Andre Van Heerden – Volunteer of the Year

photo of Andre Van Heerden Dear Committee: This nomination does not come from any one person in Clay County.  It does not come from any one organization in Clay County.  It comes to you for your consideration from a group of community individuals who are entrenched in the giving effort – in large part in Clay County, but also with a national and global reach.  We recognize that it is rare this day in age for many to come together and point to one leader who embodies their values, principles and desires for a better place – home, community and world – in which to live.  But, in this case, the rarity of many agreeing on one, is in fact, what makes our nomination exceptional.   Our nominee could also be showcased on a national and global level as a volunteer worthy of receiving a lifetime achievement award, if your committee so chooses. We are all familiar with Maslow’s Hierarchy of needs which states that people are motivated to achieve certain needs, and that some needs take precedence over others. Our most basic need is for physical survival – food, water, health, warmth, rest and safety.  If these basic needs aren’t met then we can’t, as individuals, as a county, or as a people, expect to address higher level community needs.  Therefore, it’s vital that these basic needs are a focal point for our community. Mother Theresa said that, “Love begins by taking care of the closest ones – the ones at home” and we can’t think of a more meaningful sentiment for our nominee’s work.  Any community would be hard pressed to find someone who comprehends, embodies and leads others to understand the spirit of love and taking care of others in a way quite as remarkably, wide-reaching and impactful, as Andre Van Heerden.  He has committed his life to helping others get to self-sufficiency not just when it’s convenient or visible, but in fact, during both blue and grey sky periods of their lives.  In conjunction with nurturing a congregation to spiritual and emotional health, Andre mobilizes churches, nonprofits and social service agencies to partner together and share their resources.  Andre primarily serves the people of Clay County but also has a global reach and impact.  All of his work focuses on addressing what Maslow refers to as the basic needs. Let us first share a sampling of the work Andre’s done and led, to address food, water, and health based needs.  For the past eight years he has been leading health education thru the CREATION Health program which helps people improve their overall health and well-being.  As we all know, preventative medicine is more crucial in fighting disease than curing disease after the fact.  To accomplish this amazing effort, he brought the program to multiple communities.  To sustain it over this eight year period, he created amazing partnerships with churches, Florida Hospital, the YMCA, and other leaders throughout the State of Florida.  The impact of this program has not only been made on countless individuals but it’s also left a deep imprint on for-profit and not-for-profit organizations across the state. Andre also partnered with Hunger Fight and hundreds of community volunteers this year to coordinate efforts to make meals to feed over 52,000 people in our county!  Not only did he lead the effort but he was able to beat last year’s results by more than double, exceed this year’s target, and meet a target that was set for 3 years from now!  And as Mother Theresa says and Andre understands, “the hunger for love is much more difficult to remove than the hunger for bread,” so we will continue to show our love for those in our community by continuing our efforts to make meals on a recurring basis! As for warmth, rest and safety, we all know our community was hit hard this year by Hurricane Matthew.  What many don’t know is how Andre has partnered with ACTS World Relief for nearly a decade, with our local Emergency Response Team, with local organizations, and countless volunteers, to ensure there is an orderly and timely way to address needs during times of disaster.  To this end, when Hurricane Matthew hit, Andre organized teams of people to bring food to those in need.  He ensured homes were structurally reinforced if they were in danger of collapse.  He assembled teams of doctors, pilots, chainsaw crews from out of state, and countless local volunteers to literally walk the neighborhoods and streets in Clay County helping those in need of access, repair, or clean-up.  The prioritization and deployment of these resources put the highest needs first; disabled veterans, injured active duty military, senior citizens, singles, etc.  His willingness to proactively plan made it possible to take blue-sky volunteers and marry them with a grey-sky disaster relief plan to help local people in crisis with their safety, rest and warmth.  His selflessness during this time was visible by his decision to stay in the community while sending his family to safety and his willingness to turn his back on his own home with its potential needs to be sure others were taken care of first. While, many of us stepped up during the hurricane, Andre is known in the county for doing things like this day in and day out.  He’s known by the people in his church because he opens up their doors during cold evenings to take in people off the street.  He’s known by the sheriffs in town because he walks the woods giving out food and praying over the homeless.  He’s known by non-profit and government leaders for bringing them together to help find a better model of helping those in need.  He’s known across the state for reaching across county lines to learn from their models of hope and help.  And he’s known by many of us for calling upon those more fortunate to lend a hand and lift others up. Mother Theresa said that, “One of the greatest diseases is to be nobody to anybody”.  Perhaps his and his wife Juliet’s own non-profit, called Relevant Life Solutions, is one of the best examples of how we can help others.  Andre and Juliet’s mission is to reach, empower and connect people through partnerships with Relevant Life Solutions and resources, encouraging complete personal growth resulting in added value, purpose and passion.  We can think of no greater way to show everybody that they have somebody and no greater mission for how to use your volunteer time and energy to lift up those around you. Last year Andre and Juliet were exposed, quite by circumstance, to Host Ukraine.  They made the decision to host two 16 year old boys who didn’t know each other and were from different parts of the Ukraine. As they quickly learned from their hosting experience, as a direct result of the war between Ukraine and Russia there are reduced government resources to provide adequate food, medicine, and other basic care to children in the system.  In addition, the war has created an influx of children into the orphanage system, creating an extra stretch on the social system.  In winter, it is common for the orphanages to have; little to no heat in the dormitories, no hot running water, no hand or bath soap, no laundry detergent, no toilet paper, and no feminine hygiene products. They further and very sadly discovered that at age 16, children are considered “aged out” and are turned into the street.  60% of girls end up being trafficked for prostitution/pornography within 2 years.  50%+ of the girls become pregnant as teenagers, and more than 80% of babies born to former orphans become wards of the state within 3 years, creating the next generation of orphans.  70% of the boys wind up in jail within 2 years of leaving the orphanage and 15% of children commit suicide within 2 years of aging out. When Andre and Juliet were faced with this reality they thoughtfully and with lots of counsel and prayer made the decision to adopt the two boys that visited them last summer.  They are now not just Pastor Andre and his wife Juliet – they are Mom and Dad.  If there is a better example of living your mission we do not know what it is! Andre has been an integral part of several local organizations, including: The Way Free Medical Clinic, The Pulse Christian Youth Center, The YMCA, Mercy Support Services…  He’s also been part of wider reaching organizations including: Florida Hospital, ACTS World Relief, and Host Ukraine Orphanages.  Andre’s selfless impact on the world reaches much farther than any one person.  Farther than any one group of people.  Farther than any one organization.  Farther than any one county.  Further than any one nation.   And with 91% of charities running entirely by volunteers, unpaid community members and leaders like Andre are the backbone of the voluntary sector.