2009 Women of Distinction Award Recipients

Soroptimist of Hood River is honored to present the 2009 winners of its Women of Distinction award, given annually to Hood River County women who have made a significant difference in the life of our county. JoAnn Wittenberg of Cascade Locks, Joella Dethman and Jan Veldhuisen Virk of Hood River will be recognized at a luncheon in their honor on Wednesday, November 4th, 11:30 a.m. to 1:00 p.m., at the Best Western Hood River Inn Gorge Room. The community is invited to celebrate the dedication of these three amazing women. Tickets for the awards luncheon are available from Waucoma Bookstore for $15 per person.

JoAnn Wittenberg and her family moved to Cascade Locks School in the 1960s to teach. Her nominators and supporters say that the countless ways she has been involved in Cascade Locks has made a huge difference in the life of that community and Hood River County. In addition to working and raising a family, JoAnn has served as a 4-H club leader and County Fair judge, as a parenting education coordinator and facilitator, on the City Planning Commission, as a CLIK volunteer (working to prevent alcohol and tobacco use among Cascade Locks school children), organizer of a popular community Christmas celebration, organizer and teacher of a County Extension class for older adults, and an active participant in leadership of the local Lioness Club. As part of the local quilting group, she helps make quilts for each Cascade Locks kindergarten student.

When JoAnn moved from classroom teacher to caseworker for the Department of Human Services, she was charged with placing children in both foster care families and in adoptive homes. Her nominators can think of no one more passionate and compassionate for the needs of these most vulnerable members of our community. In 1987, JoAnn and a group of other individuals recognized the need to help new parents get themselves and their babies off to a good, healthy start. New Parent Services grew from their concerns and continues today as one of the cornerstones for creating healthy families in Hood River County. She also represents Hood River County on the Mid-Columbia Housing Authority Board, helping to provide affordable housing throughout the Gorge.
Joella Dethman began volunteering in the early 1980s when her children were young, serving as the heart and hands of “Make It Click,” a child car safety seat rental program for families who couldn’t afford to buy one. Joella not only kept track of the over 100 car seats, she also cleaned and repaired each returned seat; some had been used for several years without being cleaned. More recently, Joella found a way to buy car seats at a reduced cost and sell them to families in need. Joella and a group of volunteers teach parents how to use the seats, make sure each seat is properly fitted in the car and the child properly fitted in the seat. She also organizes car seat clinics throughout the Gorge, helping all parents and other caring adults double-check that their child’s safety seat is installed properly.

In 1993, Joella became executive director of Hood River County’s Commission on Children and Families, where whe works tirelessly to ensure all people in our county are treated with respect and dignity. She has served on and led work groups striving to bring better mental health, drug and alcohol treatment services to the comunity, increase access to health care, reduce school dropout rates, increase literacy levels, prevent unwanted teen pregnancies, reduce domestic and child abuse rates and increase the number of well-trained child caregivers, help develop a juvenile crime prevention system and parenting education. As one of her nominators put it, “Joella doesn’t work at the job, she lives it, volunteering hundreds of hours each year to promote healthy lives.”

Jan Veldhuisen Virk began volunteering in her three daughters’ classrooms and schools in 1996. Just three years later, she was elected to the Hood River County School District Board of Directors, where she has served as both vice-chair and chair and was recently re-elected to another four year term. Jan was insturmental in passing two local option levies and chaired the school bond levy campaign in 2000. Following that successful campaign, she was invited to speak at the Oregon School Board Association Bonds and Ballots workshop on how to run a successful school bond election campaign.

In addition to her many volunteer hours as a board member, Jan has been a dedicated “soccer mom,” not only for her children, but for many others who might not otherwise be involved in extracurricular activities. One supporter wrote, “Jan volunteers above and beyond her required duties. Her visibility in the schools, helping with local projects and living the dual roles of parent and Board member, has created a bond of leadership and trust throughout the school district.”

Photos by Denise Rehse Watson/www.PhotosensitivePortraits.blogspot.com

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