Aug 02, 2023

'You can help somebody': VCI names veterans advocate of the year, hands out many honors


Nancy Tavalsky (center) is presented with the Veteran Community Initiatives Inc. Veteran Advocate of the Year Award on Tuesday, Dec. 20, 2022, by board chairman Matt Johnson (center, left) and board emeritus Ed Wojnaroski as group President and CEO Tom Caulfield (left) applauds.

JOHNSTOWN, Pa. – Veteran Community Initiatives Inc. held its annual appreciation breakfast Tuesday for members and local veterans at Sunnehanna Country Club in Westmont.

“The thing we’re here for is to help veterans,” VCI President and CEO Tom Caulfield said. “That’s the bottom line.”

This was the 29th year for the event and 16 awards were handed out to volunteers, organizations and board members.

Nancy Tavalsky was named the Veteran Advocate of the Year.

“It was a shocker,” she said.

Tavalsky, the retired Cambria County director of veterans’ affairs, currently works part-time for the Vietnam Veterans of America.

Caulfield told the crowd that Tavalsky is a hard-working person who is dedicated to helping veteran, and puts in quite a few late nights making sure everything is taken care of for them.

“It’s just rewarding to know that you can help somebody,” she said.

Tavalsky said accomplishing that goal is important – but knowing that she’s improved others’ lives is a joy.

Another honoree was Rebecca Leidy, a soldier and family readiness specialist with the Pennsylvania Army National Guard, who was chosen as the Ed Cernic Sr. Community Support Recognition Award recipient.

She said working with veterans in the community and those serving around the world is a pleasure.

Caulfield told the crowd that Leidy “has diligently worked with service members, their families and veterans in the community since May 2014.”

At this time, she’s supporting more than 100 families of deployed service members through monthly contacts and assistance.

She also works with 10 commanders and 18 National Guard units to ensure their Family Readiness Groups are running. For the past two years, she has organized a substance abuse prevention program for veterans in western Pennsylvania.

Additionally, VCI Chairman Matt Johnson was chosen as Board Member of the Year.

Outstanding community supporters included Martin-Baker America, GapVax, 1st Summit Bank, Capital Principles LLC, Johnstown Elks Lodge 175 and Windber Country Club.

VCI board members Chris Koop and Karen Esaias were honored for 10 years of service to the group, and John Forte and Tammy Barbin were recognized for five years of service.

World War II veteran Harry Muncert was saluted as the Veteran of the Year, although he couldn’t attend.

Former VCI board chairman Ed Wojnaroski received the Lifetime Achievement Award.

Muncert and Wojnaroski were first recognized at the Salute to Veterans dinner in October.

Joshua Byers is a reporter for The Tribune-Democrat. He can be reached at 814-532-5054. Follow him on Twitter @Journo_Josh.

As a child, Harry Muncert often proudly wore the Dixie Cup hat from the Navy uniform that belonged to his father, a World War I veteran.


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