Three local residents are being honored for their efforts to make the greater Altoona area more welcoming as well as serving as advocates for justice and mercy.
The Altoona Area Christian Coalition will bestow its Signs of Hope honors on Bishop-Emeritus Joseph V. Adamec of the Catholic Diocese of Altoona-Johnstown; Don Witherspoon, president of the Blair County NAACP; and Kathy Rutter, an elder at Ward Avenue Presbyterian Church and community volunteer.
The awards will be presented at a dinner to be held at 5 p.m. Thursday at the Greater Altoona Career & Technology Center.
(Mirror photo by Gary M. Baranec) Kathy Rutter is an elder at Ward Avenue Presbyterian Church and community volunteer.
Adamec is being recognized for his role in establishing the coalition seven years ago. His concern for the treatment and respect for immigrants led to the Christian leaders of various faith traditions coming together to form a group to advocate for all individuals.
At the time, Altoona City Council had passed an ordinance to penalize any business person who hired an illegal alien or a landlord who rented them a home.
Adamec said the ordinance was against Judeo-Christian Scriptures which teach that a resident foreigner should be treated well. He said he explained to council that families who had lived in the area for a number of years would lose their livelihood and be thrown into the street.
He met with other Christian leaders who decided to form the coalition.
"The group serves in an advocacy capacity to encourage others to take care of the needs of God's people," Adamec said.
He was nominated for the award by Tony DeGol, secretary for communications for the diocese.
"Bishop Joseph was a sign of hope to those in the Altoona area who were being targeted by the proposed ordinance in 2006. He was - and continues to be - a sign of hope in the community through the creation of the Altoona Area Christian Coalition," DeGol said in his nomination letter.
Another recipient who works to make sure people are being treated fairly is Witherspoon, who has lead the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People in the county for 24 years.
He was nominated by the officers and members of the local chapter.
They wrote: "Much of what the Blair County NAACP has accomplished ... is a direct result of the commitment and leadership that Donald Witherspoon has given to our organization."
In the past, Witherspoon worked to get a state law passed making it a felony to burn a cross on property other than one's own land, and served on the Governor's Advisory Commission on African American Affairs as well as serving on the Southern Alleghenies Planning and Development Commission.
Witherspoon said the driving force behind all his efforts are the youth. Having experienced the death of his father when he was 6, Witherspoon said he wants to inspire young people and head them in the right direction.
Each year, at its Freedom Fund Dinner, the NAACP gives scholarships and recognizes high school athletes.
As chairman of the Booker T. Washington Revitalization Project, he and the group worked with the Central Blair Recreation Commission to construct a recreation area in the Fifth Ward that includes basketball courts and fitness equipment.
"Almost every day, you see somebody using it," he said.
Witherspoon also seeks fair treatment for blacks those who find themselves facing the court system.
He said the area has a drug problem and people should face the consequences for their crimes, but he wants to make sure "there is a level playing field."
"We have a pretty sound judiciary system. We want to make sure it stays that way," he said.
He said he has been able to work with prisoners who got "on the wrong track" and some have become productive citizens.
"I feel good about that," he said.
Although youth are his top priority, Witherspoon said a second important aspect of the NAACP is to educate people.
He said people need to share and appreciate their differences to make the community a better place in which to live.
As part of that effort, students at Altoona Area High School engage in a quiz show that is similar to "Who Wants to be Millionaire?" with all the questions about black history.
Youth are also a concern of Kathy Rutter, a retired Altoona Area School District elementary teacher.
Rutter volunteers at the Altoona library where she works with the early childhood literacy program and teaches 3-year-olds as well as a group who are 18 months to 3 years old.
"It's a great reward for me," she said.
When she is not working with children, she can be found at Ward Avenue Presbyterian Church where she is a commissioned elder.
She sings in the choir, teaches a women's Bible study, serves on the worship committee and knits prayer shawls and caps for newborn babies.
Under Rutter's leadership, the congregation at Ward collects paper products, such as plates, towels and cups, for the Gloria Gates Foundation to use in its afterschool programs.
Her grant-writing ability has enabled her to obtain funds for the Altoona Food Bank through the Presbyterian Church (USA) and she organized a walk-and-run fundraiser to help the food bank two years ago.
Through the church, she also organized a campaign to sew and assemble school kits for children in Haiti with members and Bible school youths supplying the notebooks, pencils, erasers, crayons, scissors and rulers.
Outside of the church, Rutter serves on the boards of Improved Dwellings for Altoona and the Blair Concert Chorale.
She was nominated by the Rev. Bob Boyar.
He said, "If you tweak the familiar adage, 'If you look up the words, hospitable, compassionate, advocate and committed, you will find Kathy Rutter's picture in the dictionary.'"