Since 1961, United Way has recognized community leaders and volunteers for the impact that they have made on the Stark County community. Gold Key Service Awards recognize those individuals who have continually demonstrated the highest degree of personal dedication and service to the 2020 Bold Goals of United Way of Greater Stark County in the areas of Health, Education & Financial Stability. 

Do you know someone who deserves to be nominated? Go HERE to nominate them (nominations for this year's award close at noon on January 26, 2018).

Gold Key Service Award winners will be recognized March 29, during United Way of Greater Stark County's Annual Celebration Breakfast at Kent State University at Stark Conference Center.



Rob Pierson is the Deputy Director of Child Support at Stark County Job and Family Services, but his personal commitment to helping other people extends far beyond his role at work. Rob juggles his job, being an active member of his church, serving as chairman of the Fatherhood Coalition all while being a husband, father and a new grandfather. “Rob thinks of others and is always finding new ways to be a positive impact on those around him,” says his nominator Baylee Diedrich, Events Assistant at the Pro Football Hall of Fame. She explains, “I met Rob a little over a year ago during the planning period of an event at the Hall of Fame. Rob was assisting with organizing a Winter Retreat for the fathers of the Fatherhood Coalition. The idea behind the event was to help connect fathers and their children, an experience most of the families had never had.” Baylee adds, “Rob brings together and unites organizations, such as the Fatherhood Coalition and the Pro Football Hall of Fame, to make our community better.”

Rob said, “I have always believed that one person can make a difference, even if it is just in small ways.  I also have always been inspired by individuals who have demonstrated that effort and commitment can improve our community and the daily life of our fellow citizens.”

Bob Fernandez is Special Projects Director at Stark County Family Court. A long-time UWGSC volunteer, he was nominated by the United Way Board of Directors. Retired Family Court Judge and UWGSC board member Michael Howard explains, “I worked with Bob at Stark County Family Court for over 25 years. At Special Projects, he oversees all of the court’s grant funding and in that capacity, he has studied the research on children’s programming and he knows what programming works best for kids. He started with the United Way back in the ‘90s, and is currently serving on the Board of Directors as well as chairing the Financial Stability Impact Council and Public Policy Advisory Committee. Bob recognized early on the need for collaboration among all the child-serving agencies. He’s a leader in bringing all of those systems to the same table, to develop comprehensive, data-driven strategies to help kids. And he brought those same skills to United Way.”

Judge Howard adds, “Under his leadership, and in partnership with OhioMeansJobs, we established the Financial Prosperity Center. We now fund programming there that provides preparation for the workforce, job training, financial coaching, household stabilization, and all this with the goal for long-term economic independence for people.”

“I’ve known Bob, both from United Way and working downtown, for over 10 or 15 years,” says Bill Cook, Chair of UWGSC’s Board of Directors. “When you see Bob at the board meetings - where I really got to know him - he comes with passion, he comes educated on problems and what he believes are the things to do. He can be very persuasive, he has facts to back up whatever he says and he challenges us. He has brought to our attention the challenges that the youth face in this community, and he’s really been the advocate behind our commitment to helping people learn skills that are going to allow them to move to the next level out of poverty.”


Helen Syrios will be recognized for her lifelong volunteer efforts and activism, which have created a significant and lasting impact on the quality of life for all Stark County residents. “Although Helen’s activism spans from volunteering at Planned Parenthood, assisting with her church’s Sunday school class and food program, and on the PTA, the greatest impact of her volunteerism was her role in the creation and growth of Domestic Violence Project, Inc. (DVPI),” explains her nominator Elizabeth Bretz. “Helen and her partners fought to overcome many seemingly insurmountable obstacles while founding DVPI, such as lack of community awareness regarding domestic violence and its prevalence, lack of support and funding, threats of violence from abusers and much more.  Helen repeatedly went above and beyond normal volunteerism.”

Mary Beddell is the founder and volunteer president of the Josette Beddell Memorial Foundation, an organization created to honor her mother, who died from breast cancer.  Mary was nominated by her sister Bridget Beddell, who says, “Mary has an amazing spirit and great empathy. She is the hardest worker I have ever met. She works tenaciously for the foundation.” The goal of the Josette Beddell Memorial Foundation is to positively impact the lives of Northeast Ohio families affected by breast cancer, through financial grants and educational scholarships. Bridget explains, “This foundation stands to honor Josette and the many strong women and families like hers who have experienced lifelong changes because of this disease.”


Larry Morgan, 2016 Gold Key awardee in Education, was nominated by Jim Nicodemo, assistant superintendent of Stark County ESC. Morgan, retired superintendent of Stark County ESC, has worked tirelessly to advance education goals in the community and advocate for the needs of every student of nearly every Stark County public school district during his 54 year career. Morgan began teaching in the Plain Local School District and also served as superintendent of RG Drage Career Technical Center and Plain Local Schools in addition to holding various leadership board positions throughout his career. Nicodemo says, “Larry has always had a special place in his heart for the people who work hard, from bus drivers to the cooks and the administrative assistants to the teachers.”

Rodman Public Library, 2016 Gold Key awardee in Income, is a committed partner for United Way’s Volunteer Income Tax Assistance (VITA) program. Nominated by the United Way Income Impact Council, the Library serves as a tax clinic location providing access to free tax preparation for the community and promoting income stability for Alliance residents. Since 2014, 852 federal and state tax returns have been filed through this location, bringing more than $572,858 total refunds back into the local community. Chrisann Leaman, VITA coordinator, explains, “These refunds oftentimes represent the much-needed financial boost for low-income households. Clients use their refunds to meet basic needs and to catch up on past due expenses.”

Michael Flood, 2016 Gold Key service awardee in Health, serves as a board member of Child & Adolescent Behavioral Health and was nominated by executive director Joseph French. Flood is also a founding member of the Traumatized Child Task Force, Fatherhood Coalition and the Stark County Children’s Services Advocacy and Advisory Board. Flood strives to secure long-term funding for community health initiatives and started the Mike Flood Endowment account for Child & Adolescent Behavioral Health to ensure the future of mental health services in Stark County. Flood’s favorite quote is “Children are the living messengers we send to a time we will never see.” French says these words describe Flood’s unprecedented commitment to the health of children in Stark County.