Nov. 20, 2008
By Tim Simard
Observer staff

They may not feel like they deserve special recognition, but several local residents who quietly donate countless hours to help area youths no doubt earned the honors handed to them earlier this week.

Known as the “Aw Shucks” Award and given out by Chittenden South Supervisory Union’s Connecting Youth organization, the accolade recognizes those that have volunteered at local schools in the supervisory union.

“They affect kids and go above and beyond what’s expected,” said Jan Bedard, administrative director for Connecting Youth.

Bedard said the award got its name from the reactions people gave when they learned of the honor and felt they didn’t deserve it: “Aw shucks, I haven’t really done anything special.” The award is now in its 14th year. A ceremony recognizing the recipients was held Tuesday night at Champlain Valley Union High School.

Bedard said the people chosen this year were “no brainers.”

Winners included Williston residents Tim O’Brien and Charlie and Ruth Magill. Charlotte resident Rahn Fleming was recognized for his work at CVU. St. George resident Micaela Wallace received the first ever Brian O’Regan Mentoring Award, named after the former superintendent of CSSU. Other volunteers from Charlotte, Hinesburg and Shelburne also took home awards.

Rahn Fleming

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Rahn Fleming

Fleming, who is CVU’s Learning Center director and hall supervisor, is being honored for his contributions outside of school hours. But Bedard said Fleming’s work with students in and out of school is intertwined, which is why students nominated him.

“You just have to recognize Rahn because he just does everything,” Bedard said. “He’s everywhere doing everything for everyone.”

Fleming has coached youth football for five years and youth baseball for seven years, and participated in countless volunteer activities. He’s especially proud of his rapport with students and his job at the learning center.

“The number one most important and satisfying role I have is being dad to my two kids,” Fleming said of his sons Connor, a sophomore, and Ryan, a freshman.

Whether it’s for his children or students at CVU, Fleming said he’s always there to help and be a friend and helper.

“I’m genuinely humbled (by the award),” Fleming said. “My face hurts from grinning so much.”

The Magills

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Charlie and Ruth Magill of Williston were given an ‘Aw Shucks’ award Tuesday night by CSSU’s Connecting Youth organization.

Charlie Magill said he and his wife, Ruth, feel that giving back to the community is something they have to do and don’t feel worthy of earning a special award.

“We both just tend to try and stay active,” Charlie Magill said.

But Nancy Carlson, Connecting Youth’s mentoring director for Williston, said the importance of the Magills to the town can’t be described in words. For instance, Carlson said Ruth Magill spearheaded a scholarship that allowed 20 St. George youths to participate for free in Williston’s summer recreation program.

Charlie Magill, who served on the CVU School Board from 1978 through 1988, said he and his wife heard they would receive the award while working on the so-called Vermont House in Three Rivers, Miss., volunteering with other members of the Williston Federated Church to rebuild a home destroyed by Hurricane Katrina. Incidentally, he helped several CVU students who were also building the house, something he also does when students get involved with Habitat for Humanity as part of their eighth grade or high school graduation challenges.

Carlson called the couple a “dynamic duo.”

“They’re perfect for the Aw Shucks award because they never call attention to themselves,” Carlson said.

Tim O’Brien

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Tim O’Brien

Like many recipients of the Aw Shucks award, O’Brien doesn’t feel like he should be singled out for his volunteerism. He said his reasoning for helping is simple: “My answer to people is ‘you just do it,’” O’Brien said.

Williston Parks and Recreation Director Kevin Finnegan said O’Brien has been “incredible” in his contributions, which include being a member of the town’s Recreation Committee, and being involved with Little League and Cub Scouts for 10 years.

“If he’s got a kid in the sport, he’s coached it,” Finnegan said. “He’s really one of those unsung guys.”

O’Brien did say he’s honored by the award, but doesn’t find volunteering extra time a chore since much of his work revolves around his children — CVU sophomore Nick, seventh grader Emily and fourth grader Christopher.

“Without the help of my family and my wife (Danielle), I couldn’t do what I do,” O’Brien said. “I share this right along with her.”

Micaela Wallace

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Micaela Wallace

Wallace, who received the Brian O’Regan Mentoring Award, said she’s been mentoring for six years at Williston Central School and has been working with one mentee for four years. She also serves on the mentoring program’s advisory board.

“I’m fortunate to be able to put some time into this,” said Wallace, who also works as a math para-educator at Williston Central.

Carlson said Wallace’s contributions have made all the difference in the mentoring program.

“She’s an extraordinary, caring and wonderful mentor,” Carlson said.

Wallace also helps put on three events for the mentoring program, which includes all mentors, mentees and their families. It’s an event that Carlson said she couldn’t do without Wallace’s help, calling her the program’s “creativity director.”

Wallace said she feels “uncomfortable” being given the award, because the purpose of mentoring isn’t for special recognition. It’s about being a good friend to students.

“It’s nothing special, really,” Wallace said. “It’s just something I want to do.”