Caregivers honored at sixth annual Senior Hero Awards ceremony


Various caregivers and caregiving agencies across Clark County were honored for their efforts to serve the local senior citizen population at the sixth annual Senior Hero Awards ceremony.

Benjamin Surmi, the director of education and culture at Koelsch Communities, served as the master of ceremonies during the event which was held at the Pearson Air Museum in Vancouver on July 13. 

Three previous award winners helped kick the ceremony off. They included Lynn Crawford, Meagan Hope and Ralph Heiser.

“The one thing that I got from winning (the community hero) award was community,” Hope said to the audience. “The community has been awesome.”

Hope shared a story of a caregiver she worked with whose “marriage was on the rocks” because of the time he devoted to taking care of another loved one. With some mentoring from other experienced, professional caregivers, Hope was able to place that man’s loved one in a home. Because of that, he is still married to his spouse, Hope said. 

“(We do this) because of the stories that we don’t hear unless you’re in this business,” said Julie Williams, who is the chair of the Senior Hero Awards planning committee. “If you’re in this business, then you hear these stories all the time. You want people to know and you want to share what you see and what you experience, and caregivers are struggling. Family caregivers and others in the health care community right now are equally stressed because of shortages and everything else.”

Williams said the event is in part dedicated to recognizing the caregivers who go “above and beyond,” whether they’re doctors, nurses, individual caregivers or businesses. 

Three Caregiver of the Year awards were presented at the event. They went to Cheryl Nuzum, from Elfin Services, Inc.; Olivia Donaldson, from The Doctor’s Inn; and Carol Byers, who independently cares for her 49-year-old daughter.

The Healthcare Professional awards were given to registered nurse Heather Nelson, who works at The Hampton at Salmon Creek; and Jessica Chan, an osteopathic doctor, who works at the Vancouver Clinic.

Jodie Zelazny, who works at both Community Home Health & Hospice and the nonprofit A Caring Closet, was chosen as the recipient of the Senior Champion Award. 

The Community Hero Award was given to Christina Keys, from Loving Them Forward and 

Caregiving organizations were also given awards. Mikey’s House Team received the for-profit Senior Focused Organization Award and the Elder Justice Center received the nonprofit version of the award. 

The Michael R. Wilson Caring Heart Award, which is named after its namesake of a well-known community member who died last year in a car accident, was given to Westby Associates, Inc., for its fundraising efforts to help seniors in the community. Wilson was a senior associate at Westby. 

The final award was the Pat Jollota Leadership Award, which was given to Eric Erickson, who works for CDM Caregiving Services. Erickson has worked in a variety of senior caregiving businesses like the Northwest Washington Agency on Aging in Bellingham and the Southwest Washington Agency on Aging in Vancouver. He has been the executive director for CDM since 2001. 

The event also honored members of the planning committee, which included Williams, Dick Halvorson, Pat Jollota, and Debbie Russell.

Several organizations and individuals were also provided with grants and gift cards at the event. 

Williams was impressed by the turnout of the awards ceremony.

“I thought it was great,” Williams said. “I thought it was well-received and people enjoyed themselves.”


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