5 moments not to miss in the 2021 Caring Hero Awards

If you’ve kept an eye on any of the longer-than-usual lead up to the Summer Olympics, you’ve seen some world-class displays in hurdles, dismounts and freestyles. 

And while those competing in Tokyo are impressive, the list of medal-hopefuls is missing some names. 

That’s because we’re not after the best in track and field, gymnastics or swimming. We’ll be watching, of course, but when we look toward the podium, we want to give the award to the best in caring.

The past year and a half brought tragedy. It tested us all. But, it also brought countless examples of hope and sacrifice. We saw brave Salvation Army officers, staff, volunteers and friends continue to serve and show care in their communities in ways big and small. 

We’re designating these incredible individuals—nominated by you!—our Caring Heroes. And, as a small gesture of respect and gratitude, we honored them in a live virtual awards ceremony July 23. If you missed it, you can watch a recording of the event here.

Here’s five moments from the awards show you won’t want to miss:

Meet the Vaneceks

Major Raymond Erickson-King, corps officer in Newport, Oregon, introduces two nominees—Bill and Linda Vanecek—volunteers who give their time every week to make sure people who need it receive food. Here from the Vaneceks about why they serve and what “caring” means to them.

Hear from the Territorial Commander 

In a message especially for the Caring Heroes, Western Territorial Commander Commissioner Douglas Riley thanked the awardees for “loving people who need it—whether they know it or not.”

“We’ve faced new challenges over the last year and a half and while they may continue to change from year to year, challenges will remain. It’s simply a fact of life,” Riley said. “And yet … so will love. 

“These seemingly ordinary people have taken extraordinary action to make a tangible difference in the life of someone else. It’s more than a good thought or a little prayer; they have invested themselves for the benefit of another,” he said. “In ways big and small, they are giving the world a lasting display of the love behind their beliefs. And that source is important.”

He referenced 1 John 4:19: “We love because he first loved us.”

“God is love, created love itself and loved us first,” Riley said. “That love doesn’t stay between us and God, though. It must extend to others,” noting Luke 10:27, to: “Love your neighbor as yourself.”

“It’s what The Salvation Army is known for: meeting human needs in his name without discrimination. Acting as the extended arms of a loving Christ,” Riley said. “Clearly, that’s true for these Caring Heroes and I want to say: thank you for your service, for your ministry, for your love.”

He ended with a challenge for each of us to reflect on God’s love for you and how you might show love in your life.

Listen to love in song

Matt Woods, accompanied by Jill Ulmer, sings “Love Changes Everything,” a new take on a song from Andrew Lloyd Webber’s “Aspects of Love.”

“Love will never let you be the same.”

See the Caring Hero Awards unveiled

Introducing the 2021 Caring Heroes—the brave, compassionate, passionate, uplifting, caring members of our communities. Complete with video introductions from many of those who nominated the awardees.

See the complete list of awardees below.

Be inspired by Brad Montague

New York Times bestselling author and creator of Kid President Brad Montague speaks about encouraging people who encourage the entire world. He describes the “messy middle” that exists between youthful optimism and grownup cynicism and how every human simply wants to be loved. 

Montague notes that people like the Caring Heroes make this happen. 

“I’ve been so inspired by the work of The Salvation Army and the work that you’re doing to help people navigate challenging waters,” Montague said. 

He shared an illustrated poem of his that was recently made into a book of the same name, “The Circles All Around Us.” In it, he describes the ripple effect love can have on those around us. 

“You don’t see problems, you see probortunities,” Montague said. “When you see people, you see someone to love.”

To each of the Caring Heroes: Thank you for the good you are bringing to the world around you, for the love you are showing and the way you are caring for your community.

Thank you for showing love and giving others a lasting display of the love behind your beliefs. 


The 2021 Caring Heroes

The brave, compassionate, passionate, uplifting, caring members of our communities.

Bethany Allen
Billings, Montana
For employing resources and collaborating with other local agencies to ensure the highest possible care for her community.

Maria Yesenia Almanza
Salinas, California
For her passion and love for service, and willingness to lend a helping hand and step in wherever needed.

Fabian Avitia
Phoenix, Arizona
For his hard work in providing families with nutritious meals every day for over 10 years.

Brent Babb
Phoenix, Arizona
For his willingness to help anyone with just about anything, even if outside his position or department.

Barbara Bennett
Glendale, Arizona
For calling congregation members to gather prayer requests and making a point to include the Korean congregation and make them feel welcomed, despite language barriers.

Zaporah Boyd
Phoenix, Arizona
For using her own lived experience to help advocate, care for and inspire families in shelters to get back on their feet.

Jody Davis
Pasadena, California
For his willingness to go grocery shopping for multiple families during the height of the COVID-19 pandemic, when it seemed the scariest place to be, keeping everyone fed and taken care of.

John Docter
Rancho Palos Verdes, California 
For telling the story of how The Salvation Army was “Doing the Most Good” in response to COVID-19 through his photography.

Carlos and Angelica Figueroa
Bellflower, California 
For serving as members of the worship team and youth leaders in their corps, and always supporting the weekly food distribution, despite challenges prompted by the pandemic.

Anthony Wayne Ford
Los Angeles, California
For outstanding knowledge and performance of his job skills and providing great customer service to everyone who enters the property.

Anne Geffner
Santa Monica, California 
For donating her time and skills during the COVID-19 shutdown to make masks for any and everyone in the 125-unit Silvercrest residence.

James Gonzalez
San Bernardino, California 
For his wisdom and guidance to the men in the recovery program, to which he has provided tough but compassionate support for the last 15 years.

Sandy Hall
Ewa Beach, Hawaii 
For her big heart, assistance in community needs, and her willingness to jump into action when help is needed on the Emergency Disaster Services team.

Janet Higley Reade
San Diego, California 
For helping others for more than 17 years with everything from building their resumes and cover letters to improving their self esteem and hope for the future.

Nancy Hinshaw
For the tireless hours and community devotion she has dedicated to her local volunteer department for 17 years—and for being a firefighter at the age of 90.

Joseph Jackson
Tulsa, Oklahoma
For his dedication to serving others five days a week and even volunteering his time as a teaching pastor beyond his 8-hour shift.

Ernest Jenkins
Hollywood, California
For his commitment to building relationships and caring for others, often going above and beyond his duties.

Alma Jhoana Hirasuna
Pasadena, California 
For her hard work, passion and commitment to helping Pasadena families meet their basic food needs this past year as donation requests increased due to the effects of COVID-19.

Scott Johnson
Phoenix, Arizona
For being a “hero behind the scenes,” through his media and public relations engagements throughout the COVID-19 pandemic.

Ronald Johnson
Spokane, Washington
For volunteering his time to help his neighbors in need in memory of his late wife.

John Kelly
Reno, Nevada
For selfless service, adapting to meet the needs of shut-in seniors facing hunger and isolation, continuing to lead the homeless feedings, and living as a testament to God’s grace.

Lechuga Toñita
Los Angeles, California 
For offering her support and serving attitude, even in the midst of a pandemic, always coming prepared to help, encourage and offer prayer as needed.

Charles Lincoln
Portland, Oregon
For showing his willingness to help others with food donations throughout the pandemic and watching over the addiction rehabilitation residence until reopening was safe.

Tina Lombardi
Ridgecrest, California
For faithfully serving as the volunteer administrator for the past six-months with a smiling and welcoming attitude.

Karina Lopez Saldana
Simi Valley, California 
For creating a culture of concern, compassion, community and quality service to others.

Pat Lycan
Pasadena, California
For the lives she has been able to touch through teaching, and always being a loving and welcoming presence.

Colette Mackengel
San Diego, California 
For being a caring and understanding case worker, making sure residents know The Salvation Army is there to help.

Jeff McAllister
Henderson, Nevada
For volunteering in the corps and rallying others to help in difficult times.

Jenifer Miller
Seaside, California
For her positivity, compassion and commitment as a positive leader who is dedicated to ensuring the best is delivered to those in need.

Rubi Morales
San Jose, California 
For her volunteer work at the senior kitchen and the drive-through food distribution, always with a friendly, welcoming smile.

Lavatta Palm
Las Vegas, Nevada
For her gentle way of guiding veterans to believe in themselves and pursue their goals.

Major Kenneth Perine
Spokane, Washington
For remaining a calm and positive voice of reason for the past 18-months and reminding others how important each is to the mission of The Salvation Army and serving those most in need.

Melissa Perrin
San Diego, California 
For going above and beyond to ensure that shelter residents do not go without.

Nell Perryman
Oceanside, California
For seeking and building relationships in the community with vendors, nonprofit partners and the most vulnerable youth, seniors and those experiencing homelessness with genuine care and the love of God.

Owen Persons
Santa Clara, California 
For his willingness to serve others and take care of residents and shelter guests while portraying a humble attitude.

Darryl Robinson
Riverside, California 
​​For his willingness to help in any way possible with a caring and friendly attitude.

Leonard Russel
Riverside, California
For being an awesome resident manager with a heart as big as he is.

Anabel Sanchez
Carson, California 
For her guidance as a leader and mentor as well as her embodiment of The Salvation Army’s morals and values.

Lydia Schumaker
Salinas, California 
For her selfless passion in helping others and finding ways to be of service in her community throughout the pandemic.

Stacey Smith
San Francisco, California 
For her commitment to the mission of The Salvation Army, evident in the way she supports her fellow heroes in the field with grace and respect.

Lauren Stephens
Greenville, South Carolina
For overseeing all homeless services, even after her own health trials, letting nothing stop her from serving others.

Georgia Stepp
Merced, California
For her generous supermarket donations made weekly for at least 20 years, even at 98-years-young!

Dwanah (“D”) Tajalle
Pahrump, Nevada
For her continued volunteer service during the COVID-19 pandemic, despite being in the high risk category as a senior herself.

Maria Trujillo
San Diego, California
For her consistent and personal record-breaking turnaround in finding permanent housing for shelter residents.

Shirili Valdez
San Bernardino, California 
For providing clients, children, donors and coworkers with hugs, smiles, prayers and heartfelt words of kindness.

Bill and Linda Vanecek
Lincoln County, Oregon
For their commitment in volunteering—driving more than 75 miles each week to give out food boxes at a mobile food pantry site on top of unloading, organizing and constructing food boxes three times a week.

James Wolfe
Bell, California
For being a great leader and one of the most caring supervisors during the pandemic.

Major David Yardley
Phoenix, Arizona
For maintaining close relationships with staff, feeding the hungry, providing emotional and spiritual care to clients, providing life-saving hydration and other gracious actions.

Do Good:

  • You’ve probably seen the red kettles and thrift stores, and while we’re rightfully well known for both…The Salvation Army is so much more than red kettles and thrift stores. So who are we? What do we do? Where? Right this way for Salvation Army 101.
  • See the latest Salvation Army impact in your community. 
  • You can make an impact in the Fight for Good with whatever time and skills you have. Whatever your interest, there is a you-sized need for goodness in the world. Get the guide on How To Be An Impactful Volunteer and get in the Fight for Good today.
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