Voorhees Breakfast Rotary hosts its ninth annual Community Service Awards

The club recognized the 2017 citizen of the year, selfless student of the year, first responder of the year business of the year.

Karanveer Pannu, a student at Rutgers University and graduate of Eastern Regional, accepts the 2017 Voorhees Citizen of the Year award. Pannu has strived tirelessly to combat bullying, particularly among Sikh-American children.

From drawing awareness to bullying of Sikh-American children to providing not-for-profit hospice care to elders, last week’s 2017 Voorhees Community Service Awards, hosted by the Voorhees Breakfast Club, honored a scope of selfless South Jerseyans.

The ninth annual event, which was held at the Mansion on Jan. 25, recognized four categories of service — Citizen of the Year, Selfless Student of the Year, First Responder of the Year and Business of the Year.

Amid a competitive nomination process, the Voorhees Breakfast Rotary selected an elite few who epitomized the club’s motto — “Service Above Self.”

“Voorhees is probably not that much different than a thousand other towns,” said Glenn Page, the club’s past president and public relations director. “But if there is at least one thing very special about our town is that we believe in honoring and we believe in showing the people who excel that we appreciate them. We care deeply about making sure that they know that.”

The first honoree of the evening was Karanveer Pannu, a Rutgers University student and graduate of Eastern Regional High School, who received the 2017 Voorhees Citizen of the Year award.

Along with several other service projects, such as raising $16,000 for the Susan G. Komen Breast Cancer Foundation, Pannu has worked to spread awareness about bullying, particularly among Sikh-American children. During his junior year of high school, he created a capstone project on the issue that eventually led to his writing of a book, titled “Bullying of Sikh-American Children: Through the Eyes of a Sikh-American High School Student.” After its publication, Pannu spoke at more than 30 venues across the country, including conferences, schools and Gurdwaras — a Sikh place of prayer.

Panu attributes his faith and family to his desire to help others.

“My friends,” Pannu told the crowd, “it takes an act of love to realize we’re all in this together, and it takes an act of courage to demand more and dream bigger and to fight for that just and inclusion world we all know is possible.”

The next honoree was Rachel Waro, a senior at Eastern who received the Selfless Student of the Year award.

Throughout high school, she’s been involved with various community service projects, including the Interact Club, National Honor Society and E.S.C.A.P.E. But her helping hand is not confined to the walls of Eastern, as she also volunteers at the Cathedral Kitchen, Cherry Hill Food Pantry, softball camps and pitching clinics. Aside from being an active woman of service, she is also an accomplished athlete, winning several sporting recognitions, including Varsity Softball Athlete Scholar and South Jersey Girls Softball Association 2017 All-South Jersey All-Star.

“Various opportunities I took advantage of made me realize the ripple effects of service. The people you serve will serve others who will eventually serve more and more people throughout society,” Waro said. “This is what community is all about — sharing kindness with one another.”

Waro expressed her gratitude through an original poem, illustrating she is the “product of a many hundred heartwarming hands.”

The following honoree was Glenn Werner, a veteran of the U.S. Coast Guard and a 30-year veteran of Voorhees emergency services, who received the First Responder of the Year Award.

Since 1985, Werner has been active with local emergency services through multiple ways, including the Voorhees Ambulance Crops and Ashland Fire Company №1. In 1990, he took a temporary leave to serve in the Coast Guard, where he received recognition, such as two Humanitarian Awards and a Unit Commendation for his actions during the Haitian Migration of 1991 to 1992.

Although Werner has continued to serve since then, including holding the rank of battalion chief with the Voorhees Fire District, he was nominated for this Rotary award after saving the life of an 18-month-old Gibbsboro boy who almost choked to death in February 2017.

Werner reflected on the evening he was off-duty spending time with his family when he received the horrific phone call.

“The sacrifice of sitting down at Christmas dinner or Thanksgiving and the pager going off … I’ll get to that dinner later, because someone called 911,” Werner said. “Someone needs our help. And that’s what we do. That’s what I’ve been doing for 33 years.”

The toddler whom he rescued was in attendance, cheering Werner on from the crowd.

The final honoree was Samaritan Healthcare and Hospice, the first non-for-profit hospice in South Jersey, which received the Business of the Year Award.

Established during the 1980s, Samaritan has provided medical services to elders for 37 years before finally establishing a physical presence on Route 73 last year.

Along with receiving annual national DEYTA honors for quality, it was recently re-accredited by the Joint Commission. Samaritan was honored with the highest level of achievement in the national We Honor Veterans Program, an initiative of the National Hospice and Palliative Care Organization and the Veterans Administration.

Samaritan’s outreach spills well beyond Voorhees, as, since 2010, it has adopted a sister hospice in Kampala, Uganda, sharing resources and knowledge about HIV/AIDS, cancer and tuberculosis treatment.

Mary Ann Boccolini, president and CEO of Samaritan, and Amy Maricondi, its professional relations specialist, both expressed their gratitude to the Rotary, explaining how the club’s objectives align with the principles of their health-care and hospice business.

“Making a difference is the bar by which each of our Rotaries has measured our impact,” Boccolini said. “And it is the mantra by which Samaritan was founded and continues to operate. One patient, one family at a time.”

Mayor Michael Mignogna, who received the 2016 Citizen of the Year award, expressed his admiration to the honorees, commending each of them for their altruistic impacts on the township.

“The honorees this evening — I’m just blown away by the qualifications of these people and the groups. They certainly embody the Rotary motto of ‘Service Above Self’,” Mignogna said. “I want to thank all of you for being such wonderful ambassadors of Voorhees.”