FAIRMONT - Lorraine Balske's life has been a testament to her commitment to her community and her love of education. She has been honored locally for her work with students, with a Friend of Education award and her volunteerism, with the Martin County Outstanding Senior Citizen Award.
But this month, Balske's work has earned her accolades from a wider audience.
She has been named National Volunteer of the Year by Dollars for Scholars National Office.
Balske won the regional recognition in May for her service to the Fairmont chapter of the organization, and then won out over representatives from the other 1,140 chapters across the country. The award recognizes volunteers who are instrumental in successfully guiding the course of their chapter in a significant and beneficial way.
According to Scholarship America - the organization that oversees Dollars for Scholars - honorees are evaluated based on: exemplary involvement with chapter and programs; efforts to promote and strengthen the chapter's work in the community; and exemplary advocacy for education, students, and promotion of scholarships.
The organization credits Balske with the growth of her chapter.
"Thanks to her tremendous work ethic and commitment, Fairmont Dollars for Scholars has nearly doubled its awards in the last decade alone, awarding 123 scholarships totaling $101,800 in 2010," they said. "Lorraine's enthusiasm and positive attitude has helped encourage many community members to establish scholarships. As a generous donor to the chapter, her gifts have funded many scholarships for Fairmont students."
Spending up to 30 hours per week as secretary for the organization, Balske told the Sentinel in May she does the work because she loves it.
"I am honored to have received this award," she said. "Volunteering my time for the Fairmont Dollars for Scholars program is rewarding for me. I believe in the program because it helps kids reach their career goals."
Balske plans to retire from her duties as secretary after 32 years in the position, but said she will remain active on the board.
Whoever replaces the position will have big shoes to fill, according to chapter president Sherwood Sagedahl
"Lorraine has been an inspiration to all of us on the Fairmont Dollars for Scholars board," he said. "Her leadership and commitment to the chapter are major reasons the chapter has experienced success. Many board members have come and gone these past 32 years, but Lorraine has been the person who has made things run smoothly. Since she recently decided to remain a board member, but to step down as board secretary, we have a big hole to fill."
As National Volunteer of the Year, Balske will receive a $1,000 scholarship for her chapter, in addition to the $300 scholarship she received as the regional volunteer of the year winner.