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United Way names heroes

What makes a hero? Many people would describe a police officer, firefighter or medical team.

True, but what about the woman who takes in two sisters and helps turn their lives around, or works with the mentally disabled? Or how about the teen that raises cancer awareness or helps initiate a Care Week at school? Those are the type of people United Way of Becker County recognized Wednesday afternoon.

With a theme of "What Matters" for the year, United Way set its goal at $200,000. The organization reached that goal and then some at $227,279.

"We're so very blessed to have the best (volunteers) in Becker County, Mahnomen, White Earth, Frazee, Lake Park and Audubon," said LuAnn Porter, United Way director.

During the awards ceremony, Doreen Mickelson was presented the Community Spirit Award for individuals.

St. Mary's Regional Health Center was presented the same award for a business.

The Community Spirit Award goes to individuals and businesses that make a difference by volunteering through United Way and other community organizations.

"I don't even know what to say," Mickelson said. She added that she is proud to be a part of United Way, an organization that has opened eyes to volunteers in the area.

St. Mary's and its employees have contributed $125,000 to United Way.

"Well, that's a nice surprise," CEO/President Tom Thompson said of the award.

He said many of the St. Mary's employees volunteer with United Way and throughout the community. He gave special recognition to Linda Hesby, who facilitated the mobile dental clinic with Apple Tree Dental that was in Detroit Lakes a few weeks ago. The program gave dental care to children in need.

When it came to the remaining three awards, tears fell freely for many in attendance. Each award is kept secret until the presentation.

"She can encourage, direct and inspire others to follow her lead in making a difference in the life of others," was written to describe Whitney Westley, recipient of the youth Everyday Hero Award.

Westley has been a part of student council at Detroit Lakes High School for four years, and in those years has taken on a leadership role. She has worked to bring cancer awareness to her fellow students, and is a part of National Honor Society, danceline, choir, speech and is a member of the United Way board of directors.

"I wonder how much one person can do, but it goes on a bit more," Melissa Lage, 2006 United Way president, said as she read Westley's name and biographical information.

"This means a lot to not just me, but to everyone in the community," Westley said. She added that she wouldn't have been able to do the things she wanted to without the student council.

"I'm not just an Everyday Hero, there's a lot that come along with me," she said.

Tammie Jenson was the recipient of the adult Everyday Hero Award for her "quiet actions, gentle words and very big heart."

Jenson works at the Becker County DAC and previously at the Boys and Girls Club of Detroit Lakes. It was there she met two sisters she, her husband and young daughter would eventually welcome into their family, permanently.

"I don't know what to say. Thank you," Jenson said through tears, surrounded by her family.

The Bob Harris Award, presented by his wife, Michelle, is in honor of a man who dedicated 20 years of volunteerism to United Way.

"My husband and I always believed in United Way," Michelle Harris said. "With all the communities we've lived in, Detroit Lakes has gone above and beyond."

The award was presented to Cyndi Anderson, who serves on boards with United Way, St. Mary's Regional Health Center, Historical Homes Theatre's Theatre Advisory Group, Detroit Lakes' Planning Commission, Becker County Historical Society and more.

"She believes that public policy and actions must reflect the needs of all humanity. She lives those beliefs in everything she does," her nomination reads.

"This (United Way) is the only committee that when you're done with your term, they create a new committee, or opportunity, for you," Anderson said with a laugh.