Chamber salutes volunteers at annual dinner

By Denise Coffey - Staff Writer
Regional - posted Mon., Jan. 21, 2013
Chamber President David Conrad stands with award recepients Jeffrey Rawson, Roger Franklin and John Rice.
Chamber President David Conrad stands with award recepients Jeffrey Rawson, Roger Franklin and John Rice.

If there were a Pro Bowl for volunteers, northeastern Connecticut's, John Rice, Roger Franklin and Jeffrey Rawson would be named to it. The three men were honored at the Northeastern Connecticut Chamber of Commerce's 67th annual dinner and awards gala on Jan. 18 at the Raceway Restaurant in Thompson.

Rice was awarded the Civic Achievement Award for his work coordinating the construction of the Thompson Ecumenical Empowerment Group's new facility in Thompson. Rice spent four years as unofficial clerk of the works, coordinating an army of volunteers as they designed, built, painted, prepped and completed work on a 6,000 square-foot building that houses the social services agency.
He took on the responsibility of coordinating deliveries of building materials, volunteer schedules, and working with Ellis Technical School masonry and electrical shop students, among other things. The unprecedented community effort resulted in the completion of a state of the art building at no cost to taxpayers. Between $700,000 and $750,000 was spent primarily on materials and goods, according to Rice.

TEEG moved into the new facility in March 2012 after spending years cramped in the outdated space of a 100-year-old home in Thompson. When Rice took a look at the building, he thought TEEG staff and volunteers needed a better location. “I thought the community should do something for them for all the good that they did,” Rice said. “We had a good committee. We just got it done.”

Franklin received the George J. Racine, Sr. Humanitarian Award for his work with Hospice of Northeastern Connecticut and Day Kimball Healthcare's Volunteer Services and Pastoral Care. According to Donald St. Onge, Franklin has accrued more than 12,000 hours since he joined the ranks of hospice volunteers in 2003. Both his wife and his younger brother received hospice care, motivating him to volunteer. “It was prompted by thankfulness and appreciation,” Franklin said. “Hospice workers are angels disguised as nurses and aides.” He told the crowd that he sees his mission as one of gratitude. “I'm able to give thanks on behalf of those patients who never could,” he said.

Franklin credited his parents for instilling in him a sense of community service. They both volunteered, and were active in their church and community, he said. For Franklin, family, church and civic communities are interdependent. It's important to recognize those connections he said, because in times of crisis, we need to come together.

Rawson, of Putnam, received the Business Leader of the Year Award. Kevin Merchant called Rawson the perfect example of civic responsibility. “He's a firm believer in giving back to the community,” Merchant said. His leadership roles include work with the Northeast Opportunities for Wellness, the Arc of Quinebaug Valley, The Quinebaug Valley Community College Foundation, the Putnam Rotary Club, the Putnam Business Association, and the Northeastern Connecticut Human Resources Association.

Merchant praised Rawson for the quality of his actions and intentions, his courage to make decisions, and the compassion that allowed him to listen and respond to people. His wide ranging involvements have included providing clean water to Haitians, shelter boxes to displaced people, access to sports, nutrition and health opportunities for area children, and scholarships to QVCC students. “Rawson has consistently given of himself without expecting anything in return,” Merchant said.

Rawson called the award a great honor. “The real reward is knowing I've touched the lives of others,” he said, “especially the success stories of our friends at the Arc. It's important to make the time to give others the opportunities we've had, and might have taken for granted.”

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