What did these 12 Belleville residents do to earn character awards?

News-DemocratNovember 19, 2013 

— The Belleville Achieves Strength in Character Initiative will hold its annual dinner Tuesday night at Fischer's Restaurant to recognize the 2013 Citizens of Character honorees — a group of 12 unsung heroes who live, work or serve in Belleville.

Here is a snapshot of this year's award winners:

Beth Conroy

Conroy, a speech-language pathologist at Belleville West High School who lives in St. Louis, is rarely alone in her office -- a peaceful place decorated with inspirational posters and stickers. Students seek refuge there when they need a break from the challenges of their day. As a specialist in autism spectrum disorders, Conroy works with such students so they can have a positive high school experience and trains teachers so they can better understand and serve these students.

Dwight Cox

Cox, of Belleville, is an air operations specialist assigned to the 618th Air & Space Operations Center at Scott Air Force Base. His work ensures the safe and timely delivery of military and civilian patients who need increased medical care. In Cox's 21-plus years with the Air Force, he has served as a crew chief and KC-10 flight engineer, among other leadership roles. Cox is the founding president of the Lewis Lynch Tuskegee Airmen Inc. chapter at SAFB and he participates in high school and college mentorship programs.

Gloria Crowder

Crowder, a retired daycare provider, is now board president of the 17th Street Corridor Neighborhood Association. She oversees the association, which serves more than 180 youths through programs such as a six-week Summer Fun Youth Camp, a tutoring program held in conjunction with Belleville schools and a recent Family Wellness Day to encourage healthy living. Crowder, of Belleville, leads in a way that reflects the organization's mission to build community using neighbors' strengths.

Concha De La Cruz

De La Cruz, of Belleville, is a teacher assistant for special needs students at Central Junior High School and she plans to be a teacher. Outside the classroom, she is dedicated to her five sons, and her nieces and nephews. De La Cruz believes in demonstrating the importance of family, education, hard work and personal responsibility through her actions. She also thinks the best way to make the world better is through one's own contributions. Recently, De La Cruz organized a family baseball game for her boys and their friends.

Jeff Dosier

Dosier is in his third year as superintendent of Belleville Township High School District 201, which has more than 5,000 students, and he was previously principal of Franklin School. Dosier, of Millstadt, demonstrates character through his leadership and genuine appreciation for the work and ideas of his employees and students. Dosier prioritizes the district's involvement in Characterplus, a group of St. Louis and metro-east districts dedicated to character education in schools.

Vickey Few

Few, of Glen Carbon, has advocated for students with disabilities in St. Clair County through her work with LINC Inc. for the past 15 years. As a LINC youth and family services supervisor, she teaches parents and school personnel about the needs and rights of disabled youths and helps them at disciplinary hearings. Disabled students are included in more classes and programs than before because of her efforts. Before joining the LINC staff, Few was a volunteer advocate because her daughter has Down syndrome.

Paula Jones

Jones, of Belleville, has worked on civil rights and environmental issues since she was a teenager. Jones raised two children, was a foster mom and belonged to Friendly Adventures, which pairs poor urban children with families in the suburbs. She was co-founder of Racial Harmony and worked for the past 22 years with the group on projects such as Youth to Youth, Character Counts and Phenomenal Women awards. Jones owns and operates two preschools and she serves on the Art on the Square committee.

Karen Kunz

Kunz, of Belleville, has been active on the Belle Valley School Board for 25 years and as board president, she provided guidance through the building of a new facility. She spent hundreds of unpaid hours to attend meetings during the day, night and weekends. Through her effort, the district now has resources for students in and outside the classroom, including: soccer and track fields, an observatory with a 16-inch telescope, a geodome greenhouse, karate program, aquaponics, environmental studies and rocketry.

Donna Mauno

Fulfilling a promise to her grandfather to always assist those who lose their way and need help, Mauno serves as president of the Pleasant Hill Neighborhood Association, volunteers with the Belleville Community Development Committee and tutors students in the Franklin Neighborhood. When the city flooded in 1996, the Belleville native organized efforts to provide trash bins and tetanus shots and helped displaced residents. Her service inspires the youths she works with to be the next generation of committed citizens.

Jennifer Gain Meyer

Meyer, of Belleville, has been volunteering for the past 20 years and helping wherever she is needed without hesitation. She started in 1993 with AmeriCorps and worked with them to establish the Franklin Neighborhood Community Association. Through Belleville Main Street, Meyer helped start Diva Night and downtown's Halloween for Kids event. She is on the steering committee for the city's Bicentennial celebration, and a volunteer at events such as Oktoberfest and Chili Cook-Off.

Cathy Nesbit

Nesbit, of Swansea, worked for Belleville District 201 before she retired. But her life's work has been to build a world where her mentally impaired daughter would have opportunities like everyone else: to learn new skills, to socialize, to dance. More than 20 years ago, she founded a dance studio willing to teach those with disabilities. As her daughter aged and her needs changed, Nesbit raised money and found volunteers to run LINC's classes for disabled adults so she could continue to learn and contribute to society.

Shari Wall

Wall, of Freeburg, volunteers more than 40 hours a week alone to prepare for leading six, adult non-denominational Bible studies at the Turkey Hill Grange, where she is chaplain. Hundreds of adults attend the sessions, which take place four times a week. Wall started the Kids Community Bible Study program 11 years ago to give students a foundation to make moral life decisions. She now operates the program in 28 schools. Wall also started the Feed My Lambs program for children to have meals during the summer.

Contact reporter Jacqueline Lee at jlee@bnd.com or 239-2655. Follow her on Twitter at https://twitter.com/BNDBelleville.

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