2022 Winners

Ten individuals and one organization were honored for their volunteer service from January to December 2021, during a Chandler City Council Meeting held on April 25.

The City of Chandler recognized 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 10 awards. 


Rachna Nath is a honey bee scientist, innovator and entrepreneur that works as an educator for the Chandler Public School District and brings a unique and fresh perspective to teaching high school.

Her creativity and spirit to give the best to her students have risen the Arizona College Prep High School students to a place where they innovate every year and apply for patents like renowned innovators. As of today, they have applied for six provisional and two patent's pending through Rachna's program which she calls DRIPBL (Dream Research Innovate Project based Learning).

These innovations start with a potential grant opportunity from MIT, NOAA, HUE, SBIR, etc. She then identifies a group of students that are passionate about the topic of the grant proposal and ends up researching on the topic. This includes patent searches and then the students work on an innovative solution that can be potentially patented.

She also works with the City of Chandler Incubator to have the students trained in establishing companies and helps kids establish their companies as early as 9th graders. Rachna's innovative program has led to not just getting funding for more than 100K to the ACPHS students but also development of prototypes that provide innovative solutions in many different fields.

The 'Sensehydro', a wristband to detect heat stress in elderly, hikers, and student athletes by measuring vitals is in the beta prototype stage and patent pending. The 'Smart Scents' are VOC free scent bags that is an air freshener that doesn't trigger breathing issues, the 'Ecoclamp' is a device to help identify recyclable from non-recyclable items to be used in the school cafeteria, the 'Garden Guard' protects plants in Arizona from extreme heat and cold, Styrofoam recycling using mealworms and Tenebrio beetles and many others.

Her students have won various grants using this innovative program from research grants from The Society for Science and the Public, HUE, Lemelson MIT Excite award, Limitless Space Institute, Intel and many more. Her networking has also brought in collaborations for her students from NASA, National Geographic, Limitless Space Institute, ASU, UA, Caltech and many others. The students have won science awards at the International Science and Engineering Fair, science competitions across state, innovation awards from MIT, Climate champion awards from Maricopa County and many others.

Overall, Rachna's innovative and creative ways to teach research and her dedication and commitment to support her students has brought a unique perspective to ACPHS students and the success that you see in her students is the testament of her hard work. She herself has won many awards for her innovative teaching including  Global Innovation Award , Presidential Award for Environmental Educators ( Honorable Mention), Teacher of the Year by Junior Science and Humanities Symposium, Governors Celebration of Innovation Award to mention a few.

Gerry Rooney started volunteering with Neighbors Who Care in August of 1998 almost 24 years ago. Gerry's track record of taking on a minimum of one service assignment for Neighbors Who Care clients EVERY week (that's 1,188 medical appointment transportation service occasions) is awe-inspiring.  

One client, a Chandler resident named Anita, had the pleasure of meeting Gerry recently when he drove her to a medical appointment. When Anita was asked about her experience with Gerry, the first words out of her mouth were an immediate and enthusiastic, 'Oh, he was absolutely wonderful!' She went on to describe Gerry as sweet, giving, and 'extra special.' 'Gerry went out of his way for me. He helped me in and out of the car and he walked me through the door into the doctor's office with such care. And when my appointment was over, he was right there waiting for me to take me back home.' Anita added, 'Thank God for Gerry!'

While Anita's description of Gerry can be applied to so many Neighbors Who Care volunteers, what makes Gerry 'extra special' is that in the nearly 24 years he has been volunteering with us, he has served our clients, each and every one, with the same level of care. He even continued to volunteer during the Covid-19 pandemic in 2020 because he knew there were people who still needed support and had no one else to help them.

According to Neighbors Who Care Administrative Director Verna Mahnke, 'Gerry has touched the lives of so many clients during his time as a volunteer and you can see what an impact Gerry has made!' Verna said. 'We are grateful for his service and proud to nominate him for this well-deserved recognition.'

Neighbors Who Care is a volunteer-driven, nonprofit organization based in Sun Lakes and S. Chandler serving homebound seniors with such non-medical services as transportation, shopping/errands, dinner delivery, friendly visiting, respite care, and minor repairs. Clients are assessed by our staff social worker, and services are provided free of charge.

John is a special needs 61-year-old adult (CP and developmentally disabled). He lost his parents back in May and has been living with his sister Lorraine and brother-in-law Rob (me). He mentioned to me that his mother liked when he helped people so I asked him if he would like to volunteer.

We happened to find Feed the Children in a local paper and I asked him if he'd like to volunteer. As with most change he was hesitant but when I explained in detail that we will be helping unfortunate families with food/toiletries he said OK.

We did our first session and he LOVED it. He told me we did ten pallets or helped 500 families. They call him the machine at FTC as he just cranks away at his assignment and is always smiling and kind. We went to FTC every Wednesday, as they started to slow down volunteer opportunities John said what else can we do to help.

We found St. Mary's thru a staff member at Ability360 where John is a client. St. Mary's is quite a bit more fast paced than FTC and John loved it! St. Mary's actually plays loud music, one day he started dancing to the music and other volunteers thought it was great and cheered him on. Recently, we teamed with AZCEND in Chandler to deliver hot meals to the unfortunate, he loves this as well and all the clients love him. One actually gave him a Valentines gift and a card saying thank you John for delivering my meals every week.

Often driving to/from a volunteer session and it's cloudy he says his mom is up there saying how happy she was that he is helping people. We recently visited Matthew's Crossing to see how we could help. John is an amazing person, anyone that meets him walks away with a warm feeling in their heart. If he wins this award get a wide lens camera to capture his smile.

A group from Compass Christian Church volunteered one Saturday to take care of several less-than-favorable tasks that AZCEND needed done.  

First, they tackled the sandbox for the Family Resource Center's Early Literacy Program, Giggles, Squiggles and Squirms, ages 3-5. They hauled off the dirty sand with wheelbarrows, shovels and large trash bags and disposed of it for us. They then put clean sand in and replaced the cover so the sand would stay nice and clean for the children.

They also cleaned all the white portable tables for the Family Resource Center classes, and they are bright white and sterilized now.  

For the AZCEND office, they cleaned and painted one of our bathrooms and now it looks very nice for our clients and guests.

The group also cleared out our office supply closet, reorganized it and made it much more functional for staff.  We can actually find things in there now!  

We are so grateful for the Compass Church group that rolled up their sleeves and completed all these chores for AZCEND. They were amazing and we're very grateful that they chose us for their Day of Service.

When Emily Slater first reached out to AZCEND, we asked what program she was interested in volunteering with. She replied, 'Where do you need the most help?

From the get-go, she has been eager to roll up her sleeves and help however she can. You can find her filling food boxes in our Food Bank or entering data in our Family Resource Center.

Emily is not new to volunteerism, having volunteered at UMOM and coordinating an art program in local schools. Emily explained that when we are faced with people in need, it can be easy to look the other way. She said, 'These problems aren't as far away as we like to think; they are right here in our community.'

Here's what Carmen from our Family Resource Center had to say about Emily's help: 'She comes to us each month with a smile on her face and a willingness to learn something new. It was very important to us that we had someone who was patient and detail-oriented. Not only has she met these expectations, but she has exceeded them in many ways. We thank Emily for getting the job done and continuing to help us!'

Bob Hilbert is a very dedicated volunteer that has been with AZCEND since the beginning of 2018. He is a friendly face that can most often be found in our Food Bank. If Bob is not filling carts with donated fresh produce and bakery items, he is likely to be found outside helping our participants load their food items in their vehicle for safe transportation.

Bob is always flexible and willing to lend a helping hand where he is needed. On more than one occasion Bob has helped our Housing program move clients that have been approved for and obtained housing. Bob also assists AZCEND in various tasks as the need may arise.

Bob has frequently been seen putting together pieces of furniture that will be donated to our housing program, Bob has also been known to construct donated toys for our Child Watch Program and our Giggles, Squiggles and Squirms program through our Family Resource Center.

His volunteer activities are as varied as his skills. Bob volunteered 674 hours last year and is a wonderful asset to AZCEND and we are truly lucky to have him on our team.

Frances brings meals and smiles to homebound seniors through our Home Delivered Meals program.

When she started volunteering, she was coming in one day a week. That quickly became two days, then three, and now she volunteers four days a week. When there are open shifts, she's ready to help.

When she was thanked for her flexibility, she replied,  It's from all the yoga.

Coming from volunteering at a nursing home in North Carolina, Frances has a soft spot for seniors. Her favorite part of volunteering with AZCEND has been getting to know the people she brings meals to.

Sometimes, Frances is the only person a senior will see that day. She recognizes the importance of socializing, and will chat and check that they're doing alright. Frances continues to touch and enrich the lives of others, particularly those who are vulnerable or less able to help themselves.

Ben Whitlock and his group at McCarthy Building Companies volunteered for For Our City Day in October. They engaged with the homeowner before the event took place and had made special arrangements to assist her outside of the scope of work that was expected.

During For Our City Day, they went above and beyond yard work and designed a walkway in her backyard, and disassembled and removed an old playground structure. These projects were in addition to spreading gravel in the front yard and painting the fascia of the home.

They also followed up with the homeowner after the event to discuss some other projects (outside of FOCD) that they would be able to help with. The homeowner was so overwhelmed and appreciative of how much Mr. Whitlock's group assisted her.

Mr. Whitlock is also working with Neighborhood Programs to bring organizations to a new event called Touch-a-Truck in Galveston, all on a volunteer basis. Mr. Whitlock and McCarthy Building Companies have proved to be reliable and compassionate volunteers within our community.

Liberty Rodriguez is 17 years old and she volunteered 206 hours in 2021. She volunteers in the food bank at the front window.  

Paula, the food bank manager, says that, 'Liberty is an awesome sauce volunteer who multi-tasks in the food bank.  She really has a passion for clients. She goes above and beyond to make sure the clients get the right kind of care. She is hard working and teaches other young high school volunteers the right way to treat and respect clients who are in need at this time. Thank you, Liberty, for all your hard work and support here at AZCEND.'

In Liberty's words, 'I have been volunteering my whole life but before AZCEND I was volunteering with The Salvation Army in Tempe but then, thanks to Facebook, we found AZCEND and came to volunteer and fell in love with the environment. My favorite part of volunteering is the people that we serve and the people who are volunteering beside me. I come back to volunteer every Tuesday because I love helping people and AZCEND provides a comfortable and safe environment to do that. There are so many stories and memories that I have at AZCEND but the funniest are always involving Sue Mayo or Paula Knight. AZCEND is definitely a place I will remember and even when I leave for college, I will never forget the memories and friends that I made.'