Expressing heartfelt gratitude for countless hours and unlimited energy donated by its volunteers and supporters, Free to Be, Inc. staff threw an appreciation dinner for them May 15.
“Every year we gather together to honor these folks who stick around and help year in and year out. We couldn’t do what we do without all of you,” said Executive Director Jim Huff as volunteers and supporters enjoyed a meal at the Courtyards of Andover.
Huff presented Volunteer of the Year and Partner of the Year awards during the event, introduced the first-ever Legacy Award, and made Free to Be’s 886th vehicle presentation.
Recognizing Vanessa Fink as Volunteer of the Year, Huff said, “She’s one of those people when you ask if she can help out, she always says ‘Absolutely.’ And she brings along family members to help out, too.”
Partner of the Year recognition was given to Rod Monroe, owner of Transrite.
“This gentleman has worked with us probably ever since Free to Be has been around. And he does everything you can imagine,” Huff said.
Modestly accepting the award, Monroe told those gathered for the appreciation dinner that “working with Free to Be has given my life purpose.”
“I’ve lived here my whole life, but not until I started giving back, by helping with Free to Be, did I really feel like I belong to this community,” he said. “I’ve got to say I really enjoy working with Free to Be.”
The inaugural Legacy Award was presented to Jeff Matt of Victory Auto.
“These men have opened up their shop to us on Saturdays, let us use their equipment, volunteered their time … probably more than 200 times since Free to Be began. And they do this on their day off. I can’t tell you how much that means to us,” Huff said.
Matt accepted the award along with his son Jordan Matt, and co-workers Dan Scherer and Troy Thompson.
“We’ve gotten back so much more than what we put in,” Matt said. “We made the commitment years ago to help Free to Be, and it’s added so much value to our lives and to our business. We’re not going anywhere.”
After the award presentations, the dinner came to its climax when a car donated by Craig Lang and his wife, Gwyn, was given to Beverly Kutto, a Fridley resident who works in Plymouth and is the mother of a four-year-old boy.
“This means so much,” Kutto said. “Now I can drive myself everywhere.”
Kutto had been relying on her mom, Diane Kezar, to get her to work every day, give her a ride to the grocery store, the doctor’s office and other essential destinations.
“It means a lot to me, too,” said Kezar. “I’m retired and now I won’t have to get up early to get her to work.”
The Langs donated that car, a 2003 Ford Focus, to Free to Be just a few weeks ago, and thanks to a series of timely circumstances and generous volunteers, the car was cleaned up, tuned up and ready for presentation May 15.
“All of you are part of that,” Huff said, thanking the 90 or so volunteers in attendance for the appreciation dinner. “It’s because of you that we can help so many people right here at home.”
To learn more about Free to Be, Inc., visit FreeToBeInc.org.
Sue Austreng is at [email protected]