It will be a night of celebration and recognition on Friday, Jan. 18 at the Gene Bianchi Community Center in Oakdale, as the Oakdale Chamber of Commerce hosts its 73rd Annual Awards Night. The event is scheduled from 6 p.m. to 9 p.m.
Among the recognition to be presented is the Citizen of the Year, with Cherilyn Bairos, Fred Rich and Barbara Vasko the nominees. The night will also include recognition in a number of other categories: Junior Achievement, Large Business, Community Service and Small Business. The Small Business nominees can be found in this week’s issue, on Page A5. The Thompson sisters are scheduled to receive the Lifetime Achievement Award.
As far as the citizen nominees, the trio has been actively involved in making Oakdale a better place to live and work. Following is information on the nominees, listed in alphabetical order.
Cherilyn Bairos lives and breathes Oakdale. She has been instrumental in creating some new programs in Oakdale, including the new Oakdale Soccer Club, organizing multiple fundraisers for the Club, and spearheaded the Annual Oakdale Christmas Parade, helped organize the 125th Oakdale High School Reunion, organized donation runs to victims of the Camp Fire and the Oakdale Clothing Drive just in time for the new school year’s start. She participates and actively promotes nearly all of the community events in town and more often than not attends those events.
She spearheaded the inaugural Oakdale Christmas Parade in 2017. She loved the Downtown Christmas event put on by the merchants and wanted to bring a little more Christmas cheer with a parade of our own. It was widely appreciated because the Second Annual Oakdale Christmas Parade had five times more entries than the previous year. She loves parades and wanted to give residents a place to go beside out of town. The parade was successful at bringing more people to downtown to enjoy the festivities. She’s a big advocate for the community and every chance she gets tries to increase the success of community events like Downtown’s Old Fashioned Christmas.
The creation of the Oakdale Soccer Club provided positive and safe opportunities to children from age four through 18 a chance to play soccer. Bairos, along with her family worked tirelessly to advertise, coordinate, fundraise and provide Soccer Club activities for over 650 children in the community. It’s a very successful sport club in Oakdale. It’s great at bringing the community together, from children pre-school and up, including parent coaches, and the player’s parents who volunteered to help with the fundraising events, at each game with the Snack Shack while also helping with the kids. The club has brought together children and adults that promote community and team work.
Bairos says she loves Oakdale and prides herself in collaborating with others. Her community spirit and involvement is unmatched. She is the best ambassador our community could have. She’s great at connecting people and helping with great causes.
Fred Rich has dedicated much of his life to helping others. He began his career in education by teaching elementary school and went on to Vice Principal, Principal, Deputy Superintendent and finally Superintendent before he retired. He continues to dedicate endless hours to nonprofit work within the community with groups like Community Sharing, Oakdale Educational Foundation and his church Community Christian Reformed Church.
Rich is currently a board member of Oakdale Educational Foundation. He is vital to their efforts in securing donors, raising sponsorship money and acquiring live and/or silent auction items. Oakdale Educational Foundation fundraising goes directly to Oakdale classrooms in technology, teaching materials and enrichment programs. Oakdale Educational Foundation donated approximately $89,300 to the Oakdale Unified School District in 2018. OEF group agrees they couldn’t have raised this much money without Rich.
His work with Community Sharing makes a major impact to low income families in Oakdale that rely on community sharing for food. Oakdale Community Sharing provides families with an average of 35 pounds of food per visit. Through their direct distribution they reach approximately 2,700 families per year. Oakdale Community Sharing is supported only by volunteers and it takes over 40 volunteers to run the once weekly donation day. This year for Christmas close to 300 families, representing well over 700 people in need, had a proper Christmas meal provided through the Oakdale Community Sharing Christian Center.
Rich is currently the president of Community Sharing. He is responsible for the coordination of all volunteers and ensuring that jobs are complete. He also participates in food pickup, distribution and administrative work. Community Sharing is open 51 weeks a year and feeds an average of 230 families per week. Rich takes all this experience and manages this program with grace. He’s a champion for our community and works to ensure everyone has the basics in life including a good education.
Barbara Vasko has selflessly donated her time to not just one but two non-profit organizations. Oakdale Community Sharing Christian Center and ASTRO Foundation pet rescue. Vasko has been a resident of Oakdale for 20 years. She is the wife of Mark Vasko, and they have been married for 52 years. She is a loving mother and grandmother. She is also the caregiver for her father who resides at Astoria Senior Living here in Oakdale. Vasko loves animals and has horses, cats, dogs and chickens all residing at her charming country home. She is generous, kind, thoughtful and caring. She is a gracious neighbor and friend to all. People always feel comfortable in her presence and she has the gift of bringing people together.
Vasko (along with co-manager, Louise Sanders) started running the ASTRO Thrift & Gift Shop in 2015. With her creative flair and gift for merchandising and networking she helped grow the shop into a thriving fundraising center that it is today. She donated thousands of hours each year to ensure ASTRO Foundation would have the funding it needs to continue rescuing homeless pets of our community. At the ASTRO Thrift & Gift Shop, Vasko was responsible for a variety of tasks, including receiving and sorting donations, merchandising and displaying donations, managing volunteers and was in charge of sales and marketing of the Thrift Shop.
In 2018, the ASTRO Foundation was able to rescue and adopt out approximately 500 homeless pets. Many of these pets were rescued from the City of Oakdale Animal Shelter, helping reduce the burden on the small shelter. Rescue is an expensive endeavor considered the cost of food, veterinary care, vaccines and medications, spay/neuter, micro chipping, etc. None of this would be possible without the monies raised by the ASTRO Thrift & Gift Shop, the dedication of its volunteers and the generosity of the City of Oakdale and its community. Vasko raised the thrift shop from a gloomy abandoned city building to a quaint and charming shopping boutique that for many animal lovers, felt like home away from home.
At Oakdale Community Sharing Christian Center, Vasko donates her time alongside other volunteers every Tuesday interacting with needy families of Oakdale to ensure they receive the help they need primarily in the form of groceries or food weekly. She also provides resources to these families for other needs. She has been helping guide these families since 2013.
Oakdale Community Sharing Christian Center has helped approximately 240 local families every week. For these families, this assistance means the difference in whether a child goes to bed hungry. Every person’s birthday is honored with baked goods, providing some joy where there otherwise might not have been. Oakdale Community Sharing Christian Center also offers a wardrobe and small appliance closet for those who need such items. The organization provides an invaluable service for the people of our community. Vasko meets with families every week to assess their needs and determine how best to help meet those needs. She is a resource coordinator and a friend to needy families.
For more information about the 73rd Annual Awards Dinner, contact the Chamber of Commerce at 2090-847-2244. Tickets are $40 pre-sale and $50 at the door.