Celebrate Federal Way's unsung heroes | Nandell Palmer

I Celebrate You is an event that honors the Federal Way community
I Celebrate You is an event that honors the Federal Way community's unsung heroes.
— image credit: Courtesy photo

The nomination process for I Celebrate You 2011 is under way. Every year, it has become a bittersweet moment for a few nominators. I definitely feel their pain. What is that criterion that puts an individual over the top in a lineup of several caring people?

Singling out special people for honor is like going to a buffet: everything looks good, but you cannot eat it all. Some people have so many individuals to thank that it becomes overwhelming.

I’ve noticed a pattern every year. There’s that one person’s name that keeps showing up as a nominee in different entries. In 2009, it was Eugene Montgomery. Last year it was Hope Elder, and this year it’s Nancy Jaenicke of Reach Out Federal Way. These people are truly loved and admired.

From what I have read from this year’s nominations, our unsung heroes’ life stories are quite moving. One single mother adopts four children from a distant land. Another visits the sick and shut-ins year round, cooking for them and grooming them. Some dedicate their time to feeding and housing the homeless.

Something new will happen this year. Four teenagers will receive special awards for community service, named for four outstanding Federal Way gift-givers: Bob Wroblewski, Janice Siebenaler, Megan Johnson and Brenda Burke. A Mayoral Award is reserved for yet another selfless community leader, who shall remain nameless for now.

Kailee Kelliher of Lakota Middle School will receive one of these coveted awards for swapping her birthday gifts yearly for canned goods, then donating the items to the food bank — since she was 5 years old.

I look forward to meeting the new batch of honorees this year. I cannot wait to put names to faces, and see the joy etched on loved ones’ faces. As I prepare for the event, I’m reminded of an oft-quoted maxim: “Never put off until tomorrow what you can do today.”

For a long time, saying thank you to my fourth-grade teacher, Miss Martin, did not seem to generate enough oomph. I wanted to pay tribute to her in a special way. Procrastination can be the thief of time, so I hurried to get it done while she was still alive — hale and hearty.

My aim was to have people from every continent, via a letter-writing campaign, help me celebrate the stellar service of my dear Miss Martin to her students over the years.

Within a few weeks, I got letters brimming with heartfelt sentiments from Queen Elizabeth, Archbishop Desmond Tutu, engineers in Antarctica, academics in Asia, and business executives in the Americas for my teacher. It appeared that everybody had a Miss Martin.

Archbishop Tutu wrote at length about how, as a street urchin in South Africa, he was rescued by his revered teacher, Father Huddleston. Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth also showered her former teachers and Miss Martin with praises.

Those beautiful letters were embossed into a portfolio and presented to a flabbergasted and grateful teacher at an event held in her honor.

Today, the retired Miss Martin is active in after-school programs, volunteering her time to help others.

Whenever people ask me how best to honor their loved ones, my answer is that it can be as simple as making breakfast for two — or as elaborate as a 5-star hotel shindig for 500.

I’m glad I seized the moment to say thanks to my teacher. Because from that treasure trove of gratitude, the public display of celebrating others was birthed.

I Celebrate You 2011 will be held at 6 p.m. Saturday, Nov. 19, at Our Saviors Baptist Church, 701 S. 320th St., Federal Way. The event is free and open to the public.

Succulent food, giveaways, lively entertainment, and motivational speeches will highlight the evening. Contact me to nominate that special someone today.

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