Employees at Christmas Brunch had the opportunity to enjoy a special meal, sing carols, and visit with Santa. But the highlight of the morning came when three Southern Adventist University employees received awards for their service-minded attitudes and actions.
The first winner was Yolande Burrus, office manager for the School of Music. She won the President’s Award for Customer Service Excellence after collecting 25 nominations from students, all of which described her positive attitude when assisting others.
One student wrote, “She willingly goes above and beyond the call of duty to help us schedule our classes, obtain access to practice rooms, find that elusive professor, and fit lessons into our schedule. Above all, she genuinely loves each of us. Her smile brightens the department!”
This genuine care for students earned her the customer service award and a $500 check, gifts she did not anticipate for fulfilling what she’s considered a duty during the 23 years she’s been at Southern.
“Customer service is about presentation. It can give a good or bad impression of Southern,” Burrus said. “It’s important to make people feel welcome and help them.”
The two winners of the Community Service Excellence award were Eric Schoonard, associate director of Plant Services, and Melissa Tortal, director for the Christian Service Program.
Because of their extraordinary efforts in a year marked by tornado devastation, employees nominated the two of them for their assistance in relief efforts and service to those affected.
One employee said, “Eric was able to go into the tornado zone to meet people, assess the situation, and find how he could be of service. He promoted these needs to the guys at Plant Services and helped organize four groups of men from the plant on the first Sunday after the tornado. Southern and Adventism was seen in a very different and positive light after that Sunday.”
Schoonard was also one of the Southern employees who assisted in building a new home for the Quinns, a local family that suffered through a series of heartbreaking events punctuated by the tornado.
Similar accolades were addressed to Tortal, who arranged for 30 families to stay in the residence halls after the tornadoes hit.
“Melissa threw herself into the needs wholeheartedly and became a volunteer that made a giant difference in the lives of hundreds of people in the community around Southern, particularly in Apison. She helped coordinate Southern’s response to the tornado and became the central person for the help that the university provided.”
After all Tortal has done, she is still humbled to know she was singled out on a campus full of people of service.
“I was really surprised because I feel there are so many other faculty and staff who are dedicated and help however they can,” Tortal said. “I’m honored to be recognized among them.”