A local woman has earned a top title for her work and dedication.
On Oct. 20th, Marlene Pannenbecker was announced as the 2014 Mom of the Year Community Champion category winner in Walmart’s Mom of the Year contest.
Pannenbecker said that she was surprised and excited when she was informed about her winning.
“When they initially called me, because I never expected it, I did a little scream and a dance,” said Pannenbecker.
In July, when she was announced as a finalist, Pannenbecker said it was unlikely that she would win the contest as she thought she was too far behind the leader in votes to win. However, that was when Pannenbecker was unaware there would be more than one first place winner announced.
It actually wasn’t long after she was announced as a finalist that Pannenbecker was made aware she would be one of the winners. She was sworn to secrecy, with the exception of being able to tell her family and closest friends, until the announcement was made official this week.
Initially, when she was first made aware of her nomination, she said she was a little embarrassed about it. She said she has kind of become used to the idea, but the whole experience is still a bit strange to her.
“I think I’ve come to terms with it. My friends all tell me that I should embrace it, enjoy it and be happy about it, which I am,” said Pannenbecker. “It’s just not my nature to be in the spotlight, but I’m getting used to it. I’m not embarrassed by it, I’m more humbled.”
As a result of the contest, Pannenbecker will receive $10,000 for herself and $10,000 to go to the charity of her choice. She has chosen Dominican Feed the Kids to be the charity that will receive the donation.
Dominican Feed the Kids is a charity that is close to Pannenbecker’s heart for a number of reasons. It is through her family’s work with the organization that she met her four adopted children from the Dominican.
The charity is run by Pannenbecker’s sister and brother-in-law.
The organization is a program that runs thrice weekly in the Dominican village of Ascension that feeds 200-300 children daily.
With the funds from the Walmart Mom of the Year contest, Dominican Feed the Kids hopes to expand that program to serve the nearby village of Puncha Mateo, one that is in even more dire need of assistance, said Pannenbecker.
When her sister was visiting earlier this year, Pannenbecker asked her what would be done with the $10,000. She was told there is a lot that could be done by Dominican Feed the Kids with $10,000, but the current priority is expanding that program.
“There are so many places you can pick to put $10,000 in a charity like that because it always needs help and always needs money.”
She added there is yet another neighbouring village that her sister is hoping to aid through Dominican Feed the Kids sometime in the future as well.
Not only is the donation to the organization important to Pannenbecker, it’s important to her family and especially her children.
The four youngest of Pannenbecker’s seven children were all adopted from the Dominican Republic.
Pannenbecker said it has always been maintained in her family that her children’s roots are not forgotten. She has also instilled in her family the importance of giving back.
“I think the one thing that I’m proudest of is the fact that all seven of our kids have hearts of gold, they would give to anyone,” said Pannenbecker. “That is their motto in life, to help others, because we have been helped a lot and I’m proud of that part.”
As such, Pannenbecker’s children were excited about the award and did not question at all where it was going, she said.
“It really was impressive to me that when we did win the money the kids knew exactly where it was going and how happy they were about that,” said Pannenbecker.
She added that Dominican Feed the Kids has taken on an even more special meaning since the death of her son Damian, who was killed in a crash near Olds earlier this year at the age of 19. Marlene said her sister and Damian were very close and the charity always meant a lot to Damian.
“It would mean a lot to (Damian) to know that the money we have won has gone back (to Dominican Feed the Kids),” said Marlene.
The organization is of course not the only benefactor from Marlene’s award. In July, she said she was at a bit of a loss with what to do with her own $10,000 award should she win.
Now that she has been announced a winner, Marlene’s friends have stepped up and helped her decide. As January will be a very difficult month for the Pannenbeckers with the anniversary of Damian’s death, Marlene’s friends have organized a girls’ trip to Mexico with Marlene and 15 of her friends during that month.
Marlene said the vacation will be an interesting change as when she takes vacations herself with her family, they usually take working vacations and work with Dominican Feed the Kids.