The United Way of Iredell hosted the first annual Iredell County Governor’s Volunteer Service Awards on Tuesday night at Little Joe’s Chapel in Barium Springs. After the ceremony, the award recipients and their guests enjoyed a special cake and refreshments at a reception in their honor.

After a solemn remembrance and prayer for the officers killed and wounded in Charlotte on Monday, Executive Director Brett Eckerman thanked the United Way staff, Board of Directors, and volunteers who help him and the community every day.

Eckerman said that Dorothy Woodard, who received the Governor’s Medallion in 2019, has done “so many acts of service in my community and is one of my heroes.” He asked Woodard to welcome the volunteers being honored and talk about the power of community service.

“The Governor’s Volunteer Service Award honors the true spirit of volunteerism while recognizing individuals and groups that make a difference and make a significant outreach into their community through volunteer service,” said Woodard.

“Volunteerism is the ultimate expression of human connection, compassion, and community solidarity. Volunteers play a vital role in addressing various social challenges, from supporting vulnerable populations to supporting our environment and promoting education.”

“Your contributions not only benefit those directly impacted but also inspire others to join in the effort of building a better world,” remarked Woodard, who urged everyone to utilize United Way’s new HIVE (Helping Iredell Volunteers Engage) initiative, a new online volunteer center offering opportunities to volunteer in the community.

Local partners and organizations promote awareness of their volunteer needs and upcoming events through HIVE, allowing community members to find and respond to service opportunities on the website (

Area businesses and residents can personalize their volunteer experience by selecting opportunities they connect with and then sign up to volunteer online. HIVE will also send volunteers notifications of needs and events that match their skills, interests, and talents.

“Volunteerism is instrumental in driving positive change,” said Woodard, “creating opportunities for growth and development and building stronger bonds with our neighbors. It is through the dedication and passion of volunteers like you that we can overcome obstacles, uplift one another, and create a brighter future for all.”

“United we fight, united we win. We know that everyone has to do our part, working united to make communities the places we need them to be: equitable, respectful and opportunity filled,” concluded Woodard.


Debbie Howell, Susan Tolle’s friend and volunteer partner of many years, led the tribute to her friend, who will receive the Governor’s Medallion Award for Volunteerism on May 6 in Raleigh.

Howell shared stories of Tolle’s expansive community volunteerism over the years, including Tolle’s idea to hold tea parties to raise funds for United Way, which raised $20,000 for the organization every December for three years.

Tolle had a multitude of volunteer activities as a young person, served on many boards of local organizations as an adult, and was recently recognized by the DAR for her community involvement. The Charlotte Business Journal also gave her a Volunteer Hero award.

She also volunteered for years with the Iredell Health System, including serving on the Board of Directors and the Iredell Foundation Board. Tolle has also been on the Board of Directors for the United Way, Iredell Museum, and the Historic Sharpe House.

Her biggest impact, however, has been in suicide prevention. “Over the past ten years, Susan has experienced what no parent wants to ever experience,” said Howell.

When her daughter attempted suicide for the third time, Tolle was at a loss. She couldn’t figure out why her daughter so desperately wanted to die. After all, her daughter was an attractive educated young woman with her own beautiful daughter who needed her, but she felt that she would be doing everybody a big favor by dying so she would no longer be a burden.

Tolle started researching the subject of suicide and found the website for the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention (AFSP). Digging deeper, she found explanations for her questions, as well as a myriad of materials and statistics as to the causes of suicide.

That night, the planning started for the first Out of the Darkness Walk in Iredell County. After forming a committee, Tolle held monthly planning meetings beginning in March to plan the walk in October of 2018.

Nearly 500 walkers participated, along with 200 volunteers. The effort raised $32,000, surpassing organizers’ goal of $5,000.

In 2019, the walk raised $40,000. In 2020 and 2021, virtual walks continued to raise money during the pandemic, and in 2022 Hurricane Ian forced organizers to cancel the event, but it still raised funds for AFSP. In 2023, the first in-person walk in four years was a huge success, raising in excess of $80,000.

In total, Tolle and her local AFSP team raised $250,000 to produce materials for awareness and for research.

More important than the money was the awareness Tolle raised. Tolle trained as a field volunteer so she could present one of AFSP’s most effective programs, Talk Saves Lives, over the past five years.

Tolle is responsible for bringing the Talk Saves Lives to the Iredell-Statesville Schools, where all 2,700 employees participated in the training. New employees must also take this now mandatory suicide awareness program. She has also presented this program to professional and civic organizations throughout Iredell County as well as to at least 50 Iredell County churches.

Tolle or one of her local AFSP team also attends every community health-related event to hand out materials and speak to interested citizens. During these past five years, she has devoted 20 to 30 hours per week to this cause.

“While I cannot tell you the exact number of people Susan has impacted, I can tell you that since her efforts began over six years ago, the suicide rate here in Iredell County has decreased by 9 percent,” said Howell.

Tolle has been there for families in crisis. “She has taken phone calls in the middle of the night from parents who don’t know what to do. She sat with the families affected by suicide.”

“When you consider that every person in the school system, approximately 2700 people, then every child in the school system, approximately 21,000, all of the churches, civic groups, employee groups, table events, and Out of the Darkness Walks held here in Statesville, Susan has definitely had a positive impact on the lives of 35,000 plus of our neighbors, co-workers, friends and family members,” estimated Howell.


Emcee Linda Wahlberg, UW Director of Administrative Operations, honored Toby Atkinson, who “embodies the true essence of selfless dedication and unwavering commitment to serving her community.”

“As a devoted mother of two, a cherished wife of 17 years, and an accomplished career woman, Toby’s impact reverberates far beyond her immediate circles. Her role as the reigning Mrs. United States is not just a title. It’s a platform she utilizes tirelessly to champion the cause closest to her, the fight against Alzheimer’s,” Wahlberg said.

“Toby’s dedication to this cause extends far beyond mere advocacy. Her tireless efforts and unwavering commitment shine through in every facet of her work, igniting hope in those affected by this challenging disease.”

Atkinson’s efforts led her to visit multiple states to engage with local Alzheimer’s chapters, spreading awareness and fostering a sense of unity among affected communities. Her active involvement on the North Carolina Alzheimer’s Association board of directors has been instrumental in guiding policies and strategies to drive progress in Alzheimer’s research and support networks.

“Washington has witnessed her impassioned advocacy for continued support in the fight against Alzheimer’s. Toby’s resolute voice echoes through the halls of power, compelling legislators to prioritize this crucial cause,” Wahlberg said.

“Beyond her visible accomplishments lies Toby’s indomitable spirit – a blend of empathy, resilience, and tenacity that fuels her mission. Her relentless pursuit of alleviating the burdens of Alzheimer’s reflects a rare combination of passion and purpose that is truly extraordinary.”


Valree Brolsma has been volunteering with the South Iredell Senior Center since 2016, logging over 5,000 hours at the center and in the community on behalf of the center. She serves on the Advisory Council, is the group leader of the weekly Women’s Coffee and Chat group, and the bowling group.

What makes Brolsma’s volunteer contributions so special is her gift for “welcoming our newcomers with open arms, making connections, introducing them to like-minded folks and providing them with links to integrate into the wider community,” Wahlberg said.

With Mooresville’s population increasing by 43 percent in the past eight years, a large influx of seniors has moved to the area. Many are experiencing significant life changes, such as losing a spouse, health challenges, and feelings of isolation and loneliness.

“Valree can pinpoint our newcomers that may be reluctant, shy, feeling anxious, or lost. With a bright, genuine smile, she welcomes them and identifies their interests and needs. Using her community connections and a wide network, she offers guidance and direction to those in need.”

Brolsma works tirelessly to enhance the programs offered at the South Iredell Senior Center. Her programming efforts have led to free art classes, technology assistance, and concerts by local talents. Her fundraising efforts have led to the expansion of existing programs and increased community awareness of the unique challenges that older adults face, that include elder abuse, finances, cybercrimes, and mental health issues.”

“While the impact of Valree’s volunteer work is difficult to measure, she has greatly impacted and improved the lives of many of Mooresville’s older adults in countless ways,” concluded Wahlberg.


A dependable volunteer for the Meals on Wheels Program in Mooresville and the new frozen delivery program, Teena LaMorte is “amiable towards all the clients she meets and never fails to put a smile on their faces,” said Wahlberg.

LaMorte is enthusiastic about volunteering and happy to make a difference, even if it is only for a few minutes. If her schedule allows it, she volunteers two to three days a week.

“Teena is always perky when she comes in. It never seems to matter how the day looks; it could be rainy or cold, but Teena will show up with a smile. She shares stories that would make all the site participants laugh.”

The Iredell Council on Aging’s Meals on Wheels program has served over 8,000 meals. Of those 8,000 meals, the Mooresville site has managed a little over 4,000, and LaMorte has helped deliver several hundred. LaMorte has also volunteered to help deliver frozen meals to the homebound. The frozen route in Mooresville currently serves six people, with new clients being added weekly.

“With Teena and her passion for serving others, the ability to serve these clients is unlimited,” Wahlberg said.


Mason, who volunteers for Hope of Mooresville, FeedNC, The Christian Mission, Lake Norman Special Olympics, NCL LKN, Operation Gratitude, Bridge of Hearts, Back to School Bash, Alzheimers Association, American Heart Association, Mooresville Art Guild, Davidson Community Players, and Accordius Health, has a dedication, passion and commitment to making a positive impact in the community.

Over the past year, Mason devoted over 150 hours to volunteering. More than half of those volunteer hours were spent contributing significantly to Mooresville Art Guild as a docent and Davidson Community Players as an usher. Her passion for art has grown during this time, leading her to pursue an art degree at Savannah School of Art and Design this fall.

“One notable aspect of Taylor’s volunteerism is her engagement with Accordius Health, where she has spent 10 hours enhancing the lives of elderly residents. From playing Bingo to organizing an ice cream social, Taylor consistently goes above and beyond to bring joy to others,” said Walhberg.

Her involvement with food pantries and a local women’s shelter showcases her commitment to addressing community needs. Highlights include participation in FeedNC’s Winter Wonderland program and providing meals for women at Hope of Mooresville.

Mason has also dedicated 32 hours to youth-centric activities, supporting Lake Norman Special Olympics and Bridge of Hearts. She has participated in the local Back to School Bash making sure community youths have the supplies needed to begin their school year.

Beyond direct community service, Mason has made valuable contributions to national organization Operation Gratitude, creating items for the benefit of others. Her leadership roles in the National Charity League, including president, Philanthropy, and Programs, demonstrate her ability to lead and inspire.

Notably, Mason’s involvement in the National Charity League’s Annual Fashion Show fundraiser, where she raised over $18,000, showcases her capability to make a tangible impact. Her participation in various committees underscores her commitment to organizational success.

In addition to her volunteer efforts, Mason manages to balance a part-time job, showcasing her exceptional time management skills.

“Taylor’s dedication, leadership, and positive influence make her a remarkable role model in our community,” Wahlberg said.


Since his wife passed away, Eric Persson has dedicated his life to serving any elder who needs him. Every month for the last year he has worked diligently and without complaint to meet the needs of many seniors in the county.

“He provides rides to people who can’t drive, he takes care of his neighbor who is in a wheelchair so she can remain in her home, and he has gotten new people to join our center by just being his friendly self and is the example of what just one senior center participant can do in a community,” said Walhberg.

“During an outing to play bocce on the weekends, he met and befriended a family with a special needs son. From that meeting he brought the family into one of our monthly socials and introduced Special Olympics to our group.”

Persson also brought Thanksgiving dinner to serve seniors at a monthly social.

“He just wanted all of us to enjoy a meal together,” Wahlberg said.

Persson also leads several group events such as bowling, shuffleboard, and corn hole. With another center member, he also makes bluebird houses on the weekend to distribute to the community.


Debbi Potter has been the Mooresville Public Library Books on Wheels Volunteer Manager for the homebound for years.

“Without her contributions, the program would not be successful. She volunteers approximately 20 hours a month, scheduling deliveries, updating preferences for items patrons want delivered, pulling materials to be delivered, and in some cases, even delivering materials,” Wahlberg said.

“She doesn’t just call patrons and schedule deliveries; she takes time to get to know them, understand what they are going through, and takes an interest in who they are. In the past year Debbi has maintained close relationships with almost a dozen seniors in our area to serve their literacy and informational needs,” said Wahlberg.

Potter also volunteers with our Friends of the Library, accepting book donations, attending monthly meetings, and working Friends’ events, including book sales and book swaps for children, teens, and adults.


Bailey Stanley has a commitment to community service and philanthropy that has left an indelible mark on the local community. Her involvement at Accordius Health reflects her compassion for the well-being of senior residents. She has participated in the Alzheimer’s Association Walk to End to show her support for those affected by Alzheimer’s disease, showcasing both empathy and a commitment to raising awareness.

Stanley also contributed over 53 hours to community youth. For her substantial contribution at Bridge of Hearts, she created birthday celebration bags, hygiene bags, and snack bags. Stanley’s involvement with the local Back to School Bash helped to ensure that children have the necessary school supplies. Her assistance with Lake Norman Special Olympics social events demonstrates her inclusivity and support for diverse community members.

Stanley has volunteered for 90 hours with local food pantries to help members of the community get the essentials they need. She has participated in both FeedNC’s Donahue’s restaurant and the Winter Wonderland program. She also stocked the Kindness Closet located in the HealthReach Community Clinic seven times in the past year.

Stanley’s volunteerism extends into the arts, ushering productions produced by Davidson Community Players. Her compassion for animals is evident through her service at Rescue Ranch making DIY toys for animals in their care and helping with community events.

Furthermore, Stanley’s leadership roles within National Charity League-LKN, including positions such as president, treasurer, and philanthropy, underscore her organizational skills and dedication to the values of the organization. She is also a dedicated soccer player for Charlotte Independence and Lake Norman High School.


Nola Stanley’s dedication to volunteering is truly commendable. Over the past year, she has generously given her time and energy to various initiatives, showcasing her passion for making a positive difference.

One of her notable contributions includes her involvement with FeedNC, where she has volunteered over 80 hours, underscoring her passion for addressing issues of hunger in our community. She has worked in the FeedNC Donahue’s restaurant, where everyone is granted one hot meal a day as well as with the FeedNC’s Winter Wonderland program.

Stanley also volunteered with Bridge of Hearts, creating birthday celebration bags, hygiene bags, and snack bags to provide essential resources to children in need. Her participation in the Back to School Bash ensures children in the community start the school year with necessary supplies. Her involvement with the Lake Norman Special Olympics, providing support for social events, highlights her inclusivity and dedication to fostering a sense of belonging. Through these organizations, Stanley has dedicated over 50 hours to the community’s youth.

Stanley participated in the Alzheimer’s Association Walk to End this past September. She has also spent time at Accordius Health painting windows of patients in an effort to bring joy to those living in assisted living.

Stanley has served as president, culture, and philanthropy for the National Charity League-LKN, which demonstrates her organizational and motivational skills. Her participation in NCL-LKN’s annual Fashion Show also helped contribute to raising money for local charities.

Stanley is a well-rounded individual who also plays soccer for Charlotte Independence and Lake Norman High School.


Matthew 25 Ministries volunteers Margie Cartner, Sarah Dyson, Naomi Smith, Beverly Imes, Joetta Snow, Winnie Henderson, Shana Rash, Janice Barker, Tammy Wellman, Kenneth Turner, Pam Wooten, Ravonna Imes, Laurie Latragna, Ann Scruggs, Randy Baggerly, Michele Baggerly, Laura Parks, Sonna Massey were honored for their work in providing food for those in need.

“This extraordinary group of individuals, through their unwavering commitment and compassionate service, has become a cornerstone service, has become a cornerstone of hope and support in our community,” said Walberg.

The small ministry quickly grew into a vital resource for many in need, thanks to the tireless efforts of these volunteers.

“They have consistently demonstrated remarkable teamwork and dedication, often going above and beyond to ensure that no one in our community goes hungry or without the basic necessities that we offer. Their work is not just about providing food and clothing; it’s about nurturing a sense of community and belonging,” Wahlberg said.

“They greet everyone with a warm smile, offering not only physical sustenance but also emotional support. We offer prayer to everyone to make sure we are meeting their spiritual needs as well. The volunteers take the time to understand the unique needs of each individual and family, making sure they feel valued and respected.”

Families have shared numerous stories about how the organization has been a lifeline during tough times, helping them to overcome challenges and regain their footing.

“The volunteers have not only filled bellies and clothed bodies, but they have also filled hearts with hope and kindness. This group’s commitment to our community embodies the true spirit of service and compassion. Their work has a ripple effect, inspiring others to give back and strengthening the bonds within our community,” Wahlberg said.


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