Howell honored as 'Hometown hero'

KEVIN HARVISON | Staff photoTabetha Howell, third from left, holds an award presented by Modern Woodmen of America, naming her as a Hometown Hero for her volunteer efforts to benefit McAlester. Also shown, from left, representing Modern Woodmen of America, are June Miller and Helen Peters, along with Betty Balkman, at right.

Volunteering comes easy for Tabetha Howell.

Still, she felt surprised when she received notification from a representative of Modern Woodmen of America that she is being honored for "countless hours of service to the community." Howell didn't know she was being considered for the honor until she received notification she had been designated as a hometown hero for her volunteer efforts.

"It's unexpected," Howell said. 

Local Modern Woodmen Camp Secretary Betty Balkman said she did the research and found Howell deserving of the honor.

Howell began volunteering with Pride in McAlester in 2011, doing everything from picking up litter and trash, to painting buildings, playground equipment and fire hydrants. Other projects included installing storm water markers as well as planting flowers and trees.

In addition to her volunteer work on projects requiring manual labor, she served on the Pride in McAlester Board of Directors for three years, including two years as the group's secretary.

Howell also joined with others in a movement to create the dog park in McAlester on West Seneca Avenue that's now known as Central Bark.

On another project, Howell was among the first to join the McAlester Community Garden Association, serving on the committee that readied the land and planted the garden at the J.I. Stipe Center as well as related work at Mullen Park. Howell also assisted with helping the garden association obtain a 501 (c) 3 nonprofit organization status and she served two years on the association's board of directors.

Howell did it all with no expectation of recognition for her efforts. She recalled her surprise at learning she'd been nominated to receive the hometown hero award.

"Betty called me and told me I was nominated and asked if I would accept. I said 'Yeah, sure, I will accept,"' Howell said with a smile.

Modern Woodmen's McAlester Chapter presented Howell with the award recognizing her volunteer work, along with a $100 grant to award to the charitable organization of her choice — which Howell said will be Pride in McAlester.

Howell said she's always enjoyed volunteering.

"When you enjoy something, it doesn't feel like work," she said.

Whether working as a Pride in McAlester volunteer or assisting in some other area, Howell looks forward to achieving results, such as cleaning or painting an area in need of an upgrade.

"I get a lot of gratification to see the immediate impact," Howell said.

She had to cut back on a few of her volunteer activities after recently becoming the codes enforcer for the city of McAlester. Howell sees herself as more than simply an enforcer and investigator of possible codes violations, though.

"I think the interaction with the public is very important," she said.

Howell said she's only one of many volunteers in the McAlester area who offer their time and effort to help their community and those who live in it.

"It's easy to look around the community and see people who are working very, very hard, trying to make a difference " Howell said. "I feel like a drop in the bucket. A lot of people in our community are worthy of recognition. I never thought I'd be one of them."

Balkman said the Modern Woodmen organization is pleased to honor hometown heroes such as Howell. Modern Woodmen was founded in 1883 as a fraternal benefit society, offering financial services and fraternal member benefits to individuals and families across the U.S. 

"Improving the quality of life for our members, their families and their communities is Modern Woodmen's mission," said Balkman. "The Hometown Heroes program helps us acknowledge and thank volunteers across the country for doing just that."

Contact James Beaty at jbeaty@mcalesternews.com