Jefferson Awards: In Honor Of Many, In Memory Of One

The 2016 Brew-Off is packed with people, vendors, and of course - beer. However, if you look close enough, you'll notice an empty chair sitting on the stage. It's always there as a reminder of the H.A.V. in HAVlife - Hunter Aaron Vondran.

"Hunter had one of these personalities that was very magnetic for a young soul," described his father, Mike Vondran. "Some people call them - 'old souls.'"

However, Hunter was just 13 years old when he died after a water park accident in 2004.

"When Hunter was hurt, he had a rather lengthy stay at the University of Iowa Hospitals trying to heal his injury," explained Mike. "Ultimately, it did not heal. It would up taking his life."

The Vondran Family received thousands of dollars in donations. Those donations became contributions to our community through a non-profit they created called HAVlife.

"Its mission is to prevent lost potential," said Mike Horsfield, Board Member of HAVlife and Owner of Rock Valley Physical Therapy. "We're all about that age group - that vulnerable age of 10 to 15 years old. That's often when kids decide to make good decisions or kids decide to make unfortunate decisions, so if we can prevent lost potential by keeping them involved in activities that show them a better path - that's what HAVlife is all about."

HAVlife uses events like Brew-Off and the Martini Shake-Off to raise money for that mission - no matter how small.

"It might be something as simple as music lessons," said Mike. "It might be something as simple as eyeglasses so the kid can hit the hoop, but all of a sudden he excels in the classroom because he could never see the board before."

"We don't walk in and say - 'poor you.' We walk in and say - 'you're really good at something.' We want to build on that and if we can take this foundation where they have some success, where they have a real passion - the rest of it is going to come."

Since 2007, HAVlife has collected more than $700,000 impacting more than 8,000 kids. In honor of each one - and in memory of the first - Mike is being nominated for the Jefferson Award.

"He's truly committed to our community," said Horsfield. "It's not about the accolades. It's not about these nice deserving awards. That's who he is. That's how he runs and he doesn't know any other way."

"I'm very humbled by this nomination, but I don't really believe it's a 'me' thing," said Mike. "It's a 'we' thing."

"We work with a lot of coaches and counselors and teachers and school districts and other youth service organizations like The Legends or Ellis Kell at the River Music Experience and they'd o all the heavy lifting. These people are awesome. They are literally putting all the sweat into it. What HAVlife is providing them is a voice."

The Jefferson Awards

It's all about the people who are changing our community. For the third season, WQAD News 8 and Genesis Health System are bringing you eight local nominees of the Jefferson Award. The Jefferson Awards Foundation is a prestigious national recognition system honoring community and public volunteerism in America, or as well call them, "unsung heroes." On the last Tuesday of every month, WQAD News 8 will announce one nominee. Then, in Spring 2017, one of the eight will represent the Quad Cities in Washington, D.C. at the National Jefferson Awards Ceremony.