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Best-Irons Awards: Community efforts, volunteerism recognized

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Friends of the Sheppard Memorial Library volunteer Dick Wolfe helps transfer books into the the new library's new bookmobile in December. Wolfe was honored with the Best-Irons Humanitarian award on Saturday.

Cops and Barbers
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By Seth Thomas Gulledge
The Daily Reflector

Sunday, February 25, 2018

An initiative by a local gaming business to bridge the gap between police and youth and the dedication of a library volunteer were among public service efforts recognized during Greenville’s annual Best-Irons Humanitarian Awards.

At its 47 anniversary celebration on Saturday, the Greenville Human Relations Council honored businesses, community groups and individuals working to make a better community for everyone. A crowd gathered at the Hilton Greenville for the ceremony and dinner, which started with a violin performance by youngsters from St. Peter’s Catholic Church. 

The honorees represented diverse segments of the community, but organizers said they had one thing in common: they sought to unite their community around shared interests, needs and humanity. 

The Best-Irons Humanitarian Award for a Business or Organization went to GAME P.L.A.Y (Police, Life and Youth). The group, founded by GameStop manager Dion Dail and East Carolina University English instructor Gera Miles, works to foster relationships between law enforcement and community youth through video games.

Since the organization was founded in 2016, is has held two annual events. The most recent event hosted by Cornerstone Missionary Baptist Church was attended by about 20 members of local law enforcement and over 300 young people. 

Dail said on Saturday that the idea grew from a desire to bridge the growing divide between communities and law enforcement, especially in the wake of several high profile police shootings.

He said his GameStop store has regular customers that are both law enforcement personnel and members of the community who did not have relationships with those officers. 

“Those connections had started to erode, and they were growing down from what we saw on TV, but we wanted the kids to understand there may be some exceptions, some officers that might not be great out there, but by and large our law enforcement does an expert job,” Dail said. “I wanted them to understand there’s no reason to be scared or afraid. I knew we needed to connect, we needed to talk, and the best I knew to do that was with games.”

The Best-Irons Award for an individual went to library volunteer Richard Wolfe. Wolfe volunteers about 20 hours a week for Friends of Sheppard Library, Sheppard Library’s Adult Department and Joyner Library’s Department of Special Collections. He is in charge of all book sale activities for Sheppard, including the categorizing donated books and helping organize the library’s book sale events.

Wolfe said he has been involved with the book sale for the Sheppard friends for 27 years now and is glad to do it because it has so many positive effects on the community.

“It provides people in the community an opportunity to give to others by donating books,” he said. “It also enables the public to get just wonderful books at great prices, and it provides the funds to enhance library programs, so that’s why I do it.”

The Distinguished Inclusive Community Award went to the Salt and Light Youth Group of First Christian Church. The group focuses on addressing homelessness in Pitt County.

The group pioneered their own ‘Out of the Box’ Initiative which seeks to raise awareness and support the roughly 120 homeless individuals in the county. Through their efforts, the group has raised $12,500 for the Community Crossroads Center.

The group hosts speakers and holds education sessions to help community members better understand the complexities of the homelessness issue, as well as an annual event where members sleep in makeshift cardboard shelters with limited essentials. 

Whit Brown, one of the sponsors for the group, said the idea originally came from an adult member of the community, but once it was presented it to the church youth group, the kids took it in their own hands and expanded the program.

“It has really become an intimate setting and they’ve learned a lot,” he said. “They’re taking that out into the community and spreading awareness about this issue into the community.” 

The Community Service Business/Organization Award was given to the Greenville Police Department’s Cops and Barbers Initiative. The program spearheaded by Officer Richie Williams was began in 2016 and advocates for a better relationship between the African-American community and local law enforcement by interacting with residents at barber shops.

The initiative has held numerous events since its inception, including back-to-school haircut and backpack give-aways and a turkey drive for families during the holidays.

“It’s just an honor to be recognized for the work that we’re doing, I couldn’t do it without my barbers,” Williams said. “It’s just a great terstiment to the work we’re trying to do at the police department, trying to bridge those gaps between the department and the community. It’s just a humbling experience.” 

The Community Service Award was given to Bangalore Srivatsa, a volunteer priest for the Hindu Temple of Eastern North Carolina. He took over the leadership of the temple in 2006 after the previous leader left, filling a gap in spiritual and cultural leadership for the Hindu and Indian community in Greenville. He is also an active participant of interfaith community. 

Srivatsa said he and his wife drive from New Bern several times a week to serve the community because he wanted to nurture a place for his cultural and spiritual heritage and offer that to others looking for the same. 

“When we moved from Mumbai in 2003, there were many activities we looked to continue here and could do here in Greenville,” he said. “We wanted to have somewhere for our spiritual needs, and we found this is the best place where that could be done.”

Several youth who serve on the council’s youth advisory committee also were recognized for a variety of community service efforts: Nature Atkinson; Rebecca Chemmanam; Liam Dao; Shinhoo Jenna Lee; Bishop Miles; Gauri Patel; Ekta Shah; Myna Tirupattur; Abigail Jooyoung Yoon.

Contact Seth Gulledge at sgulledge@reflector.com and 329-9579. 

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