District 214 recognizes volunteers, supporters with Distinguished Service Awards

The board of education for High School District 214 has honored nine individuals with the district’s 2023-24 Distinguished Service Awards. The awards are presented annually to people — community partners, parents, volunteers and others — who have made significant contributions to the district and its students.

“The Distinguished Service Awards are meaningful because they demonstrate the many ways community members work with the district to support student success. District 214 is a community district in the very best sense, by the contributions of these award winners,” said District 214 Board of Education President Alva Kreutzer.

Superintendent Dr. Scott Rowe echoed that sentiment, saying: “All of our award recipients do exemplary work on students’ behalf, and we deeply appreciate that. And while their work is especially noteworthy, they’re not alone. We rely on the efforts of so many volunteers and partners to enhance our students’ learning experiences.”

The awards were presented at the March 14 board of education meeting.

The 2023-24 Distinguished Service Award honorees are:

• Kelly Behrens, applauded for years of helping District 214 students explore health science careers. As the volunteer manager at Northwest Community Hospital, now Endeavor Health, Behrens has offered D214 students the opportunity to participate in the hospital’s volunteer program — giving them exposure to various departments and responsibilities, insight into future career paths, and chances at scholarships, including one awarded by the NCH Foundation. Partnerships like these empower students and teach them the skills they need to succeed both personally and professionally.

• Michael Connors, recognized for helping local residents become U.S. citizens. Connors has volunteered with the Community Education Citizenship Program since September 2022, devoting more than 100 hours to date and helping more than 120 people become U.S. citizens. He conducts one-on-one mock interviews with legal permanent residents, individuals who have come to Illinois from all over the world, helping them prepare for naturalization interviews at the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services office.

• Manal Omar, thanked for her dedicated service to and leadership of the Buffalo Grove Parent Association (BGPA). Omar began volunteering for the BGPA from the minute her son entered Buffalo Grove High School as a freshman, and currently serves as the association president. Omar is forward thinking, always looking ahead to upcoming BGPA meetings, fundraisers and other opportunities for BGHS students. Organized and efficient, Omar is always the first to offer assistance when a need arises, and she does so with enthusiasm.

• Dale Elsner, celebrated for building community within the Elk Grove High School (EGHS) football program. Elsner has spent countless hours organizing Thursday-night pasta dinners for the team — and creating an atmosphere where the players felt supported, valued and part of a larger football family. Elsner also has served as a vital liaison between the youth football program and the high school. His outstanding dedication, leadership and community involvement has contributed to a positive culture within the EGHS football program.

• Retired U.S. Army Major General James H. Mukoyama, Jr., saluted for sharing his time and personal experiences with students at John Hersey High School. Mukoyama, a veteran of the Korean and Vietnam wars, has made a significant impact on the lives of students and staff alike during Hersey’s annual Veterans Day assembly. Emphasizing the importance of service and patriotism, his words have instilled in students an understanding of the sacrifices made by veterans and the importance of honoring their legacy.

• Dan Sommers, cheered for supporting student athletes and their families at Prospect High School. Sommers has proudly served as the Prospect Athletic Boosters president for six years. Under his leadership, the Boosters re-imagined their support of athletics during the pandemic — financially backing team book studies, virtual fitness opportunities and most impressively, helping families overcome food insecurity by donating grocery gift cards. Sommers also spearheaded a new membership vision for the Boosters organization that transformed the process and increased family interest.

• Arnie Quast, in the spotlight for helping Rolling Meadows High School students understand and access careers in the aviation industry. Quast, a pilot at United Airlines, has provided behind-the-scenes field trip experiences and career guidance for District 214 students. He takes time to personally meet with students and their parents, too. On his own time, he has taken students out to his local airport to give them a teaching flying experience on his personal airplane.

• Yeulanda Degala, thanked for leading efforts to provide assistance to local families. Degala created the nonprofit Good Neighbors Network in response to the need of District 214 communities during the COVID-19 pandemic. Last year, when the district’s Specialized Schools wanted to start a food pantry and clothing closet for families in need, Degala helped make the Care Corner a reality. On a regular basis, she continues to bring in food and clothing to replenish necessary items.

• Joseph Vito, commended for his multifaceted support of the Wheeling High School Mock Trial Team. Vito is a practicing attorney and has been a key member of the Mock Trial Team since 2019. Since then, Vito has attended almost every practice. He has provided formalwear for professional courtroom appearances, volunteered as a judge for competitions, and has hired two former Wheeling High School students as law clerks. Since 2019, the Wheeling Mock Trial program has expanded from 10 to 30 active members, helped immensely by Vito’s invaluable contributions.

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