without them, we couldn't function and I'm so happy to support them and excited to see Linda received the recognition she deserves."

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