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Suffolk’s ‘exceptional’ Pilot Club honorees

Eleven members of the Suffolk community were recognized on Monday evening for their selfless contributions that have made their city a better place to live.

The Pilot Club of Suffolk held its annual Civic Awards Night at the Elks Lodge on West Constance Road.

Pilot International was founded and charted in 1921 as an international service organization, and continues to operate as an innovative, volunteer-drive service organization. Its threefold focus is to encourage brain safety and health, prepare youth for service and support those who care for others.

Every year, the Suffolk Pilot Club recognizes individuals that have shown excellence in their service to the Suffolk community.

“The Pilot Club has done a wonderful job every year of recognizing those who give selflessly of themselves to help those who are less fortunate,” Suffolk Delegate Chris Jones said at the Elks Lodge Monday evening.

Councilman Donald Goldberg was also present to congratulate this year’s honorees, each of whom has done exceptional work to improve the health, welfare and quality of life for both Suffolk residents and visitors.

“In short, tonight we celebrate exceptional people who dedicated themselves to selfless service,” Goldberg said. “People that are willing to share their time and talent are the fabric of any strong community.

“Thanking you hardly seems enough, but please know that you are truly appreciated.”

The honorees included paramedics, police officers, firefighters, tutors, community professionals, bus drivers, teachers and students.

“The city is blessed to have numerous individuals and organizations, which make this a better place to live,” said Leah Powell of the Pilot Club of Suffolk.

  • Suffolk Fire and Rescue Department Lt. Roger W. Stinnette Jr. was recognized as the Paramedic of the Year, while Lt. Christopher Kyle Hehl was honored as Firefighter of the Year. According to Suffolk Fire and Rescue Chief Michael Barakey, both of these men represent the department’s motto: “Our family protecting yours.”

The department needs dedicated firefighters, officers and medics like Stinnette and Hehl in order to respond to more than 15,000 calls for service, Barakey said.

“(They’re) both passionate, motivated, inspirational and they epitomize a professional fire officer,” Barakey said. “They’re calm, focused, concise with their decisions and their directions to their crews, and they care for the citizens like their own family. Again, that’s our family protecting yours.”

  • Officer Kyle Valois was recognized as the Police Officer of the Year. According to Suffolk Police Chief Thomas Bennett, Valois made 94 arrests in 2018, in addition to more than 150 written citations, more than 167 incident reports and 40 accident investigations.

He received multiple department commendations and showed worthy performances in many cases. Bennett recounted several of them Monday evening, including vehicle and foot pursuits of dangerous criminals.

“Officer Kyle Valois is being recognized as our Officer of the Year for 2018 due to his exceptional work ethic, his thoroughness…and his dedication to his job,” Bennett said. “He takes his job very seriously, and he is an excellent police officer. We’re lucky to have him.”

  • Suffolk Literacy Council’s Patricia Cork was recognized as Volunteer Literacy Tutor of the Year. Cork came to the literacy council in August 2016 as a retired nurse educator and was immediately assigned to a female student who suffered a physical injury as a child, which caused the student to have an intellectual delay, according to SLC Tutor Coordinator Jessica Reitz.

Now this student was a young woman with a dream to serve others, but she found difficulty in her studies. She had trouble reading and retaining information, Reitz said.

But Cork was diligent with the student. When the student’s multiple jobs created scheduling conflicts, Cork still found a way to make time for her.

Cork stepped up again when the student told her about six months ago that she wanted to be a nurse.

“She was so flexible with the student and encouraging her that this dream is attainable that they actually doubled their tutoring time, instead of once a week, they went two times a week for two hours a session,” Reitz said. “They really went deep into it.”

SLC was able to connect the young woman with an accessible program for her.

“She’s still not going to give up on her dream, because Pat is going to be right there helping her,” Reitz said.

  • Edmarc Hospice for Children Board Member Linda Minnix was recognized as the Community Professional of the Year. Edmarc was founded in Suffolk in 1978 as the nation’s first hospice specifically for children.

Today, Edmarc provides services to children with life-threatening illnesses and their families, such as home health, hospice and bereavement services. According to prepared remarks from Edmarc, Minnix “has made a huge impact in our ability to care for children and their families facing the greatest heartache of their lives.”

“I am grateful for this organization that has given me the opportunity to touch the lives of so many children and families,” Minnix said.

  • Darlene Parker was recognized as Bus Driver of the Year of Children with Disabilities, and Delores Cuffee as Bus Driver’s Aide of the Year of Children with Disabilities. Suffolk Public Schools Transportation Supervisor James Blow spoke in regards to both Parker and Cuffee on Monday evening.

Blow described Parker as “a lifeline” to his department that’s responsible for “precious cargo.” She’s the first line of defense for children with special needs, and she’s there to greet them when they leave their homes every school day.

“That is a lasting impression for that child throughout the course of the day,” Blow said. “Her interaction with that child initially can make or break that student’s experience throughout the course of the day, so Ms. Parker is always cheerful.

“She greets them in very positive manner, and she’s more like a mother hen, and I can really appreciate that.”

Like Parker, Cuffee was grateful for the recognition, and explained that bus drivers and bus aides face challenges every single day.

“What makes me feel good sometimes (is that) over the years you can look back and see where some child (has) progressed, but it’s not as easy as it looks,” Cuffee said.

  • Nansemond River High School’s Mark Stuffel was recognized as the Teacher of the Year of Children with Disabilities. Assistant Principal Janice Bibbo said that Stuffel has effectively collaborated with teachers for years across multiple math content areas.

“Instructionally, he effectively plans and implements lessons using active learning strategies and specialized instruction,” Bibbo said. “He’s dedicated to meeting the needs of our students that he serves.”

Stuffel creates a positive learning environment that’s both respectful and student-centered, Bibbo said. He works to promote the school’s mission and has even acted as the general math teacher when the position needed to be filled at one time.

“If that’s not enough, he’s also our varsity baseball coach,” Bibbo said.

  • John F. Kennedy Middle School’s Cleotilde Meece was recognized as Teacher Aide of the Year of Children with Disabilities. According to Assistant Principal Darrell Medley, Meece is an outstanding asset at JFKMS, where she’s always either working one-on-one with a student in the classroom or monitoring her class with another co-teacher.

She consistently helps many different teachers throughout the school, as a teacher’s assistant is not just dedicated to one teacher, Medley said. They work with different teachers, cover a variety of classes and fulfill other roles if need be.

Meece successfully manages all of these responsibilities and then some.

“She’s well deserving of this award,” Medley said. “She’s an outstanding member of John F. Kennedy Middle School, and it is my pleasure to say, ‘Congratulations, Ms. Meece.’”

  • Nansemond River High School student and Anchor Club member Jonathan Wu was recognized as Anchor of the Year. The club is a teen service organization under Pilot International, and since he’s been a member at NRHS, Wu has shown tremendous growth, according to Anchor Club Sponsor M.L. Cruey.

Cruey said Wu comes to nearly every meeting and is very reliable and ready to help out with service projects, such as those the club holds at the Autumn Care of Suffolk nursing home.

She said that Wu showed his true character by helping every Autumn Care resident at the table enjoy their cake and ice cream during the St. Patrick’s Day Party that the club held at the nursing home.

“That just shows his personal touch to care and service to the community,” Cruey said, “and I hope it continues for the rest of his life, because he’s a wonderful young man.”

  • Suffolk Christian Academy senior Ethan Voight received this year’s Shirley Eley Memorial Scholarship. Voight has served as class president and class treasurer throughout his four years of high school, during which he’s also been a member of the National Honor Society.

He works with Operation Smile, Helping Hands and is a Praise Team leader at SCA. He plans to attend Regent University for his bachelor’s degree, then move forward to Liberty University for his master’s degree.

“It’s been a blessing to be able to serve my church, and my school and community, and I look forward to doing it as I pursue my bachelor’s and master’s,” Ethan said.