PALMETTO — From a sheriff to an advocate for new mothers, a quintet of community members was saluted Friday night for humanitarian efforts honoring the spirit of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.
King, who is known for his nonviolent approach to civil rights and his dream of equality for all people, is celebrated each year at the Palmetto Youth Center by making people look at how they can contribute to the community.
“Each one of us has a responsibility to give ... What have you done to help the community,” said CJ Czaia, an attorney, who presided over the 17th annual Martin Luther King Jr. Awards Banquet.
Issues including the environment, health care and giving aid to the Haitian community were areas Czaia noted people can start being active.
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Five residents were honored for the change they’ve helped create in the community.
Levonia G. Walthour, who received the Louise Rogers Johnson Humanitarian Award, taught school for 46 years in Manatee County and touched many lives. Walthour belongs to many community organizations and set up a scholarship in honor of her son to help students.
“I feel so grateful to be chosen,” said Walthour, who was introduced by a former kindergarten student, Gwen McElroy.
Helen Cadoret, who founded Manasota SOLVE (Save Our Lives Volunteer in Every way), received the Outstanding Citizenship Award.
The award is given to those who demonstrate high standards of fairness, justice and King’s ideals.
The organization provides maternity homes and fosters education for young mothers. SOLVE is the only maternity home in Manatee County.
“To receive this award is indeed a joy and my heart is pumping overtime. We have a wonderful organization,” she said. “Please come visit our maternity homes and our staff. You can find out what we do and how we do it. We have beautiful newborn babies you can hold, hug and talk to.”
Johnny McKinney, owner of J&J Bar-B-Q, received the Seymore E. Sailes Small Business Owner Award.
“I used to work in the kitchen a lot, never knowing this was going to be my calling in life,” McKinney said, reflecting back on his family operated business that opened in 1979. “I appreciate the support all of you have given me over the years.”
McKinney also mentors youth, coaches youth sports and started a chess club at the 13th Avenue Community Center.
Manatee County Sheriff Brad Steube was honored with the Government Award, which is given to those who make a significant contribution to the community.
Steube spoke of the importance of discipline and encouraged nonviolence.
His message to parents and other role models was to lead by example. So often people show frustration and anger with children.
“That’s not the way we’re supposed to raise our children,” he said. “King said you don’t have to be aggressive. You’re supposed to show love.”
Alan Zirkelbach, who is a Palmetto commissioner and has a construction firm — Zirkelbach Construction — was awarded the Edgar H. Price Jr. Humanitarian Award.
The firm has given more than $1 million to civic organizations in the community over the years.
“There’s no way to be successful without giving back,” he said.
Also Friday, the ninth annual MLK essay and speech contest winners were recognized. The first-place winners read their essays.
— Executive Editor Joan Krauter contributed to this report.