Volunteer of the Year

Yvonne Novak, 62, of Silver Spring received the Volunteer of the Year Award from the Washington Hospital Center's Washington Cancer Institute at its first Living Well With Cancer Awards ceremony last month.

She began volunteering at the center more than four years ago, after her son Blaine was treated for cancer there. Blaine, 29, was an Arlington police officer. Pleased with the care Blaine received before his death, Novak quit her job to do volunteer work with other families affected by cancer. As a member of the patient care team, she is among the first people patients meet when arriving for treatment.

"I remember coming here the first time, and I know what it feels like," Novak said. "I want to make them feel better and realize that a lot of people can leave happy and that you can expect to have nice people taking care of you. It means a lot to me because I remember how horrible it felt when I first started coming. I had two sons who have been over there. I just think it is important for me to talk to new patients and their families."

Another son, Spencer Novak, survived cancer and lives in Florida.

Shortly after volunteering at the institute, Novak received a breast cancer diagnosis and was successfully treated at the center.

"I like to tell people that they are not sick but are just being treated for something serious," she said. "If you can keep your life as normal possible, you can be okay."

In Blaine's honor, Novak established an educational fund for oncology nurses at the institute so they can attend continuing education classes and conferences. About $25,000 has been donated to the fund.

"She's a living example of the true spirit of volunteerism and unselfishly helping others' needs," said Brian McCagh, executive director of the Washington Cancer Institute. "She goes out of her way to help them more effectively cope with their personal battle with cancer."

Other Montgomery County residents honored at the ceremony were Deena Kaplan, 63, of Bethesda and Sara-Mae Lewis, 69, of North Bethesda. They were recognized for creating a fundraising event that provides support for the Center for Breast Health and services for patients with prostate and colorectal cancers.

The Silver Spring-based Herb Gordon Foundation for Gastrointestinal Cancers received the Philanthropic Partners Award for supporting high-tech and "high-touch" programs, including psychosocial oncology service, at the Washington Cancer Institute.

Leadership Awards

Three Montgomery County residents received the Linowes Leadership Award from the Community Foundation for the National Capital Region. The award recognizes six people annually whose efforts have had a positive impact on children and families in the Washington region. Each of the recipients received $2,000, with an additional $3,000 going to the nonprofit with which they worked.

Brandon Haynes, 18, of Silver Spring was recognized for fighting for the rights of homeless students.

"I didn't know that it would get the attention that it did. It was an honor to receive it," said Haynes, a freshman at Montgomery College.

He and his family were evicted from their Silver Spring home while he was a sophomore at Montgomery Blair High School. He then was no longer considered a resident of the county and could not attend his neighborhood school. He appealed to County Council members, educators and legislators for assistance in continuing his education.

Haynes learned about the McKinney-Vento Act, which protects the rights of homeless students, and sought help from the Public Justice Center in Baltimore.

The center took up his case, which led to a class action lawsuit that involved his family and three other homeless families. He won, enabling him to attend night classes so he could graduate on time with his high school class.

The settlement has been used to ensure the rights of homeless students nationwide to continue their education.

"It was really the principle," Haynes said. "Homelessness should not be a factor in whether or not students can continue their education at the school that they started from. It's a big disruption to bounce around from school to school."

Dario Muralles was recognized for his efforts to encourage political activism among young people and his leadership role in helping CASA of Maryland advocate for in-state tuition rates for undocumented immigrant students.

"It was a great honor to be recognized by the foundation," said Muralles, 18, of Silver Spring. "The award recognizes the hard work that I and the other students did to get legislation passed for in-state tuition rates" for undocumented student immigrants. The legislation passed in both houses of the General Assembly but was vetoed by Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. (R).

Muralles also was the first high school student to be elected to the board of the Maryland Coalition for Justice, a Latino civil rights organization.

James Stephenson established a volunteer program and raised money for supplies at Washington Grove Elementary School in Gaithersburg to help kindergartners and first-graders with language skills. He also developed a volunteer Math Academy at Gaithersburg Middle School and added reading, writing and computer academies to meet other student needs at the middle school.

"I had an awful lot of help from people growing up. I had great role models and teachers," said Stephenson, 65, of North Potomac. "In high school, I had a teacher to help me achieve a scholarship, and I wanted to help the students achieve. I enjoy working with kids."

Seniors Honored

Comcast of Montgomery recently honored five Montgomery County senior citizens for their community service work at the fifth annual Path of Achievement Awards ceremony.

Rosalie Silverberg, 91, of Gaithersburg, a retired biomedical researcher and community activist, was recognized for her efforts to bring together developers, environmentalists, residents and public officials to reach a consensus on proposed developments.

Austin Heyman, 73, of Bethesda was recognized for his advocacy in the areas of housing, transportation and health. He chairs the county's Vital Living Steering Committee, an advocacy group for senior issues.

Pearl Isenberg, 83, of Silver Spring was honored because she has served as volunteer coordinator for the Widowed Persons Service of Montgomery County for the past 27 years.

Anne Edward, 74, of Bethesda was recognized for tutoring English as a Second Language students at Rolling Terrace Elementary School; for volunteering at the Gilchrist Center for Cultural Diversity in Wheaton, Stepping Stones Family Shelter and Montgomery College; and for providing tax preparation services.

Kenneth Putkovich, 65, of Silver Spring was recognized for his contribution in the workplace. He manages the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's radio station. He has implemented advanced broadcast weather alert systems that are designed to help save lives and improve communications with the deaf and hard of hearing.

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