Melody Wattenbarger, director of the Roadrunner Food Bank, and homeless advocate Ralph DiPalma are among the five people who are due to receive the inaugural Spirit of Albuquerque award at a luncheon at the Embassy Suites Hotel this week.
The awards were created to honor Albuquerque residents who dedicate their time and energy to endeavors that benefit others. All were featured in articles that appeared in the Journal. Their awards will be presented by the Journal reporters who wrote the articles.
Melody Wattenbarger will be recognized for leading the Roadrunner Food Bank for 14 years and dramatically increasing the amount of food the organization gives out. In a recent piece published in the Albuquerque Journal, Melody spoke about the impact of the economic crisis on the Albuquerque community.
Ralph DiPalma (affectionately known as "Brother Ralph") was honored for his work on behalf of the homeless, including an annual blanket drive and a weekly food and music program in Downtown Albuquerque.
The three other recipients are:
D'Wayne Begay, who launched a program that teaches people in wheelchairs how to play tennis.
Elisa Jaramillo, for looking beyond a chronic illness and volunteering her time and energy to charities and activities at Rio Rancho High School.
Albuquerque police officer Carol Oleksak, for her remarkable recovery after she was shot in the head by a mentally ill suspect and for her equally remarkable spirit of forgiveness. She now advocates for better care and treatment of the mentally ill.
These dedicated individuals were also honored before the Albuquerque Isotopes' second playoff game against Memphis. They each had the opportunity to throw out "the first pitch."
"They have expected nothing in return for all of their efforts and time they have put into improving the community," Michael Zientek, chairman of the chamber's board of directors, told the Albuquerque Journal. "Each one of them is truly inspiring and we are so happy to be able to recognize them at this luncheon."
The awards are sponsored by the Greater Albuquerque Chamber of Commerce, the Albuquerque Journal, the city of Albuquerque, Comcast and the Sandia Science and Technology Park Development Corp.