SLIDESHOW: Richelson named 2012 Jefferson Award winner - | Chattanooga News, Weather & Sports

SLIDESHOW: Richelson named 2012 Jefferson Award winner

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(WRCB) – Jeanna Richelson has been named the 2012 Jefferson Award Winner for the Tennessee Valley.

Community leaders from across the Tennessee Valley will come together today to honor the ten volunteers recognized as 2012 Jefferson Award Honorees.

At a luncheon this afternoon, Richelson was named to represent the area at the national Jefferson Award Gala in Washington, D.C. in June.

Eleven years ago, oral cancer robbed Richelson of her ability to speak, but not of her spirit. After fighting the disease for years and a series of surgeries, Jeanna set out to help others like her.

She established the first oral cancer support group in the State of Tennessee, raising $18,000 in their first charity walk – the most ever raised on an initial walk in the nation.

This petite woman with the infectious smile finds peace in the hope she gives and receives from others.

"We're here for a reason, every one of us," she said. "Maybe this is my reason. But it's been a hard, hard journey."

In addition to Richelson, those honored at this year's luncheon were Lester Wilker, Montrell Besley, Dr. Tomasz Voychehovski, Connie Wright, Eva Jo Johnson, Dorothy Williamson, Bobby Dunn, Judi Ragon and Jon Coppinger.

At 82-years-old, Lester Wilker has spent the past seven years driving veterans from across the Tennessee Valley to VA clinics in Atlanta, Nashville and Murfreesboro. From World War II to the current conflict in Afghanistan, Lester has served as driver and friend to the defenders of the nation when they needed help the most.

Montrell Besley knows that reaching a young man in his youth can make all the difference in the world. So after going to college and receiving his master's degree, Montrell returned to his old neighborhood and began to mentor the boys at the rec center. "I feel like I've been in those shoes, I know exactly what you are going through," Besley adds.

Born in post-war Poland, Dr. Tomasz Voychehovski says serving others is just part of his genetic make-up. For the past 20 years, "Dr. Tom" has never turned away a patient because they were unable to pay or didn't have insurance. While the practice doesn't seem to make sense on paper, his patients all say he's the best and it all seems to work out just fine.

Following the devastating April 27th Tornadoes, Connie Wright decided she needed to act. She organized nearly 200 volunteers from 10 states, gathered tons of supplies and set out to help her neighbors. Connie answered phones, got donors together with the needy and aided survivors at the distribution center. Connie helped hundreds of families following the storms, and now the semi-retired Christian educator works for the Long Term Recovery Organization, making sure her neighbors get help even after the storms fade from the headlines.

Since moving back to Chattanooga in 2008, Eva Jo Johnson has dedicated her time to her church, but she takes the church's mission outside the building, working with youth who have committed their first crime, in hopes of keeping them out of gangs and jail. Investing in those youth, is what Eva Jo says it will take to fix Chattanooga's growing gang problem.

The staff members at Chattanooga Oncology say Dorothy Williamson is always keenly aware when a patient needs extra TLC, and she spearheads the efforts to help. Sometimes it's simply a birthday party for a cancer patient, other times it's raising money to help a patient pay the rent. Patients rave about Dorothy. She makes a very unpleasant treatment go by much faster. While she administers chemo, she is spreading love and a positive attitude that are infectious throughout the clinic.

It was 25 years ago that Bobby Dunn first signed his children up for Dizzy Dean Little League Baseball. Since then it's been his mission as volunteer president to provide and improve that experience for every child who followed. He started with facilities, paving parking lots and building or restoring fields. Every year Dunn makes sure he and his group of faithful followers has a new tangible way to make an impact on the park. This year's project was newly-built batting cages. In the past it's been a canopy for the concession area, a pavilion, new concrete walkways, or even a "Diaper Diamond" for three and four-year-olds to learn the game. He's had a heart attack and gallbladder surgery in the last six months, but he's still organizing spring sport signups and preparing for another busy summer.

Judi Ragon leads her life by example. Volunteering is in her blood. This minister's wife grew up devoted to her church and its mission. During her 35-year career as a teacher, she established a lifelong connection to children, near and far. As far away as Nicaragua, where she helped lead a building campaign for much needed educational and health facilities.

Jon Coppinger has dedicated his life to helping children with muscular dystrophy, all while facing his own difficulties. At 38-years-old, he knew from a young age he wanted to make an impact on his community. For over a decade, he has been a volunteer and a camp counselor for the Muscular Dystrophy Association and says each year working with children has made him a stronger person.

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