The City of Hickory celebrated unity and diversity at the 2014 Community Relations Council (CRC) Human Relations Awards event that coincided with the Sails Music Series in downtown Hickory on June 6.
Three 2014 Human Relations Award winners were honored for their efforts to promote positive human relations in the City of Hickory and beyond. Neal Orgain, the Chair of the CRC, presented the opening remarks and Mayor Rudy Wright congratulated the recipients at the conclusion of the event.
The youth award recipient, Toni Abernathy, serves on the Hickory Youth Council, a group of 25 area high school students who are appointed by the Hickory City Council to provide input on issues related to youth, learn about city government and perform community service projects. She served as Vice Chair for the 2012-2013 school year and was elected Chair of the Youth Council in May 2013.
In addition to her Youth Council activities, Abernathy has served as a Wyldlife leader for the past two years. She has been involved with the Black Achievers throughout her high school career, including one year as Vice President, and was named Black Achiever of the year two times. She interned at Jenkins Elementary School to help prepare students for their end of grade tests. Abernathy will continue her studies with a scholarship at East Carolina University next year.
The individual award was presented to Jo Ann Spees. In 1985, Spees and a group of other stay-at-home moms, along with the health educator from the Health Department, founded the Council on Adolescents (COA) of Catawba County to address the issue of teenage pregnancy in Catawba County. In 1990, Spees became the Executive Director of the Council. Through the initiatives of the COA, the Department of Social Services and the Department of Public Health, teen pregnancy in Catawba County is now at its lowest rate in history.
In 2007, Spees retired from COA and became the facilitator of Project Potential, a mentoring and scholarship program at Hickory High School for students that may have barriers to successfully realizing their educational potential. In addition, she served on the Board of Directors of Centro Latino for more than 12 years. Spees is an active member of Holy Trinity Lutheran Church and is a volunteer with the Patrick Beaver Learning Resource Center.
The organization award recipients are Bob and Becky Hart for their Hart Square nature preserve. The 40-plus acre tract of land is home to deer, Canadian geese, wood duck boxes, bird plots and a fishpond. The Harts are also responsible for the preservation of approximately 75 log structures. They have documented the history and background of each cabin and the lives of the people who built and occupied them.
The Harts established the Hart Square Foundation in 2001. The annual Hart Square Festival, which celebrates its 29th anniversary this October, has generated an approximate $10,000 donation to the Catawba County Historical Association and benefits other local organizations, as well.