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Loudoun honors local volunteers; 10-year-old girl leads the pack

Loudoun County's Outstanding Volunteer winners don't normally make speeches when they accept their awards at the Board of Supervisors meetings. But when organizers asked 10-year-old Gabrielle Miller, she obliged.

This year's top Volunteer of the Year, Gabrielle helped orchestrate a letter-writing campaign that generated more than $250,000 for the Make-a-Wish foundation.
Gabrielle, a fourth-grader at Loudoun Country Day School in Leesburg, was diagnosed with an inoperable brain tumor in November.

When Gabrielle and her family discovered she was eligible for a Make-a-Wish trip, they applied and were granted a trip to Paris.

Gabrielle's mom, Ellyn, challenged her daughter to share the joy she felt from receiving her wish with others.

“I told her, think about how wonderful you feel receiving this wish,” Miller said. “Let's help others feel like this.”

The Miller's discovered Macy's Believe campaign, which encourages people to write letters to Santa and drop them off at Macy's stores. For every letter written, Macy's agreed to donate $1 to Make-a-Wish, up to $1 million.

The Millers, with the help of Chris Croll, united for the Make a Wish With Gabrielle project. The group collected 241,000 letters and nearly 10,000 more were sent in Gabrielle's honor.

“We just wanted people to write these letters to Santa to help raise money for pediatric cancer,” Ellyn Miller said. “And we're Jewish.”

Through her efforts, Gabrielle raised $250,000 and Macy's agreed to donate $25,000 to the Make-a-Wish Foundation of the Mid-Atlantic.

Gabrielle's speech during the May 1 Board of Supervisors meeting, where the volunteers were all honored, was one of hope and looking toward the future.

“We're going to try to start a foundation, Smashing Walnuts,” Gabrielle told the crowd. Gabrielle's tumor was the size of a walnut, so the Millers regularly smash walnuts to symbolize smashing cancer. Miller says they plan on working on starting the nonprofit, with the goal of raising money for pediatric cancer research, upon their return from Paris.

In addition to Gabrielle's accolades as Loudoun's Volunteer of the Year, there were 13 other categories to honor those in Loudoun that work for others.

•Outstanding Adult Volunteer: Cathy Maddox. Maddox is the president and volunteer of Sprout Therapeutic Riding in Aldie, an organization that provides equine therapies and activities to people with special needs. Through Maddox's recruiting, Sprout saw a 53 percent increase in the number of volunteers for the program.

•Outstanding Youth Volunteer: Shannon L. Roivas. A senior at Briar Woods High School, Roivas volunteers with numerous programs. In 2012, she was named the most outstanding counselor at the Loudoun County 4-H Junior Camp. She also helped lead the Briar Woods band camp, volunteered at Arlington National Cemetery, captained a Relay for Life team, tutored her peers and worked with terminally ill children visiting Orlando.

•Outstanding Older Adult Volunteer: Richard Sherman. Sherman helped re-energize the community at the Carver Center in Purcellville. He became involved with vulnerable members of the senior center to help alleviate loneliness.

•Outstanding Adult Public Safety Volunteer: Rodney Krone. Krone is a chief EMT with the Hamilton Volunteer Rescue Squad. He helped establish the Special Operations membership, which linked members of fire and rescue to help respond to water rescue emergencies and serious vehicular accidents in western Loudoun.

•Outstanding Youth Public Safety Volunteer: Pierce Taylor. After more than 500 hours of training, Taylor earned both his firefighter and emergency medical technician certifications. He now is a member of the Volunteer Fire Department and Volunteer Rescue squad. Taylor joined the squad when he was just 16 years old.

•Outstanding Volunteer Team: Sprout. A Therapeutic Riding program for those with special needs, Sprout helped put 35 riders on horses, serve 18 students in transition and host service-learning activities for 169 high school students. The group also hosted participants from camp and church groups, participated in the Loudoun Farm Tour and held a military appreciation picnic.

•Outstanding Adult Volunteer Team: 100WomenStrong. The group helps provide funding for issues in hunger, shelter, health and education in Loudoun. In 2012, the group contributing $115,850 to five different nonprofits in Loudoun.

•Outstanding Youth Volunteer Team: Claude Moore Community Builders. Each student involved in the Claude Moore Community Builders group volunteered a minimum of 100 hours, leading to more than 2,000 hours worth of service. The program is a volunteerism group for Loudoun high schoolers sponsored by a grant from the Claude Moore Charitable Foundation.

•Outstanding Older Adult Team: Residents of Potomac Green. The residents collected coats and blankets for the homeless, adopted families for Christmas, collected 7,000 pounds of food and $1,300 for Loudoun Interfaith Relief and donated more than $7,000 for the Loudoun Abused Women's Shelter, the Salvation Army and the Amy Fischer House.

•Outstanding Club/Organization: Loudoun Breast Health Network (Renelda Peldunas-Harter, Tammy Gray, Susan Mills, Joan McGorry). The Loudoun Breast Health Network created the Pink Assistance Fund in 2012 to help pay for breast cancer treatments for Loudoun residents.

•Outstanding Corporate Volunteer: Melt Gourmet Cheeseburger. Melt and its owners, Steve and Debbie Hancotte, helped hundreds of homeless animals this year. In addition to helping advertise adoptable animals from the Loudoun County Animal Shelter at their Leesburg restaurant, they also donated $6,000 to the shelter.

•Outstanding Volunteer Family: The Bowman Family. John and Juli and their children, 12-year-old Sydney and 9-year-old Randy, because a foster family for the Loudoun County Animal Shelter in 2012. Throughout the course of the year, the family fostered not only single orphan kittens, but entire litters of kittens. The family's work included not just socializing the animals, but late night bottle feedings and health monitoring.

•Outstanding Volunteer Project: Joshua's Hands. Joshua's Hands is a charitable organization started by Dwayne and Joyce Guthrie in honor of their son Joshua. Since 2011, Joshua's Hands has run a program called Valiant Warriors Quilting. The program brings together community members to make quilts for wounded veterans recovering in hospitals.

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