GODFREY, IL – The third annual Chamber Choice Awards Luncheon will be hosted by the RiverBend Growth Association on Wednesday, May 22, 2024.

From 11 a.m. to 1 p.m., RBGA members, honorees, community leaders and area students will all converge on the Commons at Lewis and Clark Community College in Godfrey to recognize the efforts of individuals, businesses, organizations and government for contributions to the region’s quality of life, its economy, and toward making the River Bend the choice place to live and work.

The awards program has been designed to show appreciation each year to those who have promoted the work of the Growth Association and its ongoing mission to bring the communities of the Riverbend together into a cohesive working body that holistically keeps the individual communities thriving.

For 2024, one large business and one small business, along with one nonprofit, will be recognized with the RiverBend Growth Association’s Pioneer Award.

“The Pioneer Award is given to an individual or company who saw a community need and had the foresight to do something about it,” explained RBGA President John Keller.

As a large business, the 2024 Pioneer Award will be presented at the luncheon to West Star Aviation Academy. Their nomination, as submitted by a fellow RBGA member, noted, “The creation of the West Star Aviation Academy was visionary and forward-thinking to address the critical workforce shortage for their industry. The Academy will help fill crippling shortages both immediately, and for years to come.”

The small business chosen to be honored with the Pioneer Award is Sparks Junk Removal & Hauling. Owner Denise Sparks will mark operating this local woman-owned business for 31 years in May. Since the buyout of another local, family-owned trash service company a year ago, Sparks saw a vision and a need to continue “excellent weekly trash services at an affordable price.” She further saw that change was needed to stop residents from experiencing continually rising costs for their trash removal.

Sparks prides herself and her crew on ensuring customers remain the top priority. Her company is committed to excellence, and to “service with a smile.” And, as a leader by example, some days you may see Sparks herself delivering dump trailer rentals, or you may see her at the top of the landfill emptying trailers. “No matter what needs to be done, Denise has never asked her crew members to do anything she has not done,” the nomination further noted.

Kathy Wilson with the nonprofit Boys & Girls Club of Bethalto will also be honored as a recipient of the RBGA’s Pioneer Award. Wilson has given “her whole life” to the Boys & Girls Club of Bethalto, the nomination noted, adding, “She has always had the desire to help our youth become great leaders.”

Wilson has served as the executive director of the Boys & Girls Club for 21 years. In that role, she serves as a role model and mentor for the staff that work at the Club, the board members who serve the organization, and most certainly for the kids who attend the Club. Over the years, she has taught thousands of kids about the importance of equal rights, diversity, being responsible and showing kindness to all.

“The Club has always been a place that welcomes everyone, and Kathy has been a driving force behind that,” the nomination further read. “She consistently encourages kids of all backgrounds to interact and play together, to learn about what makes each person unique, as well as what they have in common, and to see the good and beautiful and in everyone.” Wilson has led teen groups in the Club, which involves encouraging and showing the youth involved the importance of community service projects and helping those less fortunate by volunteering.

Another honoree to be recognized at the May 22 luncheon will be Nancy Jo Wilson, who will be awarded the Chamber Champion Award. Nancy Jo joined the RBGA’s ambassador team in early 2023 and has gone “above and beyond” for the Growth Association ever since. She brought in five new members in 2023 and has already brought in an equal amount for 2024 with five new members for this year so far.

In addition to serving on the RBGA ambassador team, Nancy Jo Wilson serves on the organization’s Fall Membership Appreciation planning committee and has been a many years-long member of the Growth Association. She is the owner of Fancy Nancy on Main Boutique in Grafton and formerly with Jeni J’s Gift Shop and Guest Houses. Wilson noted, “I feel I can contribute to the success of the chamber by seeking new businesses to become members of the RBGA so they can experience the many benefits and opportunities that membership can provide.”

The Legacy Award will also honor exemplary service to the Riverbend region. “This year, it is being presented to two outstanding individuals who have recently retired after years of service to both the community as a whole and to the RBGA in particular,” noted Keller.

Maura and Augie Wuellner will receive the 2024 RiverBend Growth Association’s Legacy Award. Both have served in some capacity for the RBGA over the years. Augie was a board member, and board chair in 2017. Maura has served on the ambassador team as well as on the Small Business of the Month committee. The Wuellners will be recognized with a video honoring their service during the luncheon on May 22.

Multiple scholarships will also be presented to members of the RBGA’s Young Adults Committee during the awards event.

Registration check-ins for the 2024 Chamber Choice Awards Luncheon will begin at 11 a.m. on May 22 at The Commons on the Godfrey campus of Lewis and Clark Community College. Lunch will be served at 11:30 a.m., with the awards program beginning shortly afterward.

Sponsorship opportunities and individual tickets are still available. Award sponsorships are $800 each and include reservations for a table of eight. Table sponsorships are $600 each and also include reservations for a table of eight. Individual tickets are also available at $50 each.

The RiverBend Growth Association is the Chamber of Commerce and Economic Development organization for the 11 communities known as the Riverbend. For more information about the Growth Association, visit www.growthassociation.com or call (618) 467-2280.