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A lifelong commitment to volunteering with heartfelt compassion for Wilsonians started at an early age for both nominees of the Paul Lee Stevens Humanitarian of the Year Award.
“Each one of these before you has dedicated their lives to helping others in a unique way,” said Wilson Human Relations Director Renee Smith of humanitarian nominees Barbara Blackston and Henry Skinner. “Their passion is not just a weekend activity. It is something that seeps into their lives and spills out into the community to help others.”
Blackston followed in the footsteps of her mother, Fannie Corbett, to lead the Wilson Community Improvement Association and volunteer at Perry’s Temple Full Gospel Original Free Will Baptist Church. She and Skinner both have taken leadership roles at a variety of community organizations, but Skinner has focused his energy on the Wilson Lions Club, Hope Station, Vidant Health and First Baptist Church to ensure access to food, education, housing and medical care.
The committee selected Skinner as the Humanitarian of the Year with Smith reading several snippets from nomination letters.
“One recommendation letter said, ‘Henry has a heart that beats for those who have somehow been left behind. Another letter said, ‘Henry has a heart that overflows with compassion and spirit that inspires those around him,’” she said, adding that another nomination letter said Skinner would be appreciative of the award, then ask how he can help. “By lifting up Henry in our community as an example, may we all be inspired to get on board and do our part to make Wilson an even better place to live for every citizen in our community.”
Skinner shook his head as his accolades were read, and he got a standing ovation from the crowd.
“It was very humbling. What I do, I do because I think it is needed,” he said. “Paul said in Galatians, ‘Don’t waste your time not doing good and right.’ Martin Luther King said, ‘Only through love can you make friends of enemies.’
“I try to get up each day and live it as an opportunity, and that has worked out.”
The annual banquet sold out as the Wilson Human Relations Commission honored 36 Wilson philanthropists. While the humanitarian award is the top honor, six others were selected for “Treasures of the Community” awards.
Cathy McNeely was named Inspirational Volunteer from nine nominees. Ronnie Dew and three others were nominated for the Community Initiative Award, but Dew’s work to deliver more than 10,000 pounds of fresh meat in three years to area organizations rose to the top.
“One recommendation letter said, ‘Many retired people suffer serious health problems and just take it easy,’” said Brittany Daniel, a member of the Human Relations Commission. “‘But Ronnie took another path. He cherished his second chance by making a good idea into reality.’”
There were five nominees for the Community Spirit Award, but the Police Athletic League earned the honor with a variety of free programs for children and other community outreach services.
Carla Hinnant was selected from six nominations for the Good Neighbor Award for her five years of work developing programs for the resident council committee in her neighborhood.
The Youth on the Move Award honored 10 area students who started programs and volunteered while balancing school. The winner, Chibby Uwakwe, was unable to attend the banquet Friday because he and another of the nominees were at N.C. State University competing for the Park Scholarship.
Commissioner Marvin Sharpe said Uwakwe — a senior at Fike High School and the first of his Nigerian immigrant family to be raised in America — completed a biomedical engineering internship at Duke University that sparked the creation of the Prevent T2 Diabetes program, which has helped 80 people prevent the onset of diabetes.
“If nothing else gets to you tonight, take a look at the faces of our youth and let all the programs, initiatives and volunteering they do settle in for just a moment,” Sharpe said. “Clearly we have a great future in Wilson with these amazing young leaders in our community.”