Joanna Kerwin named 2020 Vail Valley Volunteer of the Year
Special to the Daily
Take a look at volunteer photographs from Vail Valley nonprofit events over the past 12 years, and Joanna Kerwin might be hard to spot. Often in the background, always surrounded by friends, and sometimes the one taking the photo, Kerwin has not been one to seek the spotlight.
Quietly, behind the scenes, she has been a pillar of the volunteer spirit in the Vail Valley community since coming to the valley full-time in 2008.
For this, and in recognition of her commitment to giving back to her community and strengthening community connections, Joanna Kerwin has been named the 2020 Vail Valley Volunteer of the Year.
Typically, the Volunteer of the Year is celebrated at the Xfinity Birds of Prey races in Beaver Creek, traditionally held during the first weekend of December. Friends and other volunteers will celebrate Joanna virtually throughout the weekend instead until pandemic restrictions pass and a proper celebration event can be held in person.
Kerwin has committed extensive volunteer hours to the nonprofit Vail Valley Foundation’s Xfinity Birds of Prey, Vail Dance Festival, GoPro Mountain Games, and Vilar Performing Arts Center, and given time as well to Vail Rotary, Salvation Army, Bright Future Foundation and so many more of the Vail Valley’s nonprofit events and causes.
Kerwin joins a list of 18 others who have received the award since it was first given in 2000.
“I look at the list of people that have been recognized in the past — what an honor to have my name with that list of past volunteers, what an honor,” Kerwin said. “Everyone has just given so much to this community. It is total teamwork. It’s like an extended family.”
’A generous and humble person’
Kerwin is also a “Super-Volunteer” for the Vail Valley Foundation, which means she organizes and coordinates all of the organization’s other volunteer coordinators, who, in turn, oversee and organize the hundreds of volunteers who give of their time to the VVF each year.
“Joanna is a such a generous and humble person, never one to desire the spotlight. She has a very busy professional life but still finds the time to give back through her tireless volunteerism across many wonderful organizations, including the VVF,” said Mike Imhof, President of the Vail Valley Foundation, which administers the award each year. “Beyond that, Joanna is a wonderful person and a caring friend to so many in our community.”
Kerwin remembers her first event volunteering in 2009. When she arrived she thought everyone already knew each other. As it turns out, they did not — but the culture of friendliness was so embedded in the Vail culture that everyone immediately began treating one another as old friends.
“I realized when I was volunteering for the Vail Valley Foundation that that was where my heart was,” Kerwin said. “I loved the fact that we would bring volunteers from all over – from our community, from out of state, even from outside our country – to volunteer for events, and for everyone to make it a really inclusive environment.”
“I’ve loved working with Joanna through the years,” said friend and volunteer coordinator Sue Godec. “She is very bright, intelligent, and brings a wide array of talents and ability to our volunteer team, not the least of which is her positive attitude.”
Kerwin’s volunteerism led her to give time to many nonprofits and causes in the area, but she began volunteering more and more for Vail Valley Foundation events and programs. Eventually, she became a volunteer coordinator and, in recent years, the coordinator of the coordinators, working closely with the Vail Valley Foundation’s Lisa Babb to manage the complexities of placing and training hundreds of volunteers at various events and programs.
“I simply can’t put into words what a wonderful person Joanna is,” Babb said. “She is very intelligent, hard-working, and she gives of herself completely in order to make this community a better place for everyone. She is very deserving of this honor.”
“The volunteers are the first people any visitor or local will encounter when they come to one of our events, and they are all so incredibly welcoming that it leaves people with a very good impression of our community,” Babb said. “Joanna embodies that characteristic and leads the volunteers by example.”
Kerwin said she never knows who she will meet when she starts working on a new project.
“You look at your voly list and you don’t know a new volunteer’s history, and when you talk to them you realize they were CEO of a huge company with 900 employees underneath them or something … and they are just happy to be a part of it and part of the event. It’s something pretty special about this community,” Kerwin said.
Aiming for the stars
Kerwin’s own history is jam-packed with successful ventures. After graduating with an accounting degree from Texas A&M, Kerwin jumped headfirst into the business world, opening her own retail store in Houston with guidance from her mother, who had retired from life as a nurse to start her own retail business. Kerwin then went on to get into the banking and finance world in California, then Denver, before finally landing in the Vail Valley in 2008. She is now a successful broker for Engel & Völkers Vail and Beaver Creek Real Estate.
2000: Kim Bender
2001: David Ozawa
2002: Barb Treat
2003: Dick Pownall
2004: Bill Douglas III
2005: Tenie Chicoine
2006: Fred Hassle & Jim Sanders
2007: Susan Frampton
2008: Kathryn Benysh
2009: Cheryl Jensen
2010: Doris Dewton
2012: Cookie Flaum
2013: Debby Jasper
2015: Brad Ghent
2016: Nancy & Mauri Nottingham
2017: Jan Hiland
2018: Tenie Chicoine
2019: Tom Russo
“I couldn’t have done any of this without the support of my friend, co-volunteer, and business partner Teri Lester,” Kerwin said of her colleague at Engel & Völkers.
Achievement runs in the family: Her father was the renowned astronaut, Joseph P. Kerwin, who served as the science pilot for the Skylab 2 mission among many other high-profile accomplishments with NASA. Joanna grew up in Nassau Bay near Space Center Houston, and said she is often asked what it was like being the daughter of an astronaut.
“Where I grew up, everybody’s dad was an astronaut, or part of mission control, or part of NASA,” Kerwin remembers. “So, being the daughter of an astronaut was the norm. People came to Nassau Bay from all over the country … so I don’t even have a Texan accent!”
Kerwin said she never aspired to be an astronaut herself, however her mother and father instilled a strong work ethic in her, and her two sisters, that has stayed with her throughout her life and helped fuel her volunteerism. She may not be in many of the photographs, camera shots, or the bright spotlights that many Vail Valley events bring, but there is little doubt her dedication to the community has made her one of the valley’s brightest stars.
The Vail Valley Volunteer of the Year is given to an outstanding contributor to the Vail Valley who supports the many nonprofit organizations and events in the Vail Valley, and embodies the volunteer spirit. The award is administered by the nonprofit Vail Valley Foundation.
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