The Telluride Foundation recently honored San Miguel County Search and Rescue and the founding members of the Ouray County Good Neighbor Fund team with its Citizen of the Year award for 2020.

The foundation unanimously voted on both Dec. 29 to honor “heroes and angels among us who stepped up to unselfishly contribute to the community during a particularly difficult year.”

The board chose from nine nominees, ultimately selecting search and rescue team, as well as Marti O’Leary, Patrick O’Leary, Cat Lichtenbelt and Barthold Lichtenbelt, who were the founding team for the Good Neighbors Fund.

“The Telluride Foundation created its Citizen of the Year award to honor individuals who unselfishly make extraordinary contributions to the region’s quality of life. This year, we choose to honor two great organizations of volunteers who have stepped up to help house or feed a neighbor in need or risked their own safety to protect the life of someone in danger,” said Paul Major, president and CEO of the Telluride Foundation.

“The board was truly humbled in the selection this year.”

SAR and the OCGNF team were nominated by their community and peers for exemplary service and volunteerism to the community. After all nominations are in, past recipients of the award are responsible for evaluating all the nominations and deciding on two finalists, with the Telluride Foundation board selecting the ultimate 2020 recipient.

SAR is a volunteer organization providing community service, collaboration, leadership, and compassion. In such an atypical year as 2020, SAR was unusually busy providing rescue services to the community and a multitude of visitors 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, by volunteers who frequently and selflessly put their own lives at risk in order to save others. In addition to their rescue missions, SAR volunteers train an average of four to eight hours per month.

“On behalf of San Miguel County’s Search and Rescue volunteer organization, we are both pleased and humbled with the ‘Citizen of the Year’ award from the Telluride Foundation,” San Miguel County Sheriff Bill Masters said.

“These 43 men and women are not only committed to extensive technical training, but they drop everything to come to the rescue of those who are in the most dangerous and vulnerable situations of their lives. They not only give their time, but more often than not, they do so in hazardous conditions and take calculated risks on behalf of saving others. The citizens and visitors of San Miguel County are fortunate beyond measure to have this team of experienced and selfless volunteers at their service.”

The O’Learys and Lichtenbelts have a history of community volunteerism and support for numerous nonprofits in Ouray County, including the Ridgway Chautauqua Society, the Sherbino Theater, Weehawken Creative Arts, the Log Hill Fire Department, and the Ridgway Library. However, In the first moments of the COVID shutdown, these four Ouray County community members stepped up to the plate to find a way to help their neighbors and friends. They first approached community leaders with the idea of creating a fund for Ouray County citizens in-need. The goal was clear — set up a fund that would help ensure the people who make this community so great could remain in their homes, despite the pandemic that was upending their lives economically. They set out to establish partnerships, raise money, challenge the community to donate through a one to one match, and help those in need throughout the difficult year.

“The OCRF fund has received about 100 donations so far. To put that in perspective, that means that about one out of every 50 individuals who live in Ouray County donated to the fund. That is a great ratio, in my humble opinion. I’m truly happy to hear that we were able to help about 126 families and individuals with those donations,” said Bart Lichtenbelt. “Quite an amazing community we live in!”

As the 2020 Citizen of the Year, SAR and the OCGNF team will both receive a commemorative plaque and a grant of $5,000 to be given in their name to the local nonprofit(s) of their choice.

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