OWOSSO TWP. — The power of collaboration and widespread community support were themes among award recipients at the Shiawassee Regional Chamber of Commerce awards dinner Thursday night at D’Mar Banquet and Conference Center.
The Chamber award winners all had been announced previously, via surprise ceremonies throughout December and January.
On Thursday, Chamber officials and other guests gathered to celebrate the winners.
“One of the things I think we do really well here in our community is that we continually get better, we continually make the next step, make the next stride and we do it in such a way that it happens in little, incremental steps,” Chamber President/CEO Jeff Deason said in his opening remarks. “Practice makes proficiency, and the more that we practice working together, the more that we practice doing the projects that we do, the more that we practice serving in our community, the better we get at it.”
Rather than spend time looking back on the year that was, Deason pointed his remarks toward the future, encouraging business leaders to continue doing the exceptional things that are improving the greater Shiawassee community, which, he said, will attract more individuals to want to be a part of it in the coming years.
“Do we have issues that we need to work through? Of course, we have large issues that we need to collectively work out, but the thing that I really appreciate about this community and what other people outside of our community appreciate is that we do it together,” Deason said. “We don’t have to agree on everything, we don’t have to always be on the same page, but we tend to give each other the benefit of the doubt that we’re doing the best thing that we can for our community.”
For Community Champion Award winner Tom Cook, the night offered an opportunity to say thank you to nature. After acknowledging his family and supporters, Cook — who serves as executive director of the Cook Family Foundation — took time to discuss the important role the great outdoors has played in his life.
“When I think about the most important relationships in my life, many of those were forged on a hiking trail, in a canoe, or some other way in nature,” Cook said. “As some of you know, I went through a little health scare in 2018, and nature and the chance to get out and walk was a really important resource for me that both got me through that experience and helped me recover from that.”
Cook overcame a brain tumor and although he’s made a full recovery, he said, he did not come out of the experience unchanged.
Shifting the conversation toward the planet’s “sickness” — climate change — Cook offered three pieces of advice based on his personal experience: Don’t ignore the symptoms, seek out expert help and don’t lose hope.
“Our future, I believe, is in peril, and it’s easy to either ignore that problem or to tilt toward despair, but I think there is a lot of hope, there’s a lot of hope in each other and I think that we can move forward and ensure the health of our planet not only for us, but for our children and our children’s children,” Cook said. “We can accomplish much when we rely on each other…What I love about this community, and the people that I’ve gotten the chance to know, is all of you and our ability to rely on one another to get us through the toughest times.”
While Cook used his platform to call for action, other award winners used the night as an opportunity for reflection. Cindy Schluckebier, who received the ATHENA Award, took time during her acceptance speech to acknowledge the many strong women that came before her.
“I am humbled and honored to be awarded the ATHENA award for this year. The ladies who have proceeded me in this award have done many great things for our community,” Schluckebier said. “Giving back has been part of how I grew up, and I have my parents to thank for that.”
As a child, Schluckebier made and sold crafts, donating the proceeds to Bangladesh.
In her adult life, Schluckebier has spent time working at the Baby Pantry as a volunteer, mentoring elementary students to improve their reading skills at Owosso Public Schools and coaching YMCA youth teams.
In 2016, Schluckebier also helped launch a new organization, the 100-plus Women Who Care of the Greater Owosso Area. She set an initial goal for 100 women to attend the first meeting, which was quickly achieved, she said.
Today, the group has over 200 members, each of them striving to benefit community groups in need, though Schluckebier noted in her remarks that the group is far from the only one making an impact in the greater Shiawassee community.
“As I look around the room, many of you are the first to step up when the community calls,” Schluckebier said. “Everyone here tonight gives back in some way. That is what makes Owosso such a great place to call home.”
Perhaps the loudest applause of the evening came when the Voices for Children Advocacy Center (VCAC) of Shiawassee County received the Heart of Shiawassee Award.
The nonprofit agency, founded in 2004 through collaboration with the Shiawassee-Owosso Kiwanis, strives to eliminate child abuse and neglect through advocacy, education and collaboration in the community.
Taking the stage to a standing ovation, VCAC Executive Director Ellen Lynch expressed gratitude for the nomination, and credited the nonprofit’s founders for getting the ball rolling.
“The reason (this agency) happened was because they were sick and tired of abuse happening in Owosso and Corunna, and in all of Shiawassee County,” Lynch said. “Kids were telling their stories over and over and over to the people that had to conduct the investigations, and this was retraumatizing those kids and they wanted to put an end to it…That’s what we’re doing right now. We’re offering hope and healing all over the place…We are child saving.”
To date, the VCAC has served more than 2,500 child abuse victims, according to Lynch. That impact, she said, would not be possible without the community’s support.
“We are not funded by your tax dollars, or your city, or your county,” Lynch said. “None of this is supported by anything other than fundraising and you, community members that offer such tremendous support. We can’t get over it when we talk to other counties and they hear how small our county is and the dollars that we raise, it’s phenomenal. It’s because of you and your support, you’re child savers.”
Other Chamber award recipients recognized Thursday night included:
n Brent Singer — Ambassador Rising Star Award
n Julianne Ackerson — Mission Award
n Randy Woodworth — Entrepreneur Award
n Lebowsky Center for Performing Arts — Innovation Award
n Memorial Healthcare — Chairman’s Award
n Kevin Kregger — Citizen of the Year Award