Needles Chamber of Commerce President Mary Gonzales bestowed annual awards in the categories of Citizen, Business and Volunteer of the Year during ceremonies at the chamber awards dinner Oct. 5 at The Palms River Resort. Needles Unified School District Superintendent Mary McNeil, Ph.D., presented the Educator of the Year award. These are the pair’s prepared remarks. — ed.

Educator of the Year

The Needles Chamber of Commerce’s Educator of the Year is an individual who is certainly dedicated to service to all the students.

Our honoree was born in Laramie, Wyo., and says that her favorite thing about growing up in Wyoming was the mountains and that her family was all close by. Her experiences in Wyoming led to her ‘can do’ spirit that has taken her throughout the West on her life’s adventures.

She graduated from the University of Wyoming, as did nine of her family members. She is a die-hard Wyoming Cowboy fan. She was a university cheerleader and her school spirit and support of team continues today.

After graduating from college our honoree wanted to make a difference. She taught on the Navajo Nation at Chinle Unified where she worked for two years until she married another University of Wyoming Cowboy, who she had met in Arizona.

Once married she moved to Fort Mohave where she taught elementary school and worked as an assistant principal and principal. She has been recognized as the Tri-state Educator of the Year as well as the Fort Mojave Indian Tribe Educator of the Year.

Her husband is the assistant principal at Mohave High School, which their two daughters attended. Her oldest daughter is now a sophomore in college playing soccer in Georgia and her youngest is a senior this year and very involved in dance. As a parent her ‘can do’ attitude has supported her daughters in their many activities, including a quick trip to many dance competitions all across the West and as an ardent fan of many soccer teams.

Her family is also a supporter of our Needles students and their families. Each holiday season the entire family has participated in the Saint Vincent de Paul holiday basket program and delivered baskets to NUSD families to provide for a better holiday for our students.

It was a lucky day for the NUSD when she joined our district as an elementary principal seven years ago. As the successful principal at Vista Colorado Elementary School she is visible and active in student activities. When we needed a principal for our newly-opened community day school she jumped at the opportunity. When we needed a district coordinator for AVID (Advancement Via Individual Determination), once again she jumped in to make a difference with her ‘can do’ attitude.

During her seven years in Needles she has improved the lives of our students. She has worked with Legacy to include our students in their Backpack Buddies program and a vision screening program to support our students’ ability to have the good vision necessary to read. Her relationship with the Fort Mojave Tribe on the Social Services Committee has helped many of our families to succeed in our educational programs.

She is approachable, kind and caring with a broad smile that says ‘sounds good.’ I know that she knows the name of each and every student.

I am honored to announce that Principal Marie Armijo is the Educator of the Year. Congratulations on your much-deserved award. You are an asset to our district and our community and you make a difference for our students. Please join me in congratulating Marie Armijo.

Citizen of the Year

We are not honoring one specific person for citizen of the year, but a group of very worthy citizens.

This group distributes a vast percentage of money they’ve made throughout the year back into the area. In Needles alone, they have donated approximately $10,000 this year if not more. They sponsor two Needles High School scholarships. They donate to children’s associations such as Dance Trax 51, Needles Recreation Center, Desert Gallopers 4H Club, Needles Cheer, Needles High School Softball, Needles Little League, Needles Sandsharks Swim Team, CRAGS Softball (Colorado River Area Girls Softball), Needles High School Football, Needles High School Baseball, the Needles Animal Shelter, Lynn’s Garden, and the Needles Museum, just to name a few ... This group works hard for Needles and they also give to Mohave Valley.

They also put on a pretty great rodeo every year, which is a lot of hard work. It’s an honor to present this year’s Citizens of the Year to the Needles Rodeo Association. Note: The NRA’s Laurie Fragoso accepted the award on behalf of the entire association.

Business of the Year 2019

St. Vincent de Paul Thrift Store in Needles continues to serve the Needles and surrounding Tri-state area. In addition to operating a thrift store, the staff provides emergency food from a pantry as well as clothing and other necessities to over 6,000 clients including 1,600 children in 2018-19. In cases of financial hardship, they have provided over $5,000 in assistance with pharmacy (expenses), utilities, rent, gasoline and means of transportation.

St. Vincent’s is also a local source for San Bernardino County monthly food commodities distribution, serving over 1,700 this year. St. Vincent de Paul Thrift Store financially supported the following free programs 2018-19:

• Thanksgiving dinner: 250 meals served

• Christmas dinner: 350 meals served

• Easter baskets for Head Start students: 75 made.

• Christmas baskets for Head Start students: 75 made.

• Christmas food boxes: 60 families served.

For the first two quarters ending in June 2019, St. Vincent’s served a total of 3, 000 clients. A total of $7,800 of in-kind aid was distributed. Assistance for food alone, distributed from the food bank and commodities supplements, totaled over $7,500.

An estimated 8,000 pounds of food was distributed from the food pantry and USDA commodities.

St. Vincent de Paul Thrift Store provides the following programs in the Needles and Tri-state area:

• Gasoline vouchers.

• Pharmacy vouchers.

• Clothing vouchers.

• Motel vouchers.

• Transportation (Amtrak) vouchers.

• Utilities vouchers.

• Food boxes or bags designed for the size of the family.

• Free food on a daily basis at the front of the store with no restrictions.

St. Vincent de Paul Thrift Store goes above and beyond their duties as a business by allowing and encouraging mandatory community workers to put in working hours at the store.

Needles’ St. Vincent de Paul Thrift Store has made an outstanding contribution to the Needles community by setting an example for others to follow by practicing the saying: “What if we could give slightly better service today than we did yesterday?” Every service they provide; from food boxes to pharmacy vouchers; is designed to give a family a helping hand, not a hand out.

Volunteer of the Year

This year’s Volunteer of the Year is well known to everyone. He has tirelessly volunteered in the community by reporting news and sports of Needles for many years strictly as a volunteer, incurring expenses and receiving no remuneration for the services he provides.

He video streams Mustang sports on Facebook so people who can’t attend games can still watch and be a part of the cheer for Big Blue. Alumni and former Needles residents are able to watch games from as far away as Tennessee, Nebraska, Oklahoma and Utah.

He does this at his own expense and own time. He attends and records all city council meetings, streaming those live meetings as well. His service is invaluable where some citizens cannot attend those meetings and are therefore excluded from this information.

He covers every event in Needles: the Fort Mojave Indian Days celebration; Run for the Wall; chamber mixers; and of course the annual Lighted Christmas Parade just to name a few.

He manages to report all of these events with no personal transportation. Many times you will see him walking or running to get to his next event.

It is with great pleasure that this year’s Volunteer of the Year award goes to Zachary Lopez from Zach News.

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