Gathered virtually from the comfort of their homes, the people of Yuma celebrated their community’s spirit of philanthropy Tuesday evening with the 21st annual – but first-ever virtual – Heart of Yuma awards ceremony.

“It has been a strange year, indeed,” said Veronica Shorr, regional director of the Arizona Community Foundation (ACF) of Yuma. “This year more than ever, we want to thank those who have gone above and beyond to answer the call for help during this pandemic.”

Streamed to viewers across the area, the celebration honored winners in seven categories as well as the Philanthropist of the Year Award recipient and the first-ever Stephen and Bobbie Shadle Hero Award recipient, which was chosen by viewers who cast their vote during the live event.

The winners came from an extensive list of nominees reviewed by members of the Blue Ribbon Panel, who were tasked with selecting the “best” from each category including Philanthropist of the Year.

“This list is filled with people who selflessly make good things happen in our community,” said Shorr. “We are constantly amazed by the outpouring of goodness from our locals and we are here today to recognize their good deeds.”

Transcending the characteristics of Outstanding Leader, Volunteer and Benefactor, the Philanthropist of the Year was presented to husband-and-wife Bruce and Debbie Gwynn.

“I grew up in a family who always gave back,” Debbie said. “As children, we always were with Mom and Dad volunteering. We just have always reached out to our community, and they’ve embraced us. We’ve tried with our children to also get them involved in whatever we do. It’s been a wonderful, wonderful relationship with our community. We love Yuma, we love our Yuma community. It’s a passion.”

Similarly trained by his own parents, Bruce also credits the late husband-and-wife Charles and Kathryn Taylor, who moved to Yuma in the 1940s, for modeling the heart of philanthropism for Debbie and himself.

“They came here from Arkansas, (Charles) got a job driving a tractor for $1.25 an hour,” Bruce said. “They never had a lot of money, but they were the biggest givers of anybody I ever saw in my life and we learned from them. They gave to 4-H, they gave to the fairgrounds, they gave anywhere and everywhere they knew to give. They trained their children and they trained us, along with my parents and everybody else. This is a giving community, and it’s delightful to be part of it. We thank you very much.”

The inaugural Stephen and Bobbie Shadle Hero Award, created to honor the Shadles’ legacy of giving, was awarded to Justin Haile of 4th Avenue Gym.

“The Shadles gave their time and financial support to countless groups that helped make Yuma a better place,” said Shorr. “In 2009 they were honored as philanthropist of the year during this very event. The Shadle Foundation and the Shadle Charitable Trust will continue their legacy in Yuma for years to come.”

According to the votes cast for him, Haile seems to fit that mold.

“Giving is important to me because it’s the right thing to do,” Haile wrote upon his nomination. “We all only live once so it’s very important to work as hard as you can and to make an impact not only in your life but for others also. Over the last four years, I have dedicated much of (my) time to my foundation, the 4th Ave. Gym Athletic Fund, which helps high school athletics. I must say giving back as I have the last few years has been one of the most rewarding feelings ever.”

The remaining 2020 category winners are as follows: Outstanding Volunteer: Tom and Judy Rushin; Outstanding Youth Leader: Ellie Evans; Outstanding Leader: Clint Harrington; Outstanding Service Organization: Fort Yuma Rotary; Outstanding Nonprofit Organization: Crossroads Mission; Outstanding For-Profit Corporation: Pilkington Construction; Outstanding Benefactor: Russ Jones on behalf of RL Jones Customhouse Brokers.

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