2019 Volunteer Recognition Award Winners

Individuals who volunteered more than 1,000 hours in 2018.

Ten individuals and one organization were honored for their volunteer service from January to December 2018, during Chandler's eighth annual Volunteer Recognition Breakfast.

The City of Chandler joined with the nonprofit For Our City-Chandler to recognize the contributions of time and dedication made each day by committed volunteers. Organizations, including the faith-based, nonprofits and schools that rely on volunteers, were encouraged to nominate individuals with service primarily in Chandler for one of ten awards. 

Individuals who volunteered more than 1,000 hours are pictured at right and include Lori Dayton, AZCEND; Betty Ingram, AZCEND; Ricardo Felix, Chandler Traditional Academy; Helen Gonzales, About Care; Caryn Shoemaker, About Care; Rea Dias, About Care; Svetlana Todorov, Intel. Not pictured is Michael Duran, Intel. 

Below are the 2019 award recipients.


While he was still in high school, Dheeraj's mother shared with him the story of his older brother. She told him of the baby she birthed a year before he was born that was born with an incompletely formed heart. Due to a technical glitch in the health monitoring system, the hospital declared that the baby was healthy and sent him home. Unfortunately, it was too late when the misdiagnosis was discovered. Always amazed by the power of computers to change human life for good, Dheeraj began to wonder if he could be a part of helping others if he understood how to leverage technology and his curiosity compelled him to start taking courses in computer architecture. As time went on that curiosity turned into his passion and with the help of many good mentors, his life's work continued to be propelled in this direction.

In 2016, as a part of Intel Involved Volunteering, Dheeraj responded to a request from San Tan Junior High School to find a programmer who might be interested in leading a code club at the school. What was unknown to anyone at Intel, when the school reached out was that there were a number of children in the code club on the autism spectrum. After performing extensive research on autism and the best practices for teaching autistic children, Dheeraj came back prepared, adjusting his lessons to ensure the programming concepts were modified to meet the unique learning styles of autistic children.

His teaching style now resonates with all the students in the code club, with all successfully learning how to program in Python and other programming languages. Dheeraj's work was so impactful that other employees duplicated his curriculum and are starting clubs at other schools in the Valley modeling his class structure.


Bob Dalpe is the go-to person in Chandler and the East Valley when a veteran needs help.  In addition to working full time, Bob always makes the time to help local Veterans in need. While Bob volunteers with numerous organizations throughout Arizona, his most important work is done here locally when Veterans are in need. Bob is able to quickly do a background check on the Veterans in need then jumps into action to literally save lives. One of the most remarkable stories was when a local Veteran and his family were in need of furniture and house hold appliances for their family, Bob was able to rally the community to quickly deliver two truckloads full of donated items to this family in need. 




Kay Pratt 2019 Longevity Award

Kay Pratt is one of the original founders of One Small Step and was part of a small group of women who began meeting in 2001 once a week to wash, mend, and package socks, which they would take to clothing banks, homeless shelters, school nurses and any agency serving the poor. During the past 17 years, Kay has been instrumental in the development and growth of One Small Step, both as a board member and volunteer.

Simply put, Kay does it all. And she does it with humility and very little fanfare. She sorts and processes clothing. She packs hygiene kits and linens and serves Clothes Cabin clients on the front-end with cheer and infinite patience. She is often the first one in the door and the last one to leave. She has expanded the organization's reach to those in need by searching out and establishing partnerships with other groups and agencies serving those in poverty.

Kay also has been a mentor to dozens of Clothes Cabin volunteers and takes a leadership role in efforts to boost volunteer morale and well-being. Kay Pratt is and has been at the heart and head of everything One Small Step has accomplished since its inception.

Makes It Happen Award | Gina La Benz

Gina La Benz is full of sunshine. As a positive and spunky volunteer, she contributes everywhere in any way she can, and also inspires those around her to team up and make miracles happen. Gina ceaselessly devotes her time and passion to causes that build up the community and help make Chandler the best place to live and raise a family.

Gina volunteered at the Chandler/Gilbert YMCA teaching a healthy living class and used her dynamic promoter leadership style in fundraising for scholarships for low-income families at the YMCA.

Gina also volunteered as an Art Masterpiece teacher for her children's schools, a member of Perry High School's PPO (Puma Parent Organization), Si Se Puede Girls Robotics Team fundraiser mentor, a Girl Scout leader, facilitator/trainer and council volunteer for the Girl Scout Women of Distinction Awards for a total of 17 years of service.

She also volunteered as an I-LEARN mentor at the YMCA, helping a teen mom overcome many obstacles to earn her high school diploma. Horrified at the harsh realities related to sex trafficking of children, Gina helped her daughter's troop form a special group of Girl Scouts called GS GEMS who helped bring awareness for prevention by giving presentations and making black and white awareness jewelry.  

Gina also is a member of the planning committee for the annual fundraising event for CeCe's Hope Center. She helped StreetlightUSA plan their Black and White fundraising ball in 2014 and 2015 at Hope Covenant Church, and then in 2016 at Chandler Wild Horse Pass.

Gina coordinates a toy and family gift drive for children at ICAN, a special project started by her troop called Stuffed With Love Boutique, begun by eight girls as an idea for their Girl Scout Silver Award project. They were looking for something to do that did not require much money but would make a difference in the lives of families. This amazing event is in its 11th year, where many diverse volunteers bring smiles and joy to the children at ICAN. Last year alone, they helped 250 children select and wrap approximately 1,250 gifts for children to give to their families, empowering them to be givers at Christmas. Gina is active in the Chandler Chamber of Commerce Women in Leadership Luncheon (six years), an alumnus of the Chandler Chamber Community Foundation's Leadership Class, a volunteer with For Our City-Chandler and the East Valley Mayors' Prayer Breakfast, and has helped with the Chandler Operation Back to School drive since it began.

She is a member of the Chandler Education Foundation's 'Woo Hoo Bus' team that annually surprises teachers with grants. Gina has chaired the YMCA Prayer Breakfast for six years and been a member of the planning committee for 12. Lastly, Gina also authored an inspiring blog called Anchor Moments, found at anchormoments.com.

Mayor's Choice Award | Annette and Gary Auxier

It is a great honor and privilege to nominate Dr. Gary and Mrs. Annette Auxier for the City of Chandler Volunteer Longevity Award. Together, Dr. and Mrs. Auxier have more than 40 combined years of volunteerism in Chandler, and their volunteerism spans three decades. Mrs. Annette Auxier was appointed to fill a Chandler Unified School District governing board vacancy in June 1998, prior to the public voting her into office in November 1998 and re-electing her in 2002, 2016, 2010 and 2014.

Governing board positions are uncompensated and require hundreds of hours of time and commitment annually. Mrs. Auxier has served as Governing Board president six times, elected by her fellow members because of her reputation for treating people and situations with grace and skill. She demonstrates compassion for all points of view, helping members of the public feel their voice is heard and understood. Anyone who knows Mrs. Auxier or has heard her speak about education and supporting CUSD families has witnessed first-hand the incredible heart and passion (and often tears of joy) she pours into her work.

One of Mrs. Auxier's greatest traits is her character. She has a well-earned reputation for her honesty and innate ability to convey messages in a manner that respects others' points of view. Mrs. Auxier will retire as the longest-tenured CUSD governing board member in December 2018, after 20 years and six months of service. Her incredible commitment of time, energy, caring and compassion leaves a legacy that has helped make CUSD the #1 school district in Arizona.

Dr. Gary Auxier has volunteered serving uninsured Chandler youth at the Chandler CARE Center for more than 20 years. Each year, he provides no-cost medical care to hundreds of Chandler youth whose parents otherwise would not be able to pay for their care. In addition to child well visits and sick visits, Dr. Auxier provides sports physicals for student-athletes and works collaboratively with his counterparts within the community to help patients access additional medical resources such as lab tests, x-rays and other medical imaging. When he uncovers serious problems, he spends more time recruiting the appropriate medical specialists to provide diagnostic confirmation and treatment for these patients at little or no cost to the family.  

Dr. Auxier specializes in diagnosing and treating ADD/ADHD; these cases require a depth of knowledge, but also skillful, compassionate care and he provides just that. His calm, caring demeanor helps patients and parents feel less scared. He evaluates students and works closely with the student, parents, teachers, and behavioral health providers to ensure that the patient is receiving both the medical care they require and the additional resources needed to maximize their potential and help them succeed in school and in life. These medical visits, consultations, prescriptions and other therapies would prove cost-prohibitive to the families served at the CARE Center; without Dr. Auxier's assistance, many of these students would remain untreated.

Together, Dr. and Mrs. Auxier have had an impact on the city of Chandler that is without measure. Their giving spirits, commitment to children and families, passion for the community, and willingness to work long hours for no pay has positively impacted thousands of Chandler youth.

Multitasking Maestro Award | Mary Ellen Crane

Mary Ellen Crane epitomizes the Multitasking Maestro for her 2018 volunteer work. She took an active role in the Soroptomist International of the San Tans, as a member of the Board of Directors and Membership Committee; and in the organizational programs that support women's needs. But she added much more to her plate: this year, she also unhesitatingly stepped up into a leadership position in the planning with the Pardners of Tumbleweed Ranch and the Chandler Museum for the November 2018 Chandler Chuck Wagon Cook-Off. She demonstrated her ability to take on multiple assignments and complete all of them effectively. This year, due to timelines with the new museum opening, the staff of the Chandler Museum was unable to put in their usual hours in developing this annual fundraising event.

Each year, the Cook-Off raises money to help with improvements at Tumbleweed Ranch, an outdoor interpretive area for the museum's school and community programming. The highly reduced ability for the staff this year to be involved called into question as to whether this important annual event could occur. Mary Ellen was determined to overcome this challenge and see this program through.

In response, she took on a central leadership position with the Pardners of Tumbleweed Ranch and nearly became a one-woman show. She took on many, many duties that the Museum staff would have done in previous years. These duties included assisting with the management of planning over the year, leading the sponsor recruitment, securing and coordinating the entertainment, planning for food needs for the Chuck Wagon team competition, leading the judging aspect of the event, ensuring event supply purchases happened (which were many and varied), coordinating the volunteer recruitment for the event, managing all vendors from recruitment to placement, leading the design of a new website to host the event information for the Pardners and keeping it updated. She basically led in tasks that had required several other staff to do. She has the ability to see what needs to be done and accomplish it without being asked.

In addition, she brought in family members to help accomplish tasks and work at the event. I would calculate that she provided at least 250 volunteer hours for the year just in this event alone (meanwhile being active with the Soroptomist group and also managing her own home life). Without Mary Ellen's leadership and multitasking skills, and her determination to see the Pardners and the Museum raise needed funds this year, this event would not have succeeded. Her hard work and long hours resulted in a successful 9th Annual Chandler Chuck Wagon Cook-Off. The community enjoyed this unique free event, and funds were raised to help future programming for the Chandler Museum and the Tumbleweed Ranch.

Mary Ellen truly deserves recognition for making this City event possible, for helping the Chandler Museum staff in a time of need, and for serving as a true community leader in her role as a dedicated volunteer.

Strong Arms Award | Michael Noffke

Every director works to engage parents in their school. Having parents buy-in lets us know that they truly value their children's education and the legacy that will continue when they graduate. At the Early childhood learning center, there are many dedicated parents, but one volunteer shines brighter than the rest. On his tour, Michael Noffke talked about wanting to give back to the Jewish Community Center (JCC).

His creativity and mastery of woodwork is beyond compare. Each day, our children enjoy the weaving board, music board and countless other creations. He has built a fabulous sandbox that coordinated so well with our Three's and Pre-K playground. In addition, he has refurbished the Two's sandbox, painted the Multi-Purpose Roo, and organized JCC spaces.



Sunbeam Award | Mary Sandoval

Mary began regularly volunteering with the Chandler Police Department as a cashier for the fingerprint unit. Mary always arrives ready for her shift and kindly greets each customer who approaches the payment window. She receives payment and issue receipts to the customers. Mary maintains an organized, clean and orderly checkout area. Mary pleasantly answers customers' questions in both English and Spanish and provides information on procedures to fill out the fingerprint card.

Also while working the payment counter, Mary is oftentimes approached by other police department visitors whose visit is for other than fingerprint services. When possible, Mary answers their questions, if Mary does not know the answer, she ensures that these patrons receive the proper customer service from Chandler Police Department personnel.



Working Together Award | Phoenix Chandler Hilton Blue Energy Team

The Phoenix Chandler Hilton's Blue Energy Team has been offering the Chandler Public Housing Youth Program assistance, support and unique experiences for many years. The Blue Energy Team is made up of Hilton employees who volunteer their time and talent in various ways. They have embraced the Public Housing Youth Program as a favored group, staging Holiday dinners, summer pool parties and Halloween spectaculars, all to the delight of our program's participants.

This past year, Lauren Dubrock, Operations Manager for the hotel, organized the Blue Energy team to also become an active partner in the HUD Book Rich Environment Initiative. The purpose of this initiative is to place quality children's books into the homes of low-income Public Housing residents. The Blue Energy Team provided food, games, prizes and volunteers for five on-site book giveaway events called 'Family Fun Fests'. The Blue Energy Team also hosted a banquet at the hotel for the families of the first and second-grade participants who completed the ASPIRE Read to Succeed tutoring program. The Team offered the room, food and service at no charge and created a very special and memorable celebration of the children's literacy progress.

While the Blue Energy Team's generosity and giving spirit shone brightly throughout the year, it was at the holiday time that they truly went above and beyond. In addition to sponsoring a Public Housing family who were in need of Christmas assistance; and providing food and volunteers for the Santa Party at the Housing Youth Center; they also staged a special Thanksgiving event at the hotel for teens and their mothers. The Thanksgiving celebration was a dress-up affair complete with dinner and dancing. The efforts of the Blue Energy Team gave the Moms and Teens the opportunity to create unique and special memories they will treasure for years to come.

The Public Housing Youth Program is a stronger program because of the efforts of the Blue Energy Team. They have helped Chandler's at-risk youth feel important, appreciated and valued.  Chandler should be very proud to be the home of the Phoenix Chandler Hilton and its civic-minded, compassionate employees.

Youth Award | Elaina Ashton

Elaina Ashton, is currently a 11th grader & the CSO (Chief Science Officer/STEM ambassador) for Arizona College Prep High School's Erie campus. She also serves on Governor Ducey's CSO STEM advisory council. Inspired by her parents and educators that were always willing to help and mentor children in their local community, in 2016, Elaina co-founded a nonprofit organization, Education Empowers Inc. to share her passion for STEM & robotics with children living in the Chandler neighborhood.

Today, education empowers partners with a number of local nonprofits and volunteers from technology industries, to offer free hands-on STEM and robotics education for children in local communities. On the weekends, Elaina can be seen passionately teaching robotics at after-school STEM programs through YMCA, Boys and Girls clubs, for local girl scout teams and at STEM workshops.

Elaina has loved robotics from a very young age and is also the president of her high school VEX robotics team. In addition to mentoring a number of First Lego League teams and recreational robotics teams in the Valley, on the first Saturday of every month, Elaina volunteers and teaches 'Train the Trainer', which is a class given to the adults, who want to start after-school robotics programs in their schools and clubs. She provides hands-on training and curriculum for volunteers and staff from Chandler YMCA, Tempe YMCA, and Boys and Girls Clubs in Chandler, Gilbert, Scottsdale, Mesa, Tempe, Queen Creek and Guadalupe, along with teachers from local schools, enabling them to start after-school robotics programs for kids.

Elaina strongly believes that the increase in STEM education, as well as STEM awareness amongst students, is incredibly important. Promoting STEM awareness in schools and communities is one of the ways we can increase students' participation. Along with other CSOs at her school, she organizes the annual STEM fair event which brings in hands-on STEM activities to 300 students at her school.

For bringing STEM to local girls scouts and inspiring local community children she was recognized earlier this year by COX connect2stem CSO award.  and also featured on San Tan Sun newsletter.