Each year EPAC recognizes 5 individuals and organizations who have distinguished themselves through their outstanding public service and contributions to the Eastern Panhandle Community.
Read below about EPAC's 2021 award recipients and how they are making a difference in the lives of many in Berkeley and Jefferson Counities.
Dawnyielle Downes has dedicated more than 25 years to the education and development of America’s children. She is the founder and director of 10 Fingers 10 Toes Early Childhood Development, a transformative learning center whose impact has advanced the standards and regulations in early care and learning throughout the state of West Virginia.
A life-long learner and prolific researcher, Downes has degrees in Communications and History from Hofstra University and has studied and trained at Harvard and Shepherd universities. Additionally, she is certified in Early Child Development from New York University.
Downes is most recognized for her dynamic instruction and curriculum which emphasizes language proficiency, early-reading, foreign language study, multi-cultural education and hands on math and sciences. Since its founding in 2006, her program enjoys a 96% honor roll attainment for its former students who are enrolled in local schools from second through twelfth grade. The cornerstone of student success is Downes’s proprietary curriculum, which boasts creative approaches for early literacy, mathematics, hands-on sciences, natured inspired curriculum exploration, and extensive inclusion and diversity instruction through literature and cultural events.
To Downes it is quite simple: excellence will become a habit when children are given preparation and permission to demonstrate their brilliance. “Teaching children to think big while they are still small” is more than a mere mantra but truly her life’s mission.
Downes currently resides in Charles Town, WV with her husband of 24 years, Raymond Downes and their son, Argyle Downes, a sophomore at Mercersburg Academy (Pennsylvania) and a world-ranked junior golfer.
Barbara Burger is a true public servant who lives by the mantra that it is more blessed to give than to receive (Acts 20:35). For nearly 15 years, Burger has blessed the Eastern Panhandle with her time, talents, gifts, and treasures.
An advocate for young people, Burger philanthropic donations of money and time are reflective of her commitment to invest in the youth of our community. Additionally, she and her husband are tireless servants of the Shepherdstown Lion’s Club and are active in carrying out the club's service activities. She is an active member with the Jefferson County Chamber of Commerce and uses her voice to share economic empowerment information with her community. She is also a long-time volunteer of a community feeding program at Emanuel’s House that ministers to families in need of food assistance.
Most notably, Burger has been a blessing to many who suffer from addictions or are in recovery. She currently volunteers as a certified Recovery Coach, a role which required that she complete a lengthy national training and certification program. Today, Burger serves as a Recovery Coach in a local program started by WV State Senator John Unger, one that provides resources and support to help pave the way for sobriety for area residents.
Burger is a member of Asbury United Methodist Church in Shepherdstown, where she volunteers faithfully and exercises Christian principles in helping others. She is a generous and talented servant, who recently produced a virtual Christmas program during the pandemic.
Under the leadership of Pastor Justin P. Brown, the City of Hope Church held its first service in 2014 in a local school with a congregation of approximately 60 in attendance. At the time, Pastor Brown saw a need for a church that ministered specifically to families and the community in the Eastern Panhandle. Seven years later and with a permanent church home and structure, City of Hope Church has grown exponentially, carrying out Pastor Brown's vision to be a blessing to the community.
Inspired by the passage found in Jeremiah 29:11 -- "For I know the plans I have for you," declares the LORD, "plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future." -- Pastor Brown and First Lady Angela Brown have seized many opportunities to lead their young church in helping others. Fueled by the smiles on the faces of others during community outreach and programs, the church has held such events as Community day, Backpack and School Supply Giveaway, Thanksgiving Dinner Baskets, Salvation Army Angel Tree, and a Christmas Gift Giveaway for neighboring families.
During the COVID-19 pandemic, City of Hope has furthered its vision to be a blessing to the community. Since last fall, the Church has been serving the community and recruiting volunteers with the distribution of USDA free food boxes. Collectively, the team has distributed 11,000+ boxes totaling 500,000 pounds of food so far. Pastor Brown's prayer is to continue be impactful by elevating, empowering, and engaging people in our local community through worship, service, and strategic partnering,
Bob O’Connor is a local author who has written 18 books about the Civil War. He has presented over 1,000 programs and lectures in 26 states and the District of Columbia since 2006.
Among his books is a historical fiction trilogy about the life of a slave named Catesby. Through research O’Connor discovered that Catesby was a slave in the household of Lewis Washington, a relative of George Washington. Catesby and Lewis Washington had both been captured by John Brown’s men during their 1859 raid at Harpers Ferry. The trilogy: Eyewitness to the Civil War (2008), The Return of Catesby (2012) and most recently Catesby the Final Chapter (2020) cover Catesby’s background and experiences.
O'Connor has also published another non-fiction book. “The United States Colored Troops at Andersonville”, the untold story of 105 black prisoners in that Confederate prison. Additionally, O’Connor has published twenty research books on the United States Colored Troops (USCT) including the USCT Prisoners of War, and USCT Casualties at the battles of Petersburg, Olustee, Fort Wagner, Petersburg and Fort Pillow, and others. Each book includes the individual soldiers’ records and data on where they were born, what regiment they belonged to, and the rank they held, etc. His book on the USCT Soldiers from Jefferson County contains the records of 179 local men. His latest children’s book, “The Blind Boy Who Helped Save the Union” also contains a section about the United States Colored Troops.
O'Connor states that,” I have always been interested in studying black soldiers during the Civil War and the fate of those soldiers. My USCT books include information no one has ever researched.”
The Contemporary American Theater Festival, or CATF, is an American annual professional theatre festival held at Shepherd University in Shepherdstown. For years, CATF and EPAC Deltas have enjoyed a community partnership, and in 2020 CATF made a gracious presentation of $6,060 to EPAC's scholarship fund. The chapter is pleased to name CATF as this year's Friend of EPAC.
Founded in 1991 by Ed Herendeen, CATF's mission is to produce and develop new American theatre, with four core values: fearless art, daring and diverse stores, inclusivity, and community. The Festival boasts that it produces the newest plays in America, in the oldest town in West Virginia. Named as one of the top theatre festivals in the world by publications such as The New York Times, American Theatre, and World Guide, the Festival produces six new plays in rotating repertory annually. To date, 133 new plays have been produced by 96 playwrights.
CATF's presence in the local community and its impact to the larger arts community is far reaching. An economic impact survey reported that CATF generates $5.86 million for the local economy, with tourists flocking to the Festival from over 38 states and across the globe. CATF's commitment to diversity is intentional and measurable. Nearly 50% of all CATF plays are produced by women writers (well above national averages), and its commitment to diversity and inclusiveness have made the Festival a cultural leader amongst its peers.