Community assets

Local organizations honor Steamboat's outstanding volunteers

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— The name Pio Utu not only brings smiles to the faces of many in Steamboat, it also brings warm hearts.

If he wasn't at the soccer game it's because he was coaching sixth-grade intramural sports. And if he wasn't out mentoring a child, it's because he was out giving a hand to another.

This man of many talents does not go unappreciated, but Tuesday night screams of delight belted through Emerald City when Utu received a Volunteer of the Year Award.

"I do a lot of ambition work. I was born with that," Utu said. "I am Samoan by background and it was expected of us to serve kids. It's an honor to do that for kids."

At the first annual Community Volunteer Recognition Ceremony, time was allotted to 13 different volunteer agencies in Routt County to give appreciation for outstanding volunteers.

But the volunteer recognized as the most outstanding, who does not serve on any boards or committees, was Utu.

And as a surprise to both Utu and Steamboat Springs High School senior Ben Beall, who received the Youth Volunteer of the Year Award, both were honorably mentioned and given a plaque for recognition.

"He's not your traditional volunteer. He's not on boards or not with, 'organized agencies,' but he's always at sporting events," Beall said. "If you look on the sideline, there's Pio."

The 46-year-old Samoan man sat with his wife and twirled his thumbs with his head down and a smile on his face.

Although he did not know of this special award, Utu knew by Beall's words that he was receiving outstanding recognition.

But through Beall's presentation, Utu kept a humble mood and a strong stature, exemplifying an honorable volunteer.

And in the middle of Beall's presentation, was it a tear of honor that Utu cleared before running down his face, or was it just an itch?

Either way, sniffles among the crowd were not uncommon.

Utu, owner of Strong Arm cleaning company, said his helping hand isn't anything unusual. This Samoan was born to help others.

"It's the thing we're supposed to do. It's my duty as a father," Utu said in broken English about his volunteer time. "This is what's good and honorable about the high school."

While volunteering time and energy with children was something generations before him had taught other Samoans, it's quite a breath of fresh air for American families.

Beall, also co-chair of Assets of Routt County, chose and presented the award to Utu. Utu, along with more than 60 other community volunteers, were invited and acknowledged with a special token and words of praise from the agency to which they belong.

Agencies, organizations, programs, all Routt County residents and children who have benefited from and depend on volunteers were invited to attend the special reception.

For the first year of the volunteer recognition, Millie Beall, executive director for Routt County United Way, said she hopes the event is rewarding enough to make it an annual occurrence.

"I think people need a shot in the arm," Beall said.

Each organization or agency chose between one and six volunteers to recognize for their hard work and dedication.

Gretchen Van De Carr, who runs the Rocky Mountain Youth Corp., said she thought she was there for her time spent with Partners in Routt County, but her list is long.

"Of all the boards I sat on, and there have been a lot, without the volunteer effort, they wouldn't exist," Van De Carr said as Liz Leipold nodded her head in agreement.

"I could not run this program without volunteers," Leipold said of the Horizons Alpine Ski Program that she has coordinated for 22 years. "I have about 50 volunteers. They give their heart and soul."

Although screams of excitement struck volunteers in Emerald City when Ben Beall presented Utu with the Volunteer of the Year Award, the crowd was not shocked that it was he who was honored.

"Everyone knows him, he's one of the nicest guys you'll ever meet," Beall said.

In a letter to potential colleges, Beall submitted, "The Man I Hope to Become," a synopsis of Utu's affect on Beall's life, which he read to the crowd Tuesday night.

"He will stop and talk to you about your life, give you pointers on what you need to do for a big game or will travel for three hours in order to watch a game in which he has no children of his own," Beall wrote. "In Steamboat Springs, every child is Pio's."

Of the 40 assets that Assets values, Utu exemplifies them all, Millie Beall said. For example, dual respect. If adults want children to treat them with respect, they need to give children that same respect, she said.

"Of all the outstanding volunteers, he just shoots to the top," she said. "He's just selfless of offering his time and his energy. The guy is cool."

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