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12:56 PM Sun, Sept. 23rd

YCCF honors philanthropists at Joy of Giving dinner

Top, left to right: Dr. Don Hecht, Gladys Gardner and Elisabeth Ruffner. Bottom, left to right: Marissa Harris, Madelyn Melchiors, and Rick Streett and Dennis Edwards of Cable One.

Top, left to right: Dr. Don Hecht, Gladys Gardner and Elisabeth Ruffner. Bottom, left to right: Marissa Harris, Madelyn Melchiors, and Rick Streett and Dennis Edwards of Cable One.

Dr. Don Hecht has been selected as Philanthropist of the Year, Gladys Gardner has been chosen for the Community Benefactor award, and Elisabeth Ruffner will receive the Philanthropic Leadership Award from the Yavapai County Community Foundation at YCCF's 2009 Joy of Giving celebration.

Also to be recognized are Marissa Harris, Madelyn Melchiors and Cable One for providing valuable philanthropic services to the nonprofit community in Yavapai County.

YCCF will donate $1,000 in each honoree's name to the nonprofit of their choice.

YCCF named Dr. Don Hecht as Philanthropist of the Year for his extensive, multifaceted generosity in support of numerous nonprofits serving the residents of Yavapai County. Founder and president emeritus of Northcentral University, this year Hecht became one of only three philanthropists ever to reach "Memory Maker" status at Yavapai Big Brothers Big Sisters, indicating he has donated at least $250,000 to the organization. His support of YBBBS includes contributions made to elementary school mentoring programs and a gift that supplied all new furniture to the organization's new 5,000-square-foot facility. His contributions to the Jewish Community Foundation of Greater Prescott are equally generous. Hess has served as a charter member of the foundation's Jewish Community Council for Strategic Planning since its inception and gives regularly to the Temple B'rith Shalom. In January 2008, he underwrote a legacy event for the foundation that brought violin virtuoso Itzhak Perlman to the area, and earlier this year Hecht sponsored a national initiative to organize ethical leadership courses for judges based on the lessons of the Holocaust.

"In the Jewish faith, the term for charity is Tzedakah - Don is the essence of Tzedakah," said David Hess, M.D., president of the Jewish Community Foundation of Greater Prescott. "He is a man of great integrity, vision, and he is blessed with a giving heart. I can think of no one else in our community who so justly deserves this award."

Hecht is also a primary sponsor of annual events such as the Prescott Valley Kinetic Sculpture Race and the Bradshaw Mountain Special Olympics, giving both his time and money. Additional projects and organizations to benefit from his philanthropy include the Yavapai College Foundation, the Prescott Frontier Days Rodeo, Trauma Intervention Programs of Arizona Inc. and the Town of Prescott Valley's new library.

The Community Benefactor Award was granted to Gladys Gardner, who established the Education Scholarship Endowment of Yavapai County, which awards scholarships to public school graduates attending accredited teacher education programs. Since Gardner launched this endowment in 2001, $135,000 has been distributed among 62 scholarship recipients, and the fund will continue to grow for the perpetual benefit of local teachers in training. Gardner was an elementary school teacher herself, beginning her career in a one-room schoolhouse in Texas. Since that time, she has served as a Yavapai County Supervisor and Yavapai County Representative in the state legislature.

"Because of her generosity, her dedication and determination, dozens of persons representing almost every community in Yavapai County have been able to fulfill their career ambitions of becoming educators," said Yavapai County Superintendent of Schools Tim Carter. "I can say without hesitation or reservation that Gladys Gardner, through investing her personal funds to help resolve a known public education need, is serving not only the current students who are recipients of the awards, but also generations of young people to come."

The special recognition of the Philanthropic Leadership Award will go to Elisabeth Ruffner. Ruffner first came to Arizona in 1940 and, since that time, she has been a dogged advocate for local history, serving as founding president of the Heritage Foundation of Arizona where she was instrumental in rescuing more than 700 of Prescott's historic buildings. She has also served as founding president of Yavapai Heritage Foundation, the Prescott Area Arts and Humanities Council and Friends of Arizona Highways.

In addition to her work preserving history, Ruffner has dedicated countless hours as a steward of Prescott's libraries, winning such awards as Trustee of the Year from the American Library Association and the Rosenzweig Award from the Arizona State Library Association. She has also been a recipient of The Cultural Achievement Award from the United States Department of the Interior, The Arizona Culture Keepers Award, the Prescott Business and Professional Woman's Club Woman of the Year and Arizona Historical Society's History Maker award.

Currently, Ruffner hosts both a radio and a public television program and serves on the board of organizations and special projects including the Elks Opera House Foundation capital campaign, Prescott Area Coalition for Tourism, Prescott Downtown Partnership and Prescott Area Arts and Humanities Council.

Marissa Harris and Madelyn Melchoirs were both chosen to receive the Youth Services Award. Marissa Harris has spent the last five years volunteering in various capacities, including participating in road clean-ups and food drives, gathering donated baby items for the House of Ruth and selling tickets for Heavenly Hat Day, which benefits programs that support children with cancer. Following Marissa's graduation from Camp Verde High School in May, she volunteered to become an AmeriCorps VISTA member, and has since committed 300 hours of volunteer time serving Beaver Creek School District, tutoring students and helping with their summer program.

At 17, Madelyn Melchoirs has already logged a total of 2,391 volunteer hours for a community nonprofit called Horses with H.E.A.R.T. The organization provides therapeutic equestrian programs to people with disabilities, and as an avid horse rider (she competes in the Arizona High School Rodeo Association), Madelyn has worked to help the horses and the cause. Her volunteer activities include assisting as a safety support team member for riders, training new volunteers, schooling and maintaining the horses and assisting with the Special Olympics Equestrian Team - a responsibility that requires weekly Saturday practices and attendance at horse shows lasting up to 12 hours each. She sits on Horses with H.E.A.R.T.'s Fundraising & Program Committee and has developed and executed several highly successful fundraising ideas in addition to writing grant proposals for the nonprofit.

YCCF honors Cable One with the Business Philanthropist Award for its extensive support of area nonprofits such as Yavapai Big Brothers Big Sisters. For the last 12 years, the company has assisted YBBBS through numerous contributions, from donating e-mail service to the organization, to donating public service announcements promoting YBBBS's annual fundraisers. Cable One employees participate as "bigs" and General Manager Dennis Edwards served on the YBBBS Board of Directors. In the last year alone, Cable One has not only served YBBBS, but organizations including the Salvation Army, American Diabetes Association, Yavapai Food Bank, Heritage Park Zoological Sanctuary and the Children's Miracle Network.

The recipients will be honored by YCCF at its annual Joy of Giving Awards dinner sponsored by Blue Cross Blue Shield of Arizona. This ceremony will be held on Friday, Nov. 13, at 6:30 p.m. in the Sedona/Verde Ballroom at the Prescott Resort in Prescott. The public is invited to attend and reservations can be made by contacting Traci Corey at 499-9795 or tcorey@azfoundation.org.

The Yavapai County Community Foundation is a 16-year-old permanent philanthropic endowment for the enduring benefit of the community. It secures, manages and allocates donors' gifts for charitable purposes in the county while working to improve the quality of life for local residents. To learn more, call 499-9795 or visit www.yavapaifoundation.org.