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Associates of Vietnam Veterans of America, November/December 2020 -   -  

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The National Awards


Due to the pandemic, our national membership luncheon could not be held this year as there was no Leadership Conference. We would like to honor and recognize AVVA’s 2020 award recipients.


The President’s Commendation Medal is the highest award given by AVVA. This medal is awarded to members who have accomplished something that has been of great benefit to AVVA, whether it be a single action or a series of activities that bring AVVA into a good light and that enhance us in a significant way.

The three 2020 President’s Commendation Medal recipients:

Jennifer Ellis, President, Oregon Chapter 805

Jennifer Ellis is an admirable leader in her chapter and in her state. When she took over her role in Chapter 805, she set a standard with both AVVA and VVA members that enhanced their working relationships and encouraged new ones. She developed a plan that had been offered by a previous chapter president: Moods in Music, a program intended to help prevent suicides and give veterans a new way to deal with PTSD and other issues. This was a group effort, but Jennifer put her heart and soul into making this program a reality and a huge success.

Her positive attitude inspires those around her. Because of one simple conversation with a chapter in another state, that chapter was moved to donate $300 to Chapter 805’s Moods in Music. She is a shining light in AVVA, and we are so grateful to have her. I am proud to award the 2020 National President’s Medal to Jennifer Ellis.

Cecilia Essenmacher, National Membership Chair, National Policy and Procedures Chair, Region 5 Deputy Director

Since my election, Cecilia Essenmacher has spent untold hours assisting with things that were not her job. While she has done an extremely good job in her own roles, she has also helped me with many research tasks, problem solving, proofreading jobs, and more.

Because we are now a 501(c)3 corporation, other organizations look at us more closely to see how serious we are. Cecilia has put hundreds of hours into reviewing our policies to make our language more cohesive and consistent. She spent many hours proofing the new website, testing each link, and reading the entire text. She has also created an entire new chapter locator system. This is an inventive way of helping our members that will be very helpful until we can afford a massive database.

She has also begun to develop a verification system for incarcerated veterans, which is sorely needed. She has gone above and beyond this entire past year.

I am proud to present the 2020 National President’s Medal to Cecilia Essenmacher.

Carl Curtis, Pennsylvania Chapter 862 Board Member, Chair of the Tom Robes Veterans Assistance Relief Fund

As chair of AVVA’s Tom Robes Veterans Assistance Relief Fund, Carl Curtis spends untold hours verifying the needs of local veterans, researching background information, and locating veterans in need who cannot find the courage to ask for help. With his leadership and direction, Chapter 862 AVVA provides the help that’s needed. He is involved in finding resources and providing veterans with solutions to immediate needs such as paying rent, utilities, or other bills that cannot wait.

He travels to Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C., to lobby on his own and on his own dime. He weighs in on bills that come before Congress and reports back to AVVA 862 and the chair of AVVA’s Government Affairs Committee on items that we can act on. He also keeps up with the Pennsylvania State Legislature and attends roundtable discussions at local VAs and VA satellites. He represents Chapter 862 AVVA using his own funds.

Carl works with many veterans as a coordinator and provides educational information to veterans about submitting claims to the VA. He has gone out of his way to transport veterans to clinics and VA centers, and he helps (out of his own pocket) homeless veterans into new homes.

I am proud to present the 2020 National President’s Medal to Carl Curtis.


This is AVVA’s second-highest award and has its own unique criteria. It honors a person or chapter that others naturally follow; a good leader; someone who inspires, mentors, trains, and encourages AVVA members to be the best they can be.

The Cathy Keister Spirit of Excellence Award recipients:

Trina Teibel and Corena (Cricket) Dixson, California Chapter 582  

Trina Teibel has been involved in all fundraising projects in her chapter for the last 20 years. She is part of a charitable program called Hydrate our Cops. Chapter 582 donates thousands of bottles of water each year to local law enforcement to provide officers and victims with a convenient water source during the hot summer months.

She and Cricket Dixson were pivotal in helping the Campfire survivors—those who lost everything in last year’s fire in Paradise, California—and have inspired others to follow their example. Trina and her husband experienced extensive damage to their home caused by the fire, but this did not stop her from continuing to work tirelessly for others.

Trina and Cricket worked with the DAV to acquire food for Patriot Donations. They collected donations from around the country and stored them in the Dixson greenhouse. They distributed these donations, including gift cards, food, and supplies, to Campfire survivors—primarily veterans and their families—in the Paradise and Chico areas. They kept records of all donations and sent thank-you notes to all contributors. 

They assisted in the Yurt Program; the Dixson home became ground zero for this housing program. The Yurt Program included training volunteers to build and set up yurts for homeless Campfire survivors. With help from Lea Jones, a fundraising event that featured a documentary film about the Vietnam War was held. Proceeds were donated to the Campfire Veteran Survivors fund.

To get the message out to the public regarding the need for donations and the Yurt Housing Program, Cricket was interviewed on the radio, which helped generate a substantial increase in donations.

She did not stop with her efforts for the Campfire survivors. She emptied her own personal emergency pantry and donated yarn to Mimi’s Angels to enable hats to be made for survivors. 

Trina also is an outstanding advocate for AVVA. She is constantly searching for new members. Because of her encouragement, our membership has grown and others are more involved.

These two women are an inspiration to us all. We are proud to present the Cathy Keister Spirit of Excellence Award to Trina Teibel and Corena “Cricket” Dixson.


This award is for those who have displayed a dedication to the spirit of AVVA, its core values, mission, and vision, in a manner that sets them apart. The recipient must have influenced the perception of AVVA and its primary objectives.

The 2020 AVVA Fellowship Award recipient:

Percilla Newberry, Chapter 404, AVVA Texas State President

Percilla Newberry has been an AVVA member since the 1980s. Her commitment is strong in helping other AVVA and VVA members and anyone in need. She works at a greater scale as a state president, but she is very familiar with community service and steps outside her normal environment for civic engagement, state responsibilities, and national involvement. She mentors many in AVVA, VVA, and the community. Her recruiting skills are strong and she has a talent for spotting the right person for the job. She is an inspiration to those around her and those who know her.

Percilla has served as Chapter Representative, State President, and Region Director. She also has served on the Texas State Council State Scholarship Committee and the AVVA National Awards Committee. In addition, she works with her local Salvation Army, United Way, and American Red Cross.

She is strong, dedicated, outgoing, and confident. Texans couldn’t ask for a better person to lead AVVA in their state, and we are proud of her service. We are proud to present the AVVA Fellowship Award to Percilla Newberry.



The AVVA Member of the Year is someone who has demonstrated a dedication to this organization in a way that brings to AVVA a strong reputation while unselfishly serving his or her chapter, state, and community.

The 2020 AVVA Member of the Year:

Holly Tookolo,
Indiana Chapter 295

Holly Tookolo exemplifies a merging of what you love to do with what is important to you. She spends at least 15-20 hours a week at the Fort Harrison Veterans Center in Lawrence, Indiana, helping service officers file, submit, and process claims in the VA system.

When the Chapter 295 treasurer died in March 2019, President Larry Shaw asked her to help pay the bills and maintain the financial records for the chapter. She did not hesitate.

If it wasn’t for her expert research and computer skills, Chapter 295 would not have a monthly newsletter. Each month, she emails it to members and makes sure those who don’t have email have it mailed to them. Additionally, she brings extra copies to the Fort Harrison Veterans Center and the Richard L. Roudebush VA Medical Center in Indianapolis.

Holly’s commitment knows no bounds in the veterans community throughout Indiana. She is active with other state organizations to help spread the AVVA word.

For several decades, she has marched with AVVA Chapter 295 and VVA Chapter 295 in the Indianapolis Veterans Day Parade. She also helps organize the Chapter Christmas Party.

When the Moving Wall comes to town every few years or so, she can be found at the locator tent with her trademark ability to be a strong shoulder and someone to talk to.

Most recently, she has been attending Lawrence Chamber of Commerce meetings to help spread the word about AVVA 295. During this unprecedented time she is also making masks to protect the most vulnerable among us. We are proud to present the AVVA Member of the Year Award to Holly Tookolo.

Certificates of Nomination were sent to other nominees:

  • Cathy Keister Spirit of Excellence Award Nominees: Percilla Newberry and Holly Tookolo
  • Fellowship Award Nominee: Rebecca Gibbens (Michigan)
  • Member of the Year Nominees: Elizabeth Gonzales (Texas) and Mary Fontenot (Louisiana)


VISTA is the AVVA program that recognizes our members for the hours they volunteer in their communities. All members who turn in volunteer hours receive a 2020 VISTA Volunteer lapel pin. The region, state, chapter, and individual who turn in the most hours in their category receive an award.

  • Top Region: Region 3 with 11,995 hours
  • Top State: Tennessee with 5,842 hours
  • Top Chapter: Tennessee Chapter 1004 with 2,724 hours
  • The First Place Individual: Rita Clifton, Georgia Chapter 772, with 886 hours
  • Second Place Individual: Connie Jones, West Virginia Chapter 860
  • Third Place Individual: Carolyn Mitchler, Georgia Chapter 671  

Congratulations to all of our award recipients and to those who were nominated for awards. We are very proud of our AVVA members.




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