United Way of Southwest Michigan awards community volunteer leaders

The theme of this year’s annual event was “Leaving a Legacy.” 


United Way of Southwest Michigan’s Volunteer Recognition Event honored outstanding volunteers in Berrien and Cass Counties on October 3 at 5 p.m. at the Mendel Center at Lake Michigan College with a dinner and awards ceremony. 


“We are here to celebrate some of the individuals in our community who selflessly give their time to others to make Southwest Michigan a great place to live,” said Anna Murphy, president of United Way of Southwest Michigan. “Volunteers are at the very core of the work we do at United Way, but we know that United Way’s volunteers are just a small subset of the tens of thousands of people who lend their time, talent, and muscle to hundreds of nonprofit organizations across our region. Those being honored here tonight are a prime example of the breadth of volunteerism in our community.” 


The awards were as follows: 


Margaret B. Upton Volunteer Leadership Award 

Winner: Anna Abdelnour 

Nominees: Anna Abdelnour, Gloria Ender, Larry Sehy 


Sustaining Volunteer Award 

Winners: Gokul Nair & Sandy Ferguson 
Nominees: Beth Christy, Dick Conrad, Allen Edlefson, Sandy Ferguson, Gokul Nair, Shani Zinn 


Emerging Volunteer Award 

Winner: Margo Howley 

Nominees: Patricia Conroy, Margo Howley, Kevan Truman 


Live United Youth Scholarship 

Winners: Bailey Anson & Caleigh Dahn 


The winner of the prestigious Margaret B. Upton Volunteer Leadership Award was Anna Abdelnour, of the Berrien Community Foundation’s Women’s Giving Circle, for her extensive mentorship and service to other women. She is best known for her work with the Blossomtime Festival, being an integral part of it for 27 years since starting as the pageant producer in 1993. Over the years, she has volunteered in every capacity within the organization and now serves as its president. She has also volunteered for Habitat for Humanity, Boys and Girls Club of Benton Harbor, and St. Joseph Public Schools, among many other organizations. Most recently she joined the board of Bark Angels Therapy Dogs, and also began volunteering for the Win for Isaac Charity against Multiple Sclerosis. In addition, Anna volunteers for the Senior PGA Tournament, and after having served as co-chair for the last four tournaments, will serve as the chair for player registration and hospitality for the 2020 event. 


Gokul Nair, the winner of the Sustaining Volunteer Award who was nominated by his employer Whirlpool Corporation, volunteers in procuring items, planning, and executing sale/auction events, and his efforts helped Whirlpool to raise a record $3 million for United Way.  


Sandy Ferguson, also the winner of the Sustaining Volunteer Award who was nominated by Gast Manufacturing, has been volunteering in various capacities for local nonprofits for over 40 years, including Girl Scouts, Gateway, The Salvation Army Men’s Shelter, and the Feeding America Mobile Food Pantry. She has also been involved with the DHHS foster children program, the Humane Society, and various United Way volunteer events.  


Emerging Volunteer Award winner Margo Howley was nominated by Caring Circle (Hospice at Home, Hanson Hospice Center) for her work helping people who are going through an extremely difficult time. 


United Way of Southwest Michigan extends special thanks to the event’s presenting sponsor, Indiana Michigan Power, an AEP Company. 





United Way of Southwest Michigan fights for the Health, Education and Financial Stability of every person in every community. We have the influence and relationships to make sustainable change a reality. By harnessing resources from corporate, nonprofit and public partners, we provide immediate assistance to our most vulnerable populations while addressing the root causes of our community's longstanding challenges and changing lives for the better. To join the fight—through giving, advocacy and volunteering—visit www.uwsm.org


Jennifer TomshackComment