Thursday, December 27, 2012

Rural Leaders Honored: a HAC Tradition Continues

By David R. Dangler, director
NeighborWorks Rural Initiative

Every other year the Housing Assistance Council, or HAC as it is commonly known, presents a series of national awards to honor individuals who have made significant contributions to the quality of life in rural communities.

Two awards given this year were the Skip Jason Community Service Award and the Cochran/Collings Award for Distinguished Service in Housing for the Rural Poor. According to HAC’s web site, The Skip Jason Community Service Award acknowledges people who work "in the trenches" and usually go unrecognized outside their communities. The second award, the Cochran/Collings Award for Distinguished Service in Housing for the Rural Poor, honors individuals who have provided outstanding and enduring service, with national impact, for the betterment of housing conditions for the rural poor.

This year, two NeighborWorks network leaders were called to the dais during a packed award ceremony. Al Gold, the long time executive director of affiliate Community Resources and Housing Development Corporation  in Colorado, and Owynne Gardner, T&MA regional manager of affiliate Little Dixie Community Action Agency in Oklahoma, each won Skip Jason awards.
Owynne Gardner of Little Dixie Community Action Agency

This honor is not the first one for our network. In 1983, the first Skip Jason award was presented to Rose Garcia, executive director of Tierra del Sol in Anthony, New Mexico.  In that same year, the Clay Cochran award went to Elizabeth Herring, co-founder of NCALL Research.  Later, both Tierra del Sol and NCALL Research became chartered NeighborWorks organizations.

Over the years, the association between the NeighborWorks network and HAC’s national awards has continued to grow stronger. Winners of the Cochran/Collings Award include NeighborWorks America's current CEO Eileen Fitzgerald (2000), and many people employed at NeighborWorks affiliates, such as Peter Carey of Self Help Enterprises (2002) and Tom Carew of FAHE (2010). Skip Jason award winners include affiliate staff as well: Steve Mainster, formerly of Centro Campesino (1996), Jack Rivel of FAHE (2004), Lorna Bourg of Southern Mutual Help Association (2006) and Steve Kirk of Rural Neighborhoods Inc. (2006).

Al Gold (center) of Community Resources and Housing Development
Corporation  with Moises Losa (left), HAC's executive director,
and Representative Bennie Thompson (right)
NeighborWorks America has reason to be proud of each and every rural leader associated with the network, and we congratulate Al and Owynne for their recent accomplishments. We also tip our hats to our friends at the Housing Assistance Council who, as Eileen Fitzgerald pointed out during the awards ceremony, have been there for our rural communities since 1971. So much of rural community development work is done without fanfare, known mainly to those whose lives have been improved.  Thanks to HAC, every two years we get to honor a few of our peers and glimpse the bigger picture, a strong and diverse family of networks and individuals working to strengthen communities and improve lives.