THATCHER — Linda Lopez said she thought she was in attendance at the Arizona Community Foundation of the Gila Valley’s annual Grant Celebration on Tuesday to observe an award presented to one of her fellow volunteers.
Instead, it was Lopez who was named the 2023 Ed Angie Sawyer Volunteer of the Year for Graham County.
“It’s overwhelming, that’s what it is,” Lopez said. “I just was not prepared for this.”
The award also comes with $1,000 for Lopez to donate to any nonprofit organization of her choosing.
Lopez serves on four community boards — St. Vincent de Paul Society, Gila Valley veterans Services, the Solomon American Legion and the Graham County Local Committee to End Homelessness. She was also instrumental in development of the new Samaritan Home respite and information center for the homeless, which recently opened its doors.
Steve Guzzo, the Greenlee County Volunteer of the Year for 2023, was not in attendance at the celebration at Eastern Arizona College, because he was attending his granddaughter’s volleyball match. However, last year’s Volunteer of the Year Steve Ahmann said Guzzo is hard at work bringing a helicopter to be placed at the Mares Bluff Veteran’s Memorial in Clifton, which will arrive in town for Clifton’s sesquicentennial on Nov. 4.
Ahmann and fellow Greenlee County Tourism Council board member Erin Spears accepted the Greenlee County Nonprofit Organization of the Year award.
“It’s just so important that we bring attention to Greenlee County,” Spears said. “We’ve got some really wonderful sights in Greenlee County. We really want to bring those tourists in to see what we have to offer.”
The 2023 Graham County Nonprofit Organization of the Year was the Gila Valley Arts Council.
“When I look at all the work everyone is doing in the Valley — all the nonprofits and everything and the issues that they’re dealing with — it’s so amazing to me that a community would recognize the arts and its importance to their lives,” said Gila Valley Arts Council board member Paulette LeBlanc.
In addition to recognizing individuals and organizations, Arizona Community Foundation of the Gila Valley handed out more than $44,000 in grants to nonprofit organizations serving Graham and Greenlee counties
Grant recipients for 2023 include:
● Borderlands Produce Rescue, which receives $5,000 for the Produce on Wheels Without Waste (PowWow) program administered locally by the Safford Lions Club
● Desert Cat Rescue and Sanctuary, which receives $2,000 to cover travel costs from the Valley to Tucson
● Gila Watershed Partnership, which receives $5,000 for its Southeastern Arizona Youth Land Stewardship program
● Graham County Search and Rescue, which received $9,800 for development of a new multi-use training facility
● The Boys and Girls Club of the Gila Valley, which receives $4,900 for its Torch Club Summer Youth Program
● Mt. Graham Safe House, which receives $5,000 for development of a second facility in Duncan
● Desert Seed Resource Center, which receives $5,000 for its native orchard
● Special Olympics Arizona, which receives $2,500
● Gila Valley Arts Council, which receives $5,000 for its educational programs partnering artists with students
Presenters of the grants included Graham County Supervisor John Howard, Greenlee County Supervisor David Gomez, Thatcher Vice Mayor and Safford City Councilman Brad Hemphill.
Tribute was also offered for two area volunteers who passed away this year. Angie Laskarides, senior regional director for Arizona Community Foundation, remembered Jay Rasco, who founded Southeastern Arizona Clean and Beautiful; and Kathy Grime and Teri Thiessen, with Graham County Substance Abuse Coalition and Graham County Historical Society, remembered Marge Schade, who supported numerous organizations in Graham County.
ACF of the Gila Valley board member Don Smith served as the master of ceremonies, reminding everyone that planned giving and legacy gifts allows supporters of nonprofit organizations to continue their support even after their death.
Ed and Angie Sawyer Graham County Volunteer of the year
2017 — John Bonafas
2018 — Ruth Powell (posthumous)
2019 — Paulette LeBlanc
2022 — Chris Gibbs
2023 — Linda Lopez
Greenlee County Volunteer of the Year
2017 — Doug Barlow
2018 — Catie Gross
2019 — Jesus Garcia
2022 — Steve Ahmann
2023 — Steve Guzzo
Graham County Nonprofit Organization of the Year
2017 — Safford Lions Club
2018 — Mt. Graham Safe House
2019 — Our Neighbor’s Farm and Pantry
2022 — Southeastern Arizona Community Unique Services (SEACUS)
2023 — Gila Valley Arts Council
Greenlee County Nonprofit Organization of the Year
2017 — Duncan Pride Society
2023 — Greenlee County Tourism Council