Reporter: Ellie Mahan
April 13, 2022
The Lake Whitney Chamber of Commerce held its 67th annual banquet and awards ceremony Thursday, April 7, at the HILCO Civic & Event Center in Itasca.
Awards were presented to this year’s young person of the year, Brayden Heath; citizen of the year, Carol Eubank; educator of the year, Ahleasha Hope; and chamber member of the year, Kase. For the first time, the chamber also added a new honor, the Community Spirit Award, which was presented to Vanessa Meyer.
Young Person of the Year
Whitney High School Principal Amy Leech presented the Young Person of the Year Award to Brayden Heath. Leech said that the honoree “exemplifies the definition of a model student, as he leads through example as a senior at Whitney High School. His accomplishments and influence on our school are far-reaching. He deserves this award because he is a young man of strong character who seeks to serve without the need for public acknowledgment.”
Heath has served in the community by ringing the bell for the Salvation Army, volunteering at Our Daily Bread Food Bank, working with youth at vacation bible school, earning volunteer hours in a hospital radiology department, serving as an election poll worker during local elections and volunteering to lead the Pledge of Allegiance at a city council meeting. He also has been seen numerous times assisting his father at the grill when he is catering for school and community events.
Inside the school community, Heath has been selected as class president by his classmates all four years of high school. Leech said, “That alone speaks to the respect and admiration his peers have for his leadership skills.” Heath is also a member of the National Honor Society, serving as vice president. He has been a member of Student Council, Paw Pals and is part of Whitney High School’s PALS program, where he spends time daily mentoring students in the special education department of Whitney’s intermediate and elementary campuses.
Heath is also a member of Whitney’s newly formed bass fishing team and was one of the students who pushed to start the fishing program.
Leech said she considers Heath a student ambassador because he is often chosen to orient new students to Whitney High School into the campus and student body. He advocates events that will benefit students and the community, and he was a driving force in reviving the long-standing tradition of the homecoming bonfire.
Leech said, “Academic success is a top priority to Brady. He maintains a stellar GPA and is currently ranked fifth in his senior class.” After graduation, Heath plans to attend Texas Tech University where he will be in the Honors Dorm, pursuing a major in the medical field.
Citizen of the Year Award
Carol Eubank is the owner of Whitney Family Eyecare and the president of the Whitney Business Alliance, which she helped form about a year and a half ago.
Eubank was recognized for working tirelessly to promote Whitney and its small businesses both in her official and unofficial capacities. She takes an active role in mentoring other business owners and coordinates efforts that help highlight all that Whitney has to offer.
The nomination statement, read by Chamber President Adam Bain, said, “While these efforts alone are enough to warrant receiving this award, it’s the small acts of kindness that she performs behind the scenes that truly make her an asset to Whitney. One of the best traits about her is that she shows people how much she loves and cares about them. When our young people have achievements to celebrate, she is their biggest fan.”
The statement continued, “When times get tough, as they have been for everyone the past couple of years, she is one of those rare people who stand out as a light in the darkness, radiating love, hope and positivity.”
For those reasons and many others, the Lake Whitney Chamber of Commerce presented the Citizen of the Year Award to Carol Eubank.
Educator of the Year
Whitney Elementary School Principal Amber Seely presented this year’s Lake Whitney Chamber of Commerce Educator of the Year Award to Ahleasha Hope, a pre-kindergarten teacher at Whitney Elementary. Principal Seely stated the importance of pre-k teachers, who represent the first example to children of what a teacher is and how a teacher acts. Pre-k classrooms are the first step in a child’s educational journey and should show students that learning can be creative and inspirational.
Seely said, “Mrs.Hope is a natural early childhood teacher. She insitills great value in her students. As you enter her classroom, you instantly feel welcomed and excited about learning.” Hope’s classroom environment is filled with bright colors, engaging centers and a place to gather to work as a class family. Every space and material is planned with students in mind.
Seely said “She keeps her students on their toes, engaged in meaningful, hands-on learning through cooperative play and exploration. An hour seems like just a moment in Mrs. Hope’s room. Mrs. Hope is a master at teaching students how to self regulate and solve their own problems. She encourages students to use their voice and advocate for themselves socially and emotionally. This is a skill that they will benefit from their entire life.”
Seely admires Hope’s ability to hold her composure and use her calm tone and positive relationship with her students to turn a misbehavior into a skill-building activity. She sees Hope as a quiet leader at the elementary campus, who leads not by telling educators how to teach but instead by modeling what good education looks like. Others come to watch her in action to learn from her.
Seely said, “She is an inspiration to all who have had the privilege of watching her work with children. In a professional development at the beginning of the year, we heard a speaker say ‘Every child deserves a hero, someone to care about them and be someone they want to learn from.’ Mrs. Hope is that hero for her students every day. She is a fierce advocate and has helped develop a wonderful pre-k program on our campus. The lives of her past, present and future students are brighter because of her compassion and commitment to their education and well-being”
Chamber Member of the Year
Kase is a family-owned manufacturing company providing equipment to customers across North America. The company was founded in 1983 as a manufacturer of horticulture equipment to automate the handling of soil by nurseries and greenhouses.
In 2008, the company expanded its product line to include industrial belt conveyors, screw conveyors, bucket elevators, hoppers and support structures for multiple types of material handling industries.
Large clients of Kase include Quikrete, IKO, Oldcastle Lawn and Garden, Bonnie’s Plant Farms and many clients in the oil and gas industry.
Chamber President Adam Bain said, “If you buy a bag of sakrete at Keith’s Ace Hardware or Tucker Lumber, or if you buy a potted plant at Laurie’s Garden, your purchase could have been produced using a piece of Kase equipment.”
Kase operates out of a 60,000 square-foot facility on Highway 22 and employs approximately 40 workers. Additional production space of 20,000 square feet is currently under construction.
Kase has had a long history of providing financial support to the Lake Whitney Chamber of Commerce. This year, Kase volunteered at the barbecue cook-off as well as at Pioneer Days and participated on the board of directors.
The company is owned by Oscar Castillo, Jr. of Itasca.
Community Spirit Award
Vanessa Meyer, who could not attend the chamber banquet, was expected to be presented with her award after the banquet. Meyer is a customer account representative at Peoples Bank, formerly known as First Bank and Trust. Meyer is a lifelong Whitney resident and graduated from Whitney High School. She is the mother of two grown sons and has one granddaughter.
Bain read, “Vanessa has always been a very active member of the Whitney area and volunteers her time regularly to promote the community. She has battled cancer with a fierce determination, continuing to work full time and maintaining a very positive outlook. Through her treatment, she has embraced the opportunity to live life to its fullest.”
Bain announced that in addition to the Vanessa Meyer Community Spirit Award, next year the Lake Whitney Chamber of Commerce will also give out a hall of fame award.