Ottawa County receives United Way’s top honor for pandemic response

Last year, when the pandemic struck, Ottawa County and its staff went above and beyond the call of duty in keeping the community, safe, informed, and mobilized to meet the evolving needs created by the pandemic, says Greater Ottawa County United Way President Patrick Moran.

That is why the county was recently honored with the organization’s biggest award.

“I cannot think of a better year to give the G.W. Haworth Strength of the Community Award to Ottawa County,” says Moran, while presenting County Administrator Al Vanderberg and County Commission Chair Roger Bergman with the award. 

It’s an honor for the county’s workforce to receive an award inspired by the character and philanthropic spirit of G.W. Haworth, founder of Haworth Inc., says Vanderberg.

“We are humbled to earn a place alongside prior individuals and organizations who have been recognized for many amazing accomplishments. United, we continue to make Ottawa County where you belong,” he says. 

A new way of celebrating

With the COVID-19 pandemic having put a hold on United Way’s regular annual Celebration event — where hundreds of community members gather to celebrate a year of giving, volunteering, and community impact — a new way of celebrating the year was needed. 

Greater Ottawa County United Way President Patrick Moran presents County Administrator Al Vanderberg and County Commission Chair Roger Bergman with the the G.W. Haworth Strength of the Community Award.

United Way’s annual community awards and achievements have been celebrated
through social media over the past month, culminating with the announcement of the recipient of their top honor, the G.W. Haworth Strength of the Community Award.

“Our community has proven this year more than ever, that together, Living United, we can achieve anything,” Moran says.

The organization’s collaborative partnerships have been key to coming through the most difficult year the county has seen in a long time, responding to ever-changing needs as the pandemic evolved, he adds. 

Individuals and companies

United Way also recognized individuals and companies for their creativity and effort in running workplace campaigns.

Pliant Plastics received the Above and Beyond Award, given to a company campaign coordinator or committee that consistently goes above and beyond in managing the workplace campaign. 

United Way’s Out of the Box Award for the most creative approach to engagement with United Way was presented to the city of Grand Haven, whose city manager, Pat McGinnis, spent the night aloft in a bucket truck after they reached their campaign goals.

This year’s Lynne Sherwood Lighthouse Leadership Award recipient is Midge Verplank. This award is given to a United Way supporter whose philanthropic community leadership sets an example for others to follow. Midge is a lifelong supporter of the community and motivates others to join him in his spirit of giving.

A group Volunteer of the Year

The 2021 Volunteer of the Year Award was — for the first time — given to a group of volunteers. At the beginning of the pandemic, with United Way’s Volunteer Center serving as the lead for volunteers in the Ottawa County Emergency Operations Center, more than 400 individuals stepped up to serve as a Volunteer Emergency Response Team, providing for daily, sometimes hourly, needs of residents. 

As the pandemic wore on, and the needs shifted, about 50 of these volunteers continued to serve those emergency needs, making the whole group more than worthy of the Volunteer of the Year Award, received on their behalf by Sarah Lily, a longtime United Way volunteer and member of the Volunteer Emergency Response Team.

“The community has done amazing things this year during a very difficult time, says Campaign Chair and Holland City Manager Keith Van Beek. “I am so proud of all the effort, resiliency, and caring shown by so many. It has made all the difference.”


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