NEWARK -- When Viola Blythe founded her small charity in 1950, she had no idea that its successful run would aid countless East Bay residents and be celebrated for decades to come.
Blythe, who lived and worked in Newark, just wanted to help those in need, and she did exactly that until her death in 2002.
Her spirit of giving lives on in the Viola Blythe Awards, held each year to reward Newark's most dedicated volunteers. The 28th annual ceremony is scheduled Wednesday evening at the Hilton Newark-Fremont, where the winners from each category will be announced.
"The city is very thankful to all its volunteers, and we have so many pitching in," said Laurie Gebhard, a Newark city official. "We've had a lot of budget cuts in the past six or seven years, so they've provided services that, otherwise, we might not be able to provide."
Debbie Caravalho, who is Blythe's daughter, now manages her mother's charity, the Viola Blythe Community Service Center. "I'm glad my mother was the type of person she was, so well-known and respected," Caravalho said. "As years go by, less and less people remember her, but we'll carry on her legacy as long as we possibly can."
The award nominees are divided into four categories: Volunteer of the Year, recognizing the city's best individual volunteer; the Group Award, which honors Newark-based organizations that serve the community; the Senior Award, which is given to a senior citizen volunteer; and the Youth Award, honoring a student age 17 or younger.
Those vying for the Viola Blythe Volunteer of the Year award are: Shelly Arthur, who works in food and ticket booths for a host of youth sports squads at Newark Memorial High, including the school's football, basketball, wrestling and soccer teams. Mike Berke, who emphasizes emergency preparedness while serving as communications leader for Newark's Community Emergency Response Team and as safety chairman at St. Edward School. Laurie Gratz, the vice president of Newark Days Celebration, Inc., the nonprofit group that manages the city's annual birthday celebration. She also helps the Newark Memorial High Boosters Club, the League of Volunteers and the Newark Girls Softball League. Melinda Pickens, a retired special education teacher who has volunteered at Newark's Milani Elementary School for three years, helping struggling students improve their reading skills. Lucir Schlickmann, a volunteer at Bunker Elementary School and Parent Teacher Club president who recruited volunteers to lead extracurricular programs and increase participation in community events. Mary Teixeira, a member of several community organizations who often helps elderly and non-English-speaking residents in navigating health care paperwork and government bureaucracies. James Zulawski, a volunteer at the Viola Blythe Community Service Center, where he performs repair work, does deliveries and pickups, loads boxes for the food pantry, works security and more.
The Group Award nominees are: California Scholarship Federation, which sends letters and care packages to troops overseas, holds fundraisers and donates food, bicycles and other items to those in need. Cargill Cares, which holds community food drives and fundraisers and gives food and toys to several families each holiday season. Dino's Grill, which raises money for several schools and donates food for community fundraisers. Piecemakers Quilt Guild, which makes and donates quilts to several nonprofit groups, nursing homes and victims of national natural disasters. R.A.V.E.N., a group of volunteers that assists Newark police with traffic control, patrols, clerical work and other law enforcement tasks.
The Senior Award nominee is: Margrith Reichmuth, a member of Newark's Senior Citizen Advisory Committee and a frequent volunteer at the Newark Senior Center.
The Youth Award nominee is: Justin Morua, a seventh-grade¿ student at St. Edward School who has gathered hundreds of gifts for local children while leading holiday toy drives.
Though the yearly ceremony is nearly three decades old, Caravalho said it remains an emotional evening for her. "Every year, I go there and shed a tear because my mother loved her work so much," she said.
Contact Chris De Benedetti at 510-353-7011. Follow him at Twitter.com/cdebenedetti.