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J. Frederick Miller Award for Distinguished Volunteer Service

Valeri Nesbitt-Howard, 2023-24 Recipient

About the Honoree

Fred Miller, a career YMCA professional, served as General Secretary of the University YMCA at the University of Illinois from 1958-1967. Under his leadership hundreds of staff, faculty and students gained a special appreciation for the importance of volunteer service, to the University YMCA and to the community. As a result of their experiences many have made life-long commitments to their communities and society.

About the Award

Given for distinguished volunteer service by a staff or faculty member of the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign or a member of the Religious Workers Association of Urbana-Champaign. The Miller Award will be given to an individual who has made significant contributions as a volunteer during his or her life in the local community. The award recognizes direct public service to the campus or local community and efforts of organizing and delivering community service. The award honors volunteer participation which, in the judgment of the Board of Governors of the University YMCA, reflects an expression of moral understanding and civic responsibility and stands as a model of such service to students and others in this community.

Valeri Nesbitt-Howard, 2023-24 Recipient

Valeri Nesbitt-Howard joined the Bruce D. Nesbitt African American Cultural Center (BNAACC) staff in January of 2015, as the Office Support Associate. Since then she has played a key role in shaping BNAACC as a welcoming space, and one that is key to the success and persistence of Black students at the University of Illinois. Along with her many day-to-day responsibilities, she remembers students' names, ensures they don’t leave hungry, and helps to create an environment of mutual trust, respect and support for Black students at a historically white University.

In recent years Ms. Val has launched two separate organizations aimed at providing services to women in underserved constituencies. InspireH.E.R., founded by Ms. Val in 2020, is a 501(c)(3) organization that provides program services to girls and young women, ages 12-19, from underserved communities, and prepares them for career, mentoring, personal, and economic success. Working closely with Unit 4 Schools, where Ms. Val also volunteers, InspireH.E.R. offers Mentorship, Mental Health Resources, Employment Resources, Financial Literacy Workshops, Resume Building, College & Career Prep, and a host of other resources as needed.

In 2023 Ms. Val helped launch Hope for Women, along with co-founder Mykeshia Lipscomb. Hope for Women is an organization that helps women recently released from prison in the Champaign-Urbana area. Recognizing the disproportionate resources directed towards men, Valeri and Mykeshia partnered with FirstFollowers Reentry program to develop a program to meet the unique needs of women, who often serve as the heads of households. The program helps women returning from prison obtain IDs, cell phones, apply for services including food stamps and health insurance, find counseling, and find and apply for jobs. For mothers, they’ll provide diapers and clothing for children. They provide bus passes and occasionally give rides to the women they help. They’ll help apply for rental assistance with the local township government, and will foot some of the bill for those behind on rent.

Through her many activities, Valeri has been instrumental in the acclimation of many students and residents into the campus and local community, and provided great support for women and the Black community. In both her professional capacity and her volunteer roles, Valeri has been able to improve the lives of students and community members alike, and played an impactful role in the lives of many.

Past Award Recipients

2024: Valeri Nesbitt-Howard

2023: Mariana Ortega

2022: Matt Wallig

2021: Ken Salo

2020: Korinta Maldonado

2019: DoMonique Arnold

2018: Sam Smith

2017: Ann-Perry Witmer

2016: Ann Abbott

2015: Stacy Harwood

2014: Ross Wantland

2013: Rebecca Ginsburg

2012: Brian Deal

2011: Amy Sponsler

2010: Bruce Litchfield

2009: James Treat

2008: Anton G. Endress

2007: Carlton Mills

2006: Dan Larson & Greg Goodale

2005: Stephen Hartnett

2004: Belden Fields

2003: Rev. Karen Bush

2002: Robert McKim

2001: Reverend Hallett

2000: Jim Holiman

1999: Claire Szoke

1998: Robert Silverman

1997: Shirley Stillinger

1996: Rev. Jack Reiffer

1995: Ken Reardon

1994: Patricia Morey

1993: Esther Patt

1992: Imani Bazzell

1991: Steve Shoemaker

1990: Bruce Larson

1989: Carol Livingston

1988: Robert Bohl