Submitted by Anne Enquist, Lakewood Rotary.
The most recent winners of the Lakewood Rotary and Partners in Rotary Greater Lakewood Unsung Heroes Award are two longtime volunteers in the Springbrook community—Jesse Black and Kinney Knauls.
In presenting the award to Jesse and Kinney, Lakewood Rotarian Sally Porter Smith said, “Today’s nominees have been first line volunteers in their community for well over a decade. Without these two dedicated volunteers, Springbrook would not have an effective community organization that has empowered their community to help themselves through partnerships with the city, the schools, fire and police, health department and civic organizations.”
Smith continued, “The Unsung Heroes award focuses on how people in our community have responded to Covid 19. Given the restrictions on social distancing, food insecurity during the pandemic has been high in Springbrook.”
“Springbrook Connections,” said Smith, “leveraged their Little Food Pantry and their garden to respond to the food needs in their community. Jesse Black and Springbrook Connections have managed the pantry. Through the pantry they are able to serve over 110 families per week.”
Jesse’s friend and Springbrook volunteer Kinney Knauls has been the moving force behind the Springbrook Garden. According to Smith, Knauls “managed to plant and harvest and distribute over 600 pounds of food to apartment complexes in Springbrook. Individuals also visit the garden and can pick up food through Kinney.”
Smith added that when the Health Department and Caring for Kids provided over 750 masks to Springbrook, Jesse and another Springbrook volunteer distributed them. “They used that opportunity to distribute a survey to understand the most urgent needs.”
When the Puget Sound Clean Air Agency provided over 300 fans, Jesse and other Springbrook volunteers handed them out. “When handing out back-to-school backpacks and clothing had to be reworked to meet social distancing and limited group size,” Smith said, “Jesse was instrumental in making that happen.
As part of the award presentation, Sally Saunders also described how her late husband Larry Saunders, Lakewood’s former police chief, identified Jesse early on as a pivotal person in turning around the Springbrook community. According to Sally Saunders, Larry “wanted to change Springbrook’s perspective on the police” and thought Jesse could help in that effort.
“Larry got to know Jesse and first got him involved in the park and getting people to start the gardens. From there Larry corralled Jesse–but Jesse was a very willing person to be corralled–to help Springbrook improve from the inside.”
“Jesse stepped up to the plate and got people involved that none of the rest of us ever could have,” Saunders said. “Little by little, they saw things improving and saw that people cared. Throughout this slow process, Jesse never ever gave up. He was always very positive.”
Saunders added that Jesse “brought in all kinds of people, and Springbrook Connections formed because of Jesse. He, more than anybody, has promoted the community and still does to this day.”
In receiving the award, Jesse thanked Lakewood Rotary and the Partners in Rotary for recognizing his and Kinney’s work in the community. He said, “It’s been a labor of love. We see what goes on here [Springbrook] and we can’t not help. We want to thank you and everyone else for taking the time to recognize us today.”
Kinney added, “It’s been a long journey. But we are doing things together. We are helping the neighborhood.”
The selection committee for the Greater Lakewood Unsung Hero Award includes Lakewood Rotarians and Partners in Rotary members. The selection committee continues to look for nominees who have gone the extra mile for our community during the Covid-19 crisis. If you would like to nominate someone or an organization for this award, please send the nominee’s name, contact information, and a short description of what they have done for the greater Lakewood community during the pandemic to email@example.com or firstname.lastname@example.org.