After 15 years of honoring Healthcare Heroes, the Williamsburg Health Foundation has changed its awards to recognize residents across various fields who are champions for local health and well-being.
Last week, the foundation presented awards to Reed Nester, Jim Elder and the Virginia Legacy Soccer Club for increasing opportunities for physical activity and lifelong wellness in the community. They share zeal for helping Greater Williamsburg get on the move.
“Today marks an ending. It also marks a beginning,” said Jeanne Zeidler, foundation president and CEO, at an awards breakfast Thursday.
Zeidler said her organization – which was formed in 1996 and awards millions of dollars in grants annually to support area programs – saw a chance to broaden its award scope to include all of the individuals and organizations that work to leave a legacy of improved health. It will no longer name “Healthcare Heroes,” an award started in 1999, but instead give Williamsburg Health Foundation Awards.
“This work does not depend solely on those in the medical field. It depends on all of us,” Zeidler said.
Reed Nester, director of planning for the City of Williamsburg, has been a longtime advocate for cycling in the Historic Triangle, both as a recreational activity and as a primary means of transportation. He got into cycling with his family in the 1990s, and saw firsthand what the area was lacking in terms of a coordinated system for safe riding.
With his help, more than 70 miles of bike routes have been added throughout the area and all three localities have updated their piece of the Regional Bicycle Facilities Plan — a guiding document started in 1993 — to improve the system of bike lanes, shared-use paths, and other infrastructure. Last year the City of Williamsburg was named one of eight Virginia cities to earn a Bicycle Friendly Community award from the League of American Bicyclists, the first in Hampton Roads to receive the honor.
“It is nice to have a job where I’m able to do something good about something I’ve very passionate about: cycling,” Nester said at the breakfast.
Award winners will receive $5,000 each from the foundation to put toward a cause of their choosing, and Nester has contributed his to the City of Williamsburg’s Economic Development Authority. The EDA plans to match that sum for grants to local businesses to install bike racks, an extension of the City’s work to add racks in public spaces.
“While a lot has been achieved in the last 20 years, we have as much to do in the future as we have done already,” Nester said.
As the owner of the Colonial Sports store, Jim Elder is the face of physical activity on a regular basis, whether it is selling a child her first tennis racket or fitting a resident for running shoes in retirement.
Twice a year he directs races that involved community members of all ages, the Run the D.O.G. 5K and Sentara Sleighbell 5K.
Elder works to create family-oriented events that emphasize the value of aerobic activity for residents ages 5 to 85, supporting Williamsburg-James City County Public Schools’ School Health Initiative Program to instill healthy habits early on.
“If I can get your child excited about running, and running’s easy, maybe you’ll go out with them,” Elder said in a video played at Thursday’s awards.
Elder is giving his $5,000 to Avalon: A Center for Women and Children and Angels of Mercy medical clinic.
The award to Virginia Legacy Soccer Club honored the organization’s commitment to providing children of many ages and economic backgrounds the chance to play soccer through its Community Partnership Program. Legacy works with WJCC Public Schools, SHIP and James City County Parks and Recreation, along with volunteer coaches from the College of William & Mary, for soccer programs serving hundreds of young players.
Co-founder Al Albert said the growth of the program since its start in 2003 would not be possible without the support of the Williamsburg Health Foundation. The award money will go toward furthering its mission into the future.
Bobby O’Brien, Legacy’s Technical Director, said getting children involved in soccer has more than athletic benefits. In the awards video, he said Legacy programs promote eating healthy – for best possible performance on the field – and motivate players to keep their grades up so they can participate now and at the next level. More than 300 Legacy members have gone on to play collegiate soccer.
To close Thursday’s program, Williamsburg Health Foundation Board of Trustees Chairman Douglas Myers said he hopes attendees left with the understanding that there are many kinds of heroes who work together to better health.
“Nothing happens in isolation,” he said. For more information about the Williamsburg Health Foundation, visit its website.
The Williamsburg Health Foundation, a private non-profit organization, supports programs that improve the health of people living in Williamsburg and surrounding counties. The Foundation was formed in 1996. Since then it has given more than $60 million to support community health programs in the area.