Every day, volunteers play an integral role in strengthening communities and making a difference in the lives of others.


United Way of Central Carolinas celebrated the good work of local volunteers in the community during the United Way Volunteer Appreciation Breakfast, presented by TIAA, on Wednesday, April 10, at LaCa Projects in Charlotte.


More than 35 individuals and groups were recognized for their efforts that have touched the lives of children and families across the Charlotte region. In addition to honoring those who donate their time and talent through United Way’s programming, the annual Governor’s Volunteer Service Awards were presented at the event, including two Medallion Award winners.


“Volunteer work touches us all and has significant benefits for both the volunteer and the community,” said Jamie Boll, a reporter and anchor with WBTV Charlotte who emceed the event. “Although they volunteer in different roles and capacities, today’s honorees have significant common denominators–they all prioritize volunteer service and contribute their time and talent to nonprofits and schools across our region.”


Volunteers play a significant role in United Way’s work. More than 15,600 volunteers served a total of 55,802 hours through United Way last year, including 536 of which served on boards, committees, cabinets and councils. Those volunteers in total generated an impact of $1,377,751 in the community.


“We think it’s important to shine a light on the caring people and acts that sometimes go unrecognized,” said Laura Clark, United Way president and CEO. “Volunteers are working every day across our region to serve others and they seek nothing in return. It’s our responsibility to say thank you on behalf of our community.”


Special award winners


  • LIVE UNITED Volunteer of the Year | Brandon Neal (Wells Fargo)
  • Hands On Award | Emily Bay
  • LIVE UNITED Corporate Champion | Duke Energy
  • LIVE UNITED Community Champion | Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools


Humbled by his recognition, Neal shared a story about living and working in New York City before choosing to return with his family to his hometown of Charlotte. Following the civic unrest in the city in late 2016, Neal became re-energized through United Way in encouraging his neighbors to live united.


“This quote kept coming to my mind from Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., that I can never be what I ought to be until you are what you ought to be. It really embodies that ‘live united’ notion and that we are all connected,” he said. “Think about what you can do for everybody in our community who may not have the same opportunities as you.”


Michelle Abbott, director of sustainability at Duke Energy, echoed the gratitude shared by awardees and said the company was honored to be recognized for powering the lives of customers and the vitality of communities for more than a century.


“As I look back and as I look forward, I know that the one constant that we can always count on is our employees and the passion they have for supporting the community and United Way,” she said.


The Governor’s Volunteer Service Award annually honors the spirit of volunteerism by recognizing individuals, groups and businesses that make a significant contribution through volunteer service. Each winner has been commended for their selfless service in improving the conditions within our community.


Governor’s Volunteer Service Award winners


  • Douglas Armstrong | Community Shelter of Union County
  • Edward Bower | Union/Anson Habitat for Humanity
  • Sarah Degnan | Duke Energy Foundation
  • Elizabeth Fulk | The Prodigal Son Foundation
  • Bill Gruebmeyer | Habitat for Humanity Charlotte
  • Bill & Mary Hurt | HealthReach
  • Paula McGroarty | Ada Jenkins Center
  • Mark Murphy | Concord High School
  • Marlene Pecka | Ada Jenkins Center
  • Cori Ray | CrossRoads
  • Leslie Rink | United Way of Central Carolinas
  • Colby Spivey | The Arc
  • John Tate | Habitat for Humanity Charlotte
  • Craig Turza | Community Shelter of Union County
  • Kevin Wright | Freedom School Partners
  • Bank of America (Habitat for Humanity Charlotte Construction Crew)
  • Habitat for Humanity Charlotte’s Woodshop Crew
  • Kingdom Citizens Outreach Ministry


In addition, two winners received the Governor’s Medallion Award for Volunteer Service, which recognizes the top 25 volunteers throughout North Carolina each year. A statewide panel reviews and evaluates nominations to determine the award recipients.


Governor’s Medallion Award for Volunteer Service winners


  • Edward Bower
  • Bill & Mary Hurt


“With the number of people that are living in poverty in our community, we feel that everyone should volunteer and step up to do anything they can do help,” Bill Hurt said. “As long as we’re physically able, we’re going to continue to do the volunteer work that we’ve been doing.”


The appreciation breakfast is part of United Way Volunteer Week, presented to the community by Wells Fargo and in conjunction with National Volunteer Week. The week‐long celebration of service includes the annual Charlotte Playground Build (April 5), the #Time4Good Volunteer Fair (April 10) and the annual Hands On Charlotte Day (April 13).


“At TIAA, we treat every day like it’s National Volunteer Week,” said Jarian Kerekes, TIAA’s senior director of corporate social responsibility. “We really value our community and exemplify all the things that these award winners today are representing.”


Additional special recognition honors


  • Sue Christmas | Tutor Charlotte Classroom Coordinator of the Year
  • Bank of America | Tutor Charlotte Lead Partner of the Year
  • Kevin Price | 2018 A-LIST Council Champion
  • Lois Ingland & Betsy Mack | Women United Cabinet Co-Chairs
  • Sam Smith Jr. | Young Leaders Council Chair
  • Scott Vaughn | Campaign Cabinet Chair
  • Chandler Root | Campaign Cabinet Vice Chair
  • Raj Natarajan | Community Impact Volunteer Chair
  • Malcomb Coley | 2019 Board of Directors Chair
  • Wes Beckner | 2018 Board of Directors Chair
  • Scott Rivers | 2018 Anson County Board Chair
  • Michelle Riley | 2018 Cabarrus County Board Chair
  • Eric Livingston | 2018 Mooresville/Lake Norman Board Chair
  • Jack Hargett | 2018 Union County Board Chair


See photos of all United Way Volunteer Appreciation Breakfast honorees here.