We’re proud to recognize our 2023 Volunteer of the Year Award winners. Each year we honor those volunteers who have taken volunteerism to the next level and given back in extraordinary ways. The theme of our 7th annual awards program, “From Creating Ripples to Making Waves,” celebrates the idea that a single act of kindness often creates a ripple effect, and eventually many ripples form waves of real change and affirmative impact.
“Parsons’ volunteers are making a positive impact in the communities where we live and work, having volunteered nearly 20,000 hours in 2022 and almost 5,000 hours in Q1 of this year alone,” said Jason Yaley, Chief Communications Officer. “This year’s Volunteer of the Year winners share a common thread of giving back in areas that matter most to Parsons — advancing STEM education, furthering veteran causes, and creating vibrant communities. We’re proud that teammates like Roberto, Savannah, David, and all our Volunteer of the Year finalists not only deliver results for our customers but also for our communities.”
Meet our 2023 volunteers, each of whom has their own personal story of paying it forward.
Savannah Sellner, STEM/Education Award Winner
When Savannah Sellner was a student at the University of Notre Dame, she traveled to Nicaragua with volunteer mentors from the Engineers in Action Bridge Program (EIABP) to help build a footbridge in a rural, isolated community. The experience was so pivotal that she dreamt of taking part in another build one day where she was the mentor guiding university students. Fast forward to 2019 and again in 2022, when she did exactly that!
The EIABP empowers students to become global leaders by building bridges with underserved communities. They guide diverse teams of university students to produce quality engineering reports with sustainable and innovative bridge designs and create safe and ethical construction sites in rurally isolated communities overseas. Footbridges provide safe access, enabling children to go to school, women to enter the workforce, and the sick to reach healthcare services.
Savannah used two weeks of her PTO last June to serve as a technical mentor for the student team from the University of Notre Dame and Hofstra University at a bridge build in Uruchini, Bolivia. Leading up to the build, she mentored the students for months by reviewing their engineering report deliverables, working with them on their bridge design calculations and construction drawing set, attending presentations to EIA staff engineers, and mentoring in areas of project and people management.
While in Bolivia, Savannah lived and worked alongside the students during the final construction phase of their 280-foot footbridge, which now serves 175 community members. Leveraging her bridge experience at Parsons, she guided the students on their bridge design and construction process, helping them to complete the bridge project safely and responsibly.
To celebrate Savannah’s outstanding volunteerism, Parsons is excited to donate to the Engineers in Action Bridge Program (EIABP).
Roberto Olivas – Vibrant Communities Award Winner
Growing up in El Paso, Texas, with parents who had emigrated from Mexico and spoke very little English, Roberto Olivas says that when he was young his family on occasion needed assistance from local agencies.
Today, he volunteers every Tuesday evening and Saturday morning at two local food pantries in the Houston area. He is one of the few volunteers fully fluent in English and Spanish in an area where 85% of locals requiring food assistance are from Latin America. His bilingual skills are a lifeline to first-time patrons, whom he helps with new registration applications and orientation of the shopping process. He also serves as a shopper assistant, stocker, and translator.
People at The Hope Center Food Pantry and the Gateway Food Pantry can’t say enough good things about Roberto! They refer to him as an outstanding volunteer who rarely says no when asked to help, and they praise his amazing generosity and dedication.
As a Certified ESL Instructor, Roberto also teaches English as a Second Language at the Hope Center, which provides adults with practical English language needed in their everyday lives, as well as learning and developing skills necessary to function in the US and obtain jobs.
In honor of all the hours that Roberto gives back to his community, Parsons is proud to donate to the Houston Food Bank.
David Watts, MILVET Award Winner
David Watts is a US Naval Academy graduate who served 12 years in the Navy (5 active and 7 in the reserves). Serving with individuals who were willing to sacrifice everything for their country has instilled in him a deep level of patriotism, so it’s no surprise that he’s passionate about volunteering for the Carolinas Freedom Foundation Patriotism Bowls.
The mission of the Carolinas Freedom Foundation is to inspire patriotic citizenship in our youth and community by honoring the service of veterans and first responders. The organization celebrates Patriot Day with patriotism and pageantry that transforms high school football games into a college bowl-like atmosphere. Three 2023 Patriotism Bowls will honor the military and first responders by recognizing the anniversary of 9/11: the 12th annual Carolinas Patriotism Bowl, the 2nd Georgia Patriotism Bowl, and the inaugural game in Indianapolis, IN.
David has volunteered his time and talent at every bowl game since its inception in 2012, doing everything from organizing the displays at the stadium to field operations which included escorting VIP coin toss guests (including Luke Kuechly – former Charlotte Panther’s linebacker), having a helicopter land on the field, and coordinating other pregame activities.
In 2022, he led all field operations at the inaugural game in Georgia and will have the same responsibility in Georgia this year to continue the expansion beyond the Carolinas. He spends countless hours planning with the school administration, the athletic directors, coaches, band directors, and JROTC units and lines up the pregame activities.
Each game generates approximately $35,000 for veteran-related charities. During half-time, event proceeds are presented to 501(c)(3) organizations which further the mission of Carolinas Freedom Foundation to inspire patriotic citizenship.
Parsons is happy to recognize David for giving back to his community by donating to the Carolinas Freedom Foundation.