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Three individual awards and a group award were presented

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FARMINGTON — Members of the community gathered at the Annual Volunteer Recognition Awards Reception Thursday afternoon to honor those whose efforts were recognized by San Juan College.

The college's Volunteer Center hosted the event at the Henderson Fine Arts Center. Community groups and non-profit organizations nominate individuals for Youth, Adult and Senior awards, and there is a Group award to honor two or more people.

Community Learning Center Program Specialist Sarah Oliver said the center's staff visits with potential volunteers to match their interests to needs within the community.

"Without volunteers, we as a community would fall apart," Oliver told the crowd. "We want you to know we are thankful for your time and energy."

Oliver recognized all the nominees in each category, each of them receiving a gift before the winner was announced.

Xander Jones, a senior at Navajo Preparatory School, was named Youth Winner.

He has led an advanced and beginner robotics program for the Bloomfield and Farmington Boys and Girls Club.

While leading the groups, Jones has created and monitored safe spaces for STEM activities and organized engineering challenges, according to biography information provided to The Daily Times.

"I wasn't expecting (the award) at all but it's crazy," Jones said.

He founded the robotics programs his junior year and discovered how much fun they can be.

"I was like, holy crap, this is amazing," Jones said about discovering robotics. "I love this. I wish I started sooner."

He hopes to get members of both Boys and Girls Clubs involved in robotics at an early age.

The Adult Winner was Katrina Bennett, nominated for the award by the San Juan Soil & Water Conservation District.

She stated after the reception she was close to crying.

"Honestly, I'm overjoyed," Bennett said. "I can't believe that I won because I was up against some very great people."

Bennett has led efforts to go out and help children and families understand the importance of gardening as it relates to local foods and connecting the idea to STEM topics.

She stated it was an important project as the area can be a food desert.

"Food deserts are defined  as parts of the country vapid of fresh fruit, vegetables, and other healthful whole foods, usually found in impoverished areas," according to the American Nutrition Association website.

"Being able to provide them with resources and learning how to do that, it really fills my heart with joy," Bennett said.

The program mainly focuses on after-school programs, but Bennett hopes to get into classrooms while school is in session.

Senior Winner Michael Warren was nominated by Tse Daa K’aan AmeriCorps.

He is a Veteran Volunteer who has mentored 24 Americorps members on how to perform a variety of repairs, including roof, electrical, plumbing and automotive.

"It's pretty neat, I have never gotten anything like this before," Warren said. "I never expected to be a winner."

He stated there are veterans who need help getting their wood chopped or getting coal delivered for their heaters. For the future, Warren hopes to help veterans in new areas of the county.

The San Juan Court Appointed Special Advocates (CASA) volunteers took the Group Winner award.

A handful of the 71 CASA volunteers were present to accept the award and pose for a group photo. The CASA program is part of the non-profit group Childhaven.

"We're very happy and the volunteers are very deserving," San Juan CASA Program Director Amy O'Neil said.

The volunteers are trained community volunteers who advocate for the best interest of a child in court in order to help find them a permanent and safe home, according to O'Neil.

They write court reports for the judge after visiting the child regularly, and everyone connected with the child.

For 2018, 71 volunteers spent about 4,805 hours of their time volunteering while driving about 29,884 miles, according to numbers provided by O'Neil.

"The program is a success due to the consistency of the volunteers," O'Neil said.

Joshua Kellogg covers crime, courts and social issues for The Daily Times. He can be reached at 505-564-4627 or via email at jkellogg@daily-times.com.

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