Stars shine at annual banquet

County volunteers get recognized for their efforts

Tribune Chronicle / R. Michael Semple The 17th annual Community Stars banquet honored 12 people Tuesday for their volunteerism and contributions to the community. The dinner and awards program is sponsored by the Tribune Chronicle and Trumbull 100 and was held at St. Demetrios Banquet Center in Warren. Front row, from left, are Katylu Herriman, Joyce Jones, Mary Lou and Sal Mormando, and Bonnie Loomis. Back row, from left, are Jennifer Economos Sudzina, Joyce Polenick, Jay Wonders, Andrew Bednar, Sam Covelli, Teresa Webb and Debbie Hayes.

WARREN — Some had few words during their speeches, and others had many, but all the speeches shared a common sentiment: Volunteers are essential in the community and their projects help make Trumbull County a better place.

Twelve people were honored Tuesday during the 17th annual Community Stars dinner, a night Tribune Chronicle Publisher Charles Jarvis said set a new record with the largest crowd since the banquet’s inception. St. Demetrios Banquet Center was filled with family and friends of those honored, as well as some area elected officials and past recipients, who applauded and praised this year’s recipients.

Trumbull 100 President Wanda Thomas said the Community Stars event aligns with her organization’s mission of providing leadership and resources to projects that enhance the quality of life in Trumbull County.

“This event acknowledges the commitment of people in this community giving on a daily basis to make the community a better place for all of us,” Thomas said.

Jennifer Economos-Sudzina and Joyce Polenick were honored for their work in organizing “Light Up the Square” as a way to give back to the community while remembering Economos-Sudzina’s late father Jim Economos, who owned the Saratoga Restaurant. Jim Economos touched many through his business and his own volunteerism, his daughter said.

As the two women accepted their awards, a group of more than a dozen employees of Saratoga Restaurant and Catering came out from behind the scenes with colorful Christmas light necklaces strung around their necks.

“Dad loved Christmas and everything about the holiday,” Economos-Sudzina said. “He especially loved the lights. He would always remark that the twinkling of the lights looked like stars.”

Recipient Joyce Jones of Kinsman, who is battling cancer, had perhaps the largest amount of supporters as at least 50 people gave her a standing ovation and cheered as she accepted her honor. Jones, 75, was described as a hands-on and tireless volunteer. Jones volunteers regularly as a Ladies Auxiliary member of the American Legion Harry Lees Post 506 in Kinsman and at numerous dinners in the community, and she initiated the Christmas in Kinsman event.

Jones, who said her friends are dear and precious to her, thanked those who volunteer, plugged an upcoming chicken dinner and said she’d rather be out working.

“I am not a speaker and I would rather be in the kitchen cooking or cleaning dishes,” she said, eliciting laughter from the crowd.

Andrew Bednar was honored for his fundraising efforts for Howland Local Schools, which has resulted in nearly 500 scholarships totaling about $315,000 since 2007. He said it wouldn’t have been possible without the support of community and his family who taught him what it means to give back.

“They say it takes a village to raise a child. Well in our case, it takes a township,” Bednar said.

Sam Covelli, recognized for raising funds for the Joanie Abdu Comprehensive Breast Care Center, as well as numerous other organizations, said he was blessed to be born into a philanthropic family and that tradition is carrying on with his own children. The tireless service of so many in the community makes the Mahoning Valley a great place to call home, he said.

“President (Theodore) Roosevelt once said, ‘Do what you can, with what you have, where you are,'” Covelli said. “That’s exactly what these honorees tonight have done.”

Tribune Chronicle reporter Guy Vogrin, who introduced the night’s nominees, said after more than a decade of being a part of Community Stars with the Tribune Chronicle, he has come to recognize a quality among those who receive the annual honor.

“The one thing I notice is that each and every recipient recognizes the dignity of the human being and that is certainly hope for our future,” he said.

The honorees also included:

l Debbie Hayes of Warren for her work with Basement Outreach Ministries;

l Katylu Herriman of Warren for her decades of service with numerous organizations;

l Bonnie Loomis of Warren for her work with Girl Scouts;

l Mary Lou and Sal Mormando of Warren for their work in prison ministry;

l Teresa Webb of Bristolville for her work with various charitable causes; and

l Jay Wonders of Warren for his fundraising efforts for the Garrett Wonders Memorial Fund.