Good works rewarded

LAWRENCEVILLE - The largest crowd in the Gwinnett Clean & Beautiful awards banquet's 26-year history celebrated the volunteer initiative of the community at its annual awards banquet Friday evening.

While community leaders dined on steak and dessert, nine volunteers were awarded for their contributions to Gwinnett County through recycling and other environmentally orientated activities.

"Over 100,000 people have given 1.4 million manhours to keep Gwinnett clean and beautiful," said County Chairman Charles Bannister, opening speaker at the event. "Volunteers show they care about Gwinnett by removing graffiti, litter, planting bushes and recycling."

In 2005, more than 12 miles of graffiti was removed from the county, resulting in an 18 percent reduction in what officials said is the first sign of a community's decline. Gwinnett Clean & Beautiful's graffiti prevention program has been so successful it was recognized Friday as being the best program in the nation by Keep America Beautiful, the nation's largest community improvement organization.

During a round of applause, the Graffiti Hurts Award along with a $1,000 check was presented to key members of Gwinnett Clean & Beautiful. Each award recipient reflected the nonprofit organization's goals of sustaining a healthier, safer and more livable Gwinnett.

This year's Volunteer of the Year award was given to Dick Carothers, a board member of Gwinnett Clean & Beautiful.

"From his sage advance and hands-on recycling skills, (Carothers) generously shares his many resources with the county," said Connie Wiggins, executive director of Gwinnett Clean & Beautiful.

The most prestigious award was saved for last and was established in 2003 to recognize a truly inspiring and visionary leader who has a proven track record and the ability to deliver results. The Environmental Legacy Award went to Tom Wheeler, a longtime environmental advocate.

"For over 30 years, this award winner has been committed to improving our environment," Wiggins said. "He has a keen understanding that environmental protection and economic development can work together for the betterment of the community and our quality of life. He is a champion of the environment."

Wheeler received the award on stage and said he was thankful for his wife, who supported him.

"I'm very humbled that this wonderful organization with great leadership recognized me," he said.