All too often good deeds go unnoticed.
The Altoona Area Christian Coalition is trying to find signs of hope in a world of uncertainty.
"We wanted to find people that are working really hard to keep the city afloat," the Rev. Rebecca Zeek, pastor of the Twenty-Eighth Street Church of the Brethren said. "There are people in Altoona who are making a difference."
This is the second year for the Altoona Area Christian Coalition Signs of Hope awards, and the banquet will be held at 5 p.m. March 11 at the Greater Altoona Career and Technology Center. (It originally was scheduled for Feb. 11 but was canceled because of snowstorms.)
This year's winners are:
-- Michael Barnes, the leader of Saturday Night Live, a recovery support group.
-- Virginia Day, manager of Evergreen Manors, secretary of the local chapter of the National Association for the Advancement of COlored People and an active member of Mount Zion Missionary Baptist Church in Altoona.
-- Tom Irwin, longtime coach who works with children at the Gloria Gates Foundation and who is active with Habitat for Humanity and leads weekly religion classes.
-- Kate Prescott, coordinator of a Christmas project to provide gifts for underprivileged children.
"We felt all four of them equally demonstrated characteristics we were looking for," Zeek said.
The Altoona Area Christian Coalition looks for people in the community who are welcoming and hospitable, are kind and compassionate, advocate justice and mercy and are committed to the well-being of the community in tangible ways.
Although the award recipients have impacted the community greatly, they are humble about their accomplishments. Prescott, the Christmas project coordinator, could not believe she was chosen.
"My part in this is so small. I'm very humbled by this," Prescott said. But Prescott is a key player in the project, according to Toni Bilik-Bennetti, who nominated Prescott for the honor.
Bilik-Bennetti is the director of the Gloria Gates Foundation, the program for children at Evergreen Manors. The presents go to the children involved with the Gloria Gates Foundation.
The project began by Prescott asking her fellow parishioners at St. Therese of the Child Jesus Parish in Altoona to donate toys or clothing at Christmastime. Eventually she asked her co-workers at the Altoona Regional Health System blood bank laboratories.
"Kate single-handedly coordinates this effort, gathers the gifts and transports them to the folks who distribute them to very grateful families," Bilik-Bennetti wrote in the Signs of Hope nomination letter. Prescott said she enjoys helping the families and is shocked she's receiving an award.
"I think there are far more deserving people than myself," Prescott said.
Tom Irwin, Bishop Guilfoyle's football coach for more than 30 years, also enjoys helping children. Almost every day, Irwin plays basketball and other games with the kids in the Gloria Gates Foundation after-school program.
"My job is to just have fun with the kids," Irwin said. "I just really enjoy being with the kids. It's a real uplifting experience."
Irwin, who has been involved with the program since its inception, said he has enjoyed seeing the program blossom. Although Irwin has a passion for working with the Gloria Gates children, Irwin is involved in much more in the community, including Habitat for Humanity, St. Rose of Lima Catholic Church and the Pennsylvania Prison Society.
Irwin also teaches religion classes to special education students.
"It's about teaching the kids that God is good," said Irwin, who was nominated by Jean Bagley. "People have asked me to be involved in things, and I just say yes. Every time I say yes, my life is enhanced, and I become more aware about what is going on." Even though Irwin is involved in many community activities, he was still surprised he was nominated for an award.
Barnes of Altoona also was surprised to receive a Signs of Hope award.
"I was very surprised," Barnes said. He was nominated by the Rev. Betty Landis of Bethany Evangelical Lutheran Church. Landis describes Barnes as "a good example to young people, especially African American youth, from Altoona that your past does not have to hold you down."
Landis said Barnes has been through some hardships in his life, which Barnes did not expound upon, but he overcame them.
"He is committed to Altoona, and especially those in recovery who are trying to put their lives back together," Landis wrote in her nomination letter. Barnes leads a recovery support group called Saturday Night Live at Bethany.
For Barnes, receiving the award means he has to continue to make a difference in people's lives and lead by example.
"This award validates that good works do not go unnoticed, and this is truly a blessing for me and my family," Barnes said. "It makes me smile every time I think about it."
Day is another recipient who is dedicated to her church, as well as the community. A member of Mount Zion Missionary Church in Altoona, Day served as vacation Bible school teacher, church clerk, church treasurer, mass choir director, usher board member and trustee board member.
"It is her faith in God that motivates her to serve God not only in the church but the community at large. She is an inspiration to other women that one can serve God by serving their community," the Rev. Calvin Edmonds of Mount Zion Missionary Baptist Church wrote in his nomination letter.
Day is also secretary of the NAACP, a member of the Altoona Young Women's Christian Association, member of the Altoona Drug Task Force, a volunteer with the Domestic Abuse Shelter and a founding member of the Women Involved in Scholarship and Empowerment in Blair County.
Day credits her family with her community involvement.
"I came from a family that was very conscious about if you lived in a community, you became a part of the community," Day said. "I believe we all have a purpose to make this community so much better."