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Leading mental health advocates recognized

Annual Mary Ciancio memorial awards honor volunteers working to improve county services

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Gene Ciancio, son of well-known area community advocate Mary Ciancio, believes good volunteers are more than just compassionate — they’re doers, not just talkers.

“Volunteers aren’t just tender-hearted do-gooders,” he told those in attendance at an April 13 award ceremony. “Volunteers provide vital services that would otherwise not be provided if our communities — federal, state and local — had to pay for those services.”

And thus the reason for the 37 annual Mary Ciancio Memorial Awards, named after a woman known for her vast volunteerism and which honor those in the community who carry on that legacy.

Community Reach Center hosted the event, which brings together community members and elected officials to honor the late Mary Ciancio by recognizing an outstanding volunteer in Adams County with the Distinguished Service Award. The ceremony at Stonebrook Manor in Thornton also included presentation of the Marjory Ball Mental Health Advocacy Award, given to a community member dedicated to mental health advocacy, as well as an elected official dedicated to mental health policy.

Taking the top honor among seven nominees for the Distinguished Service Award was Evelyn Schroth, who has volunteered as the C.A.R.E.S. Food Bank program director in Strasburg for the past eight years and has totaled more than 8,000 volunteer hours since she started volunteering in her late 70s.

Arvada’s Rep. Tracy Kraft-Tharp (D-29) was recognized as the 2016 Legislator of the Year for her efforts to combat suicide and provide suicide prevention services for those in need. In May 2015, Gov. John Hickenlooper signed a bill sponsored by Kraft-Tharp to create a suicide prevention commission focused on reducing the number of suicides in Colorado.

There were two recipients this year of the Marjory Ball Mental Health Advocacy Award.

“Each year, the board of directors dedicates an entire meeting to discussing candidates for the Marjory Ball Award — mulling over the extraordinary merits of dozens of individuals who dedicate their lives to improving mental healthcare in their communities,” said Dr. Chris Fielder, a Community Reach Center Foundation board member and superintendent of School District 27-J in Brighton. “This year the pool of candidates was so strong that the board had no choice but to present two awards.”

Those awards went to Carole Peet, CEO of Saint Anthony North Hospital, and Sharon Maybee, from the Commerce City Rotary Club.

Peet was recognized for helping provide space and resources for the Community Reach Center’s Colorado Crisis Services center, to be located at the soon-to-be remodeled 84 Avenue Health Center, the former site of the St. Anthony North Hospital. Maybee — who was also a Distinguished Service Award nominee — was recognized for her 25 to 30 hours a week of volunteerism with area schools and for the Commerce City Rotary Club, including the club’s Mental Health Initiative.

Other nominees for the Distinguished Service Award included:

• Leola Beckstrom, for dedicating more than 3,000 hours volunteering for the North Suburban Medical Center in recent years.

• Karen Dunn, for spending more than a decade volunteering at Adams County schools.

• Laura Huerta, for teaching English as a second language to Adams County’s Hispanic community.

• Dr. Darwin Strickland, for his remarkable volunteer work and fundraising efforts for Northglenn High School sports.

• Becky Torres, for dedicating much of her time helping low-income children and families at A Precious Child.

Gene Ciancio took time during his introduction to marvel at the efforts of many volunteers. They have “provided thousands of hours of their time and talents every year,” he said, and compared them to his mother’s tireless advocacy.

“She understood the need for mental health services in Adams County, and believed with her whole heart and soul people were entitled to these services … I was exhausted just hearing all she did,” he said. “Her legacy of volunteerism and service is still a powerful inspiration to us all, as so clearly demonstrated by the remarkable accomplishments and selfless acts of the seven nominees ... And although only one will receive that (Distinguished Service) honor, they are all winners and deserve our deepest appreciation and thanks.”

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