A 17-year-old who has helped more than 3,000 area youth become involved in various service opportunities … a New Jersey women who delivers hope for underprivileged children by providing them with books … an avid NASCAR fan who provides emotional healing for at-risk youth and families through animal-assisted activities … and an 83-year old Talladega, Ala.-native known across the region as “The Ice Cream Man” because of the many treats he delivers to deaf, blind and multi-disabled students.
And we thought the competition on the track was fierce in 2011.
The NASCAR Foundation announced today that the four individuals described above – Jake Bernstein, Patty Aber, Brenda Doner and Robert Weaver, respectively – are the four finalists for the inaugural Betty Jane France Humanitarian Award, which recognizes outstanding charitable and volunteer efforts of selfless NASCAR fans.
Finalists’ volunteer resumes will be showcased on a national scale as fellow NASCAR fans across the country vote to determine who should receive a 2012 Ford Explorer from Ford and $100,000 for the children’s charity of their choice from The NASCAR Foundation. Voting begins today and will run through midnight on Dec. 1 on NASCAR.COM. Betty Jane France will announce the winner during the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Awards Ceremony at Wynn Las Vegas on Friday, Dec. 2 (SPEED and MRN Radio, 9 p.m. ET), culminating the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Champion’s Week celebration in Las Vegas.
The Betty Jane France Humanitarian Award will honor the passionate commitment The NASCAR Foundation Chairwoman Betty Jane France has demonstrated on behalf of charities and community works throughout her life. France, the mother of NASCAR Chairman and CEO Brian France, is credited with creating the “Speediatrics” concept, a pediatric unit with a racing-themed décor at both the Halifax Health Medical Center in Daytona Beach, Fla., and the Homestead Hospital in Homestead, Fla.
“I love the age range in this finalist foursome – from 17-year-old Jake to 83-year-old Robert,” said Betty Jane France. “To see several generations of NASCAR fans represented here really honors our past, while also boosting our optimism for the future. Their good, meaningful work has benefited their respective communities greatly. And the fact that they also are NASCAR fans is something our entire industry can look to with pride.”
Bernstein, referred to as “The NASCAR boy” by his high school librarian, spends his time outside the classroom volunteering with Autism Speaks. Completing an astounding 100 volunteer hours per month, Bernstein is involved in everything from tutoring and coaching to organizing and directing free summer tennis clinics for youth with autism. To encourage his peers to get involved within the St. Louis community, Bernstein and his sister launched a website to help recruit youth to volunteer on projects throughout the area. President Obama recently recognized Bernstein’s devotion to community service for young people in a back-to-school address at a local high school in Washington, D.C. Bernstein considers Rusty Wallace and Kasey Kahne his favorite drivers, even carrying a photo of Wallace in his wallet.
Aber, a Middletown, N.J. resident, has devoted the last 30 years of her life to serving others, with more than 1,700 total volunteer hours served. Most recently, Aber has focused her time and efforts on the Bridge of Books Foundation, an organization that shares the world and all its possibilities with at-risk children through books. Aber also attends a number of NASCAR races each year, where she spends her time volunteering with The NASCAR Foundation and cheering on her favorite driver, Kasey Kahne.
Doner, a Columbus, Ohio native, contributes time to NASCAR charities such as The Victory Junction Gang Camp and the Martin Truex Jr. Foundation, in addition to working tirelessly for PBJ Connections, a non-profit organization she developed that provides emotional healing for at-risk youths with animal-assisted activities. Her innovative approach helps to improve self-esteem and foster healthy relationships with family and peers. Also an avid NASCAR memorabilia collector, Doner’s entire apartment is outfitted in NASCAR décor.
Weaver has been volunteering with the Alabama Institute for the Deaf and Blind Foundation (AIDB) for more than 50 years. In addition to his monthly charitable endeavors, the 83-year-old dedicates 30 hours a week to helping children in the organization. His many contributions range from creating intramural basketball teams and bowling programs to teaching students how to ride tricycles. Also a passionate NASCAR fan, Weaver was once able to pair his hobby and his volunteer work when his favorite driver, Darrell Waltrip, hosted the AIDB’s annual fundraiser in 1986 – thanks to a request from Weaver himself.
All four finalists were determined by The NASCAR Foundation Board of Directors, from hundreds of applicants whom all made a significant impact on the lives of children through volunteerism or charitable work during the last five years. They received expense-paid trips to Kansas Speedway this weekend. The winner of the inaugural Betty Jane France Humanitarian Award will receive an expense-paid trip to the 2011 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Champion’s Week in Las Vegas, in addition to the Ford Explorer and $100,000 to donate. The other three finalists will receive a $25,000 donation from The NASCAR Foundation to a children’s charity of their choice, as well as expense-paid trips to Las Vegas for Champion’s Week.
For more information about The NASCAR Foundation and the Betty Jane France Humanitarian Award, please visit NASCAR.COM/Unites.
- Age: 17
- Hometown: St. Louis, MO
- Charity: Autism Speaks
- Favorite Drivers: Rusty Wallace and Kasey Kahne
While most high school students spend their free time at the local movie theater or the mall, 17-year-old Jake Bernstein chooses to devote his time to Autism Speaks. Averaging an impressive 100 volunteer hours per month, Jake is involved in everything from tutoring and coaching to organizing and directing free summer clinics for St. Louis youth with autism. Jake’s drive to support the organization came after his family experienced an outpouring of support from the local community when Jake’s dad was deployed to North Carolina at Cherry Point on military reserves duty with the Marines. In an attempt to “pay it forward,” Jake began searching for volunteer opportunities for youth under the age of 18 in the St. Louis vicinity. Due to security, safety and liability concerns, many organizations were unable to welcome Jake and take him up on his generous offer to give back to the community. But that didn’t stop Jake; he was determined to help.
Recognizing a need for a youth volunteer database, and also hoping to empower his peers, Jake and his sister designed a regional website to help point local teens in the right direction. After meeting with St. Louis Mayor, Francis Slay, a host of non-profit agencies, museums, religious institutions and educational leaders, Jake launched www.stlouisvolunteen.com. In addition to his time spent each week populating the website, Jake is responsible for promoting volunteer opportunities and recruiting youth volunteers for projects throughout the region. Now averaging more than 1,000 visitors per day, www.stlouisvolunteen.com has become a valuable resource for youth seeking volunteer opportunities and those non-profit organizations hoping to fill vacancies. News about the website spread quickly and numerous cities have since asked for Jake’s help with similar websites. Jake has his sights set on his next project, www.volunteennation.com.
In addition to his success in the social media space, Jake organized the annual St. Louis Youth and Family Volunteer Fair, the nation’s only youth-coordinated volunteer fair. More than 35 non-profit organizations have participated and more than 3,000 youth have walked away with volunteer opportunities. From this volunteer networking event, Jake managed to inspire several youth on the autism spectrum to help with www.stlouisvolunteen.com events such as park cleanups, volunteer fairs and an annual tennis clinic for children with autism. Additionally, Jake spearheaded a 9/11 “Serve to Remember” park cleanup and community walk that honored those individuals that died in the September 11 attacks.
Even President Obama is aware of what Jake is doing for his peers. The President recently highlighted Jake’s accomplishments in a back-to-school address at Benjamin Banneker High School in Washington, D.C. Emphasizing America’s need for young people’s passion and ideas, President Obama praised Jake for his devotion to community service for young people.
While volunteerism is a huge part of his everyday life, Jake also highlights NASCAR as one of his greatest passions. Jake counts Rusty Wallace and Kasey Kahne as favorite drivers, even carrying a photo of Rusty Wallace in his wallet. Jake also credits Kasey Kahne for being his original inspiration for volunteering in the community. Kahne’s commitment to national service encouraged Jake to become involved. If Jake wins the Betty Jane France Humanitarian award, he will donate the $100,000 to Autism Speaks.
- Age: 44
- Hometown: Middletown, NJ
- Charity: Bridge of Books Foundation
- Favorite Driver: Kasey Kahne
Patty Aber’s love of volunteerism began more than 30 years ago, and her resume of service is proof enough. With more than 1,700 hours volunteered and thousands of children served within the last five years, Patty’s contributions are hard to put into perspective.
Patty’s passion lies with the Bridge of Books Foundation, an organization that helps bring the world and all its possibilities to underprivileged children in New Jersey through books. In the past two years alone, Patty has devoted more than 1,000 hours of service to help the volunteer-based foundation raise nearly $20,000 and collect approximately 50,000 books for donation to underprivileged children. Patty’s responsibilities include but are not limited to organizing book drives, maintaining databases to help track donations, serving as Foundation representative at community events, soliciting gift-in-kind donations and developing a successful volunteer program. According to her husband, Tom, “Patty is an inspirational humanitarian in every sense of the word.” Patty works nonstop to help the Bridge of Books Foundation achieve its mission of helping as many disadvantaged children as possible.
The Bridge of Books Foundation is a small piece of the puzzle when it comes to Patty’s volunteer repertoire. A selfless, dedicated and passionate volunteer for The NASCAR Foundation, Patty has provided more than 370 hours of volunteer service to the sport’s charitable arm. She currently holds the position of The NASCAR Foundation Lead Fan Ambassador for the Dover, Pocono and Watkins Glen regions. From selling NASCAR Day pins locally to organizing large-scale donation projects for The NASCAR Foundation, Patty’s work with the sport goes well beyond the call-of-duty.
Further illustrating her love of volunteerism and NASCAR, Patty has served as an active volunteer for the Kasey Kahne Foundation for more than three years. With approximately 130 hours of volunteer service, Patty has helped raise more than $500,000. The pinnacle of her accomplishments with the Kasey Kahne Foundation is a charity walk she organized in October 2010 in her local community in New Jersey. Raising more than $1,400 for the Foundation from the walk alone, Patty helped Ronald McDonald House Charities purchase a children’s mobile medical unit to be used in underserved communities throughout the United States.
Patty strives to attend five to ten NASCAR races per year, where she spends most of her time at the track volunteering with The NASCAR Foundation and cheering for her favorite driver, Kasey Kahne. If she wins the Betty Jane France Humanitarian Award, Patty will donate the $100,000 to the Bridge of Books Foundation, allowing the organization to expand and help children across the United States.
- Age: 52
- Hometown: Columbus, OH
- Charity: PBJ Connections
- Favorite Drivers: Martin Truex Jr., Jeff Burton, Max Papis
Brenda Doner, an avid NASCAR fan from Columbus, Ohio, has a volunteer resume that reads like Richard Petty’s driver stat sheet. But that’s not her only connection to the iconic NASCAR driver. Brenda devotes a great deal of her time to the The Victory Junction Gang Camp, a facility in Randleman, North Carolina that was built by Richard and Linda Petty to help terminally ill and chronically ill children. Additionally, Brenda supports the Foundations of some of her favorite NASCAR drivers, such as Martin Truex Jr., Ryan Newman and Greg Biffle, by devoting her time and resources to help further their causes.
While NASCAR is a theme on Brenda’s long list of volunteer accomplishments, her efforts stretch well beyond the world of racing. She helped build PBJ Connections from the ground up, which is an organization that is dedicated to help children cope with emotional and behavioral disturbances through equine-assisted activities. This innovative approach uses non-riding activities to help teach the children and their families how to control behaviors, improve self-esteem, gain insight into their issues and communicate more effectively. PBJ Dressage (named after a favorite horse) was the original horse training business run by the founders of PBJ Connections. When the therapy organization was developed, it was important to the founders to keep “PBJ” in the name. PBJ Connections became the natural name as the program works to help clients draw “connections” about how their behavior impacts those around them.
From a “Horsepower for Kids” campaign to an “Eddie’s Easter Brunch,” Brenda has done it all with PBJ Connections. Brenda helped create a unique summer program in 2011 called “Rocky’s Reading Room,” where kids were encouraged to read to horses and donkeys in a relaxed outdoor environment. By encouraging the children to read in this casual environment, Brenda hoped to inspire an interest in reading with the kids, an interest that she did not develop until her adult years. When asked why she has chosen to focus much of her attention on this particular organization, Brenda simply says, “It has been great experience to work with an organization at the ground level and in the ‘early days’ to help chart the course for the future and see ideas become reality.” The reality is that without Brenda, PBJ Connections would not be where it is today and would not have the same level of impact on hundreds of local children.
Brenda, who has been volunteering here, there and everywhere for much of the last nine years, says that she has been a tried and true NASCAR fan since the early 1980’s. She is a longtime member of the Richard Petty fan club and an avid NASCAR memorabilia collector. So much so that her entire apartment is completely outfitted in NASCAR décor. Should Brenda win the Betty Jane France Humanitarian Award, she will donate the $100,000 to PBJ Connections in an effort to further fund and support a host of programs currently in the works.
- Age: 83
- Hometown: Talladega, AL
- Charity: Alabama Institute for the Deaf and Blind Foundation (AIDB)
- Favorite Driver: Darrell Waltrip
Affectionately known by thousands of deaf students in Alabama as “The Ice Cream Man,” Robert Weaver has been delivering treats to children in need for 50 years. What originally started with a request to assist with weight training classes at the Alabama School for the Blind in 1960 has since blossomed into a five-decade relationship that is as strong as ever. At 83-years-old, and with more than 12,000 estimated campus visits under his belt, Weaver’s contributions to the Alabama Institute for Deaf and Blind (AIDB) have been life-changing to the organization’s deaf, blind, deaf-blind and multi-disabled students between the ages of three and 21-years-old. With such a widespread influence, even the best mathematicians would have a hard time estimating the vast number of lives Robert Weaver has touched. Even today, just seven years shy of his 90th birthday, Robert still manages to contribute more than 30 hours per week to his many charitable endeavors.
Robert’s dedication to volunteerism is as diverse as it is expansive. From creating intramural basketball at the Alabama School for the Deaf (ASD) and bowling programs at the Alabama School for the Blind (ASB) to teaching deaf-blind students at the Helen Keller School of Alabama how to ride tricycles, Robert truly is a jack of all trades. Once featured in Newsweek magazine’s “In Search for Outstanding Good Neighbor in America” series, Robert was instrumental in the construction of both a track and field facility and a prayer center for the AIDB. The Hawkins Chapel, the Institute’s center for prayer, worship, study and spiritual counseling, was completed with the help of Robert and his efforts to raise more than $200,000 to assist with the construction. To further complement his fundraising efforts, Robert organized an annual summer camp for deaf children, which this year alone, served more than 50 deaf children between the ages of eight and 18.
Robert has also created an endowment to help support preschoolers with special needs at Samford University’s Children’s Learning Center, which serves children ages six weeks through four-years-old. He provides clothes for children within the Alabama Baptist Children Home ministry, supports the Samaritan House of Talladega by donating food and provides scholarships for two Talladega High School athletes to attend the Gerald Wallace Basketball Camp. As a result of his dedication to the deaf community and a monetary donation that funded the construction of a 4,600 square foot chapel at Shocco Springs Baptist Conference Center, the chapel was named the Robert C. Weaver Chapel. Designed to meet the particular needs of the deaf, which includes special stadium seating with unobstructed views of the programs being presented in American Sign Language, the chapel was used by more than 700 youth for worship, music, mission endeavors and talent shows in its first three months of operation.
In addition to his charitable efforts, Robert is a well-known NASCAR fan and Darrell Waltrip supporter. He has been a loyal fan of the sport since 1969, when he attended the first-ever race at what is today Talladega Superspeedway. Robert has also shared his love of NASCAR with his friends at the Alabama Institute for Deaf and Blind. A chance meeting with his favorite driver, Darrell Waltrip, resulted in the NASCAR legend hosting AIDB’s annual RACE FEVER fundraiser in 1986. If Robert wins the Betty Jane France Humanitarian Award, he will donate the $100,000 to the Alabama Institute for the Deaf and Blind Foundation to further support their schools and students.