These Delaware residents are changing the state. Meet our 5 local Jefferson Award finalists
EDITOR'S NOTE: This article has been updated to correct the name of William Gay's wife, Diane.
Across Delaware, citizens are doing good for the state and for each other.
As part of the Delaware Salute to Service with Multiplying Good, five Delawareans have been chosen for their outstanding service benefiting local communities. Delaware Online/The News Journal is a co-sponsor of the event.
All five finalists have been a “driving force” behind meaningful local change, according to Multiplying Good’s Delaware Executive Director Michele Fidance.
“These folks are the backbone of public service,” Fidance said, detailing how each had brought their community together despite the pandemic to fulfill a lifelong call to help others.
All five will be honored during the 2021 Delaware Salute to Service at 6 p.m. on April 29. During the ceremony, one of the five finalists will also be chosen to represent Delaware at the National Jefferson Awards later this year.
In 2017, Louise Cummings’ late husband Cpl. Stephen J. Ballard was killed in the line of duty while investigating a suspicious vehicle.
Since his death, Cummings has dedicated herself to charitable work in his memory, including starting the Ballard Community Fund at the Delaware Community Foundation, which raised over $44,000 through its virtual event in 2020. The foundation has sponsored nonprofits focusing on veteran mental health, education, domestic violence, and other local causes.
During the pandemic, the fund chose to focus on PPE distribution, raising over $12,000 to distribute face shields to law enforcement officers across the state.
Beyond the Ballard Community Fund, Cummings also created and manages Ballard’s Reading buddies, an organization that partners with United Way to foster a love of reading in first and second graders.
She’s also found time to volunteer as the interim executive director for Supporting Kidds, Inc., a nonprofit that supports children and families who have experienced loss.
As she wrote in a birthday fundraiser she hosted for the organization, “My daughter never met her biological father because he died before she was born. Then her only dad she knew in physical form Delaware State Trooper Cpl. Stephen Ballard was killed In the line of duty 2 years ago. She was only 5.
"This year for my birthday I want to help other families who have suffered a loss like we have (whether a child, sibling, parent or any other special person)… my birthday is truly a blessing to bless others.”
Over a long and meaningful life, Bill Gay has stayed busy.
After a 20-year military career and 24 years in information technology, he started his third — and favorite, so far — career as a full-time volunteer in Sussex County.
Gay has focused on supporting veterans, serving as the mentor coordinator for the Sussex County Veterans Treatment Court, which has grown to assist 60 male and 7 female veterans. He and his wife Diane also served as two of the first volunteers for Bethany’s Operation SEA’s Day Warrior Family Beach Week, an event that has helped over 175 wounded warriors and their families heal and connect with one another.
He also volunteers with several other veteran-focused organizations, including the Home of the Brave (a transitional house for veterans), the Delaware Veterans Home assisted living facility, and the National Guard Youth Foundation.
Additionally, Gay has also helped five families become homeowners through a partnership with the Sussex Habitat for Humanity, the Diamond State Community Land Trust and the Sussex Contractors for a Cause. He’s also deeply involved with the St. Martha’s Episcopal Church, and chaired the team that hosted the annual Bethany Welcome to the Community Picnic for over 125 international students.
When Markevis Gideon was 12 years old, a middle school teacher let him take an old computer home so he could try his hand at repairing it.
Gideon credits that teacher’s investment with empowering him to believe a career in tech was possible for him at a young age, and giving him the incentive to focus his passions at the Howard High School of Technology.
Now, he’s built a successful career for himself as the founder of NERDiT NOW, an organization that aims to “make tech affordable, accessible, and inspirational,” according to their website. NERDiT NOW aims to create a more ethical “technology ecosystem” through purchasing and repairing broken tech, then re-selling it at an affordable price or donating it to those in need in the community.
So far, The NERDiT Foundation, the company’s philanthropic arm, has donated over 7,500 computers to those in need, to support their mission that “everyone should be afforded the opportunity to have technology in their lives.” In the past year, they ramped up their services, donating 5,000 total devices in 2020 alone.
The foundation also provides pre-apprentice and apprentice training programs for those looking for a pathway into a tech career, and aims to close not only the digital divide but the income divide, as well.
Just over eight years ago, Jeremy Moore was seriously injured during a night patrol in Afghanistan.
Moore, an army veteran from the 82nd Airborne Division, sustained serious injuries to his back, legs and head, and had to learn how to walk again while battling chronic pain, depression and self-doubt. But after finding himself physically, mentally, and spiritually broken, Moore rebuilt his life through pursuing his passions for service and physical fitness.
In 2018, he co-founded the nonprofit More Than Fitness, an organization that works toward “equipping young people with the tools to build strong bodies, resilient minds, and unbreakable spirits,” according to the organization's website. Through More Than Fitness, Moore has helped over 100 high school students so far build self-confidence through building a practice of exercise, mindfulness, and meditation.
In the past three years, the nonprofit has already raised over $40,000 and prospered with CrossFit Diamond State and Wilmington’s Classic Barber Shop. Through their successful fundraising efforts, Moore has been able to provide free programming to young people across the state, and support them in building bolstering both their physical and mental health and resiliency.
After sustaining a serious neck and back injury while working as a nurse in 2014, Toni Short found herself homeless.
With nowhere to call home, Short and her three cats pulled into the Rehoboth Walmart parking lot and ended up living there for two years. It didn’t take long for Short to realize she wasn’t the only homeless person living in the parking lot — or for her to begin working to help.
Every day, she went to find food for those who lived in that parking lot, and worked to connect them with motel rooms, clothes, meals, and money. In 2015, those efforts grew into Lighthouse for Broken Wings, a nonprofit for those experiencing homelessness which opened its first house the following year. Short’s outreach efforts grew to support over 50 individuals who were able to use her first transitional house.
In 2019, Short’s advocacy for the homeless entered a new chapter when she was hired as the manager for the Immanuel Shelter. There, Short supervised 81 people experiencing homelessness and helped many find jobs, permanent homes, and necessary medical attention.
Short has worked without pay for her foundation for several years, and used her own money from outside jobs to pay for those who cannot afford to live in her houses. Over the many years she’s been helping the homeless, Short has impacted the lives of over 500 people and raised $30,000 in support of them.
How to watch
Tune in to watch the Jefferson Awards online at 6 p.m. Thursday. To register ahead of time and virtually save your seat, go to delaware.multiplyinggood.org/dss.
Contact Joy Ashford at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter @joy_ashford.