2008-06-20 / On The Town

Nonprofit to honor volunteers at ceremony

'They were chosen because of their good works.' - Letitia Austin United Way of Ventura County
By Michelle Knight knight@theacorn.com

The United Way of Ventura County will recognize three individuals and a business for service to the community tomorrow evening at its Spirit of Community Impact awards on the California State University Channel Islands campus.

United Way spokesperson Letitia Austin said the honorees were selected out of many nominations in each category made by United Way staff.

"They're working toward advancing the common good . . . making opportunities available to everyone in our community," Austin said. "They were chosen because of their good works."

At the black-tie event, United Way will honor Leanne Neilson with the Milton M. Teague Award for her outstanding overall support of the nonprofit agency. A United Way board member since 2004, Neilson will become chair of the board on July 1.

In her years of volunteer service with the agency, she's been active in a number of committees, among them a founding member of the United Women's Leadership Council, a volunteer group working to fill the void in social services to young women aging out of the foster care system.

"I'm absolutely thrilled and honored," said Neilson of the award.

Neilson lives in Simi Valley and is interim provost at California Lutheran University.

Lydia Ledesma-Reese will be given the agency's first Turning Passion into Action Award for her work with the United Women's Leadership Council.

Chair of the volunteer group and one of its founding members, LedesmaReese has spearheaded the effort to get the 70member council off the ground. The group recently requested service proposals from agencies willing and able to meet the needs of young women coming out of foster care.

"I was very surprised as well as very honored," LedesmaReese said. "I do the work because I have a passion for it and believe in it."

For devoting the highest level of volunteer support to United Way, Claudia Harrison, executive director of First 5 Ventura County, will receive the Douglas Shively Award.

Harrison chairs one of the agency's Community Impact focus teams, which concentrate on a pressing need in the community and recommend solutions. She's also been instrumental in forging a partnership between First 5 Ventura County and United Way to bring to the county an awardwinning campaign that gives parents, grandparents and others the tools to create learning experiences for young children and ready them for school.

"It's been very, very exciting to be a part of this work," Harrison said. "I'm extremely honored."

United Way will also honor Enterprise Rent-a-Car with the Roy Pinkerton Award for being its top corporate supporter. The company "is a leader in demonstrating best practices annually" through its participation in United Way's annual Day of Caring, employee campaigns and other fundraising activities, the nonprofit agency said.

The Spirit of Community Impact awards ceremony is scheduled from 5:30 to 10 p.m. Sat., June 21 at CSUCI's John Spoor Broome Library. Best-selling author Marshall Howard is the scheduled guest speaker. The public is invited to attend.

For more information or to purchase tickets, call the United Way of Ventura County at (805) 485-6288, ext. 221.

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