Al Berger Community Service in Aging Award

The Al Berger Community Service in Aging Award remembers a former President of the Board of Directors of the Society. Al Berger was a past president of The Society who volunteered many hours to lead the long term care insurance initiative to protect individuals who were placed in long term care facilities as well as quality of life efforts following the passage of OBRA in 1987.

The Society remembers his efforts by recognizing individuals who have made significant community service efforts for Colorado seniors. Each year the Board of Directors bestows the Al Berger Community Service in Aging Award

Past recipients have included Gene Bloom, Cody Dental Group & Tammie Rigby, Life Care Centers of America (2013), Josh Freiberg, Red Rocks Family Dentistry (2014), Hearing Rehab Center (2015), and Mike and Ann Drake, community volunteers (2016), Elaine Allemang, Karey Bradley, Forney Museum of Transportation, and United HealthCare Volunteers (2017), and Nicholas C. Peterson, Matthew Carlston, DDS; Jeanette Hensley (2018) and Reynaldo Mireles, Steven J. Zapien, DDS, Janet Weipert, Bernard Buckley (2019) and Julie Raney (2020).

In 2020 The Society is pleased to present the Al Berger Community Service in Aging Award jointly to Venita Vinson, Jeri Priest, Jeanette Mayes Parker, Axel Treutler, and Melanie Leaverton.


June 11, 1941 – December 30, 2021

Venita Vinson was the oldest child in her family.  She said that was important because she was assigned the role of caretaker very early in her life.  This upbringing of being a caretaker had become her mission.  Her paternal grandmother and her parents trained her to understand that there are no lesser beings and that she was responsible for making sure that all were treated with respect and caring. Venita was at her best in her political activities.  She learned early in her political career to translate the rules and the process and make it work for herself and those she cared about most.  Her mother was concerned with her eldest daughter becoming involved with political activity as her mother’s perspective was negative, based solely on newspaper articles. Venita prided herself in being able to bring order to political activity and to use it at work, at home, and as part of her work abroad. Venita was a staffer for Congresswoman Patricia Schroeder and chief of staff for Mayor Wellington Webb.  She did work abroad including in southern Africa with Nelson Mandela and his efforts at bringing peace in the world.  She actively participated in the Housing Advocacy Coalition with The Society.

Jeri Priest had been a Meals on Wheels volunteer for many years. When COVID-19 forced her to shelter-in-place, her family started to look for other activities in which she could engage from home.  They happened on the Telephone Buddy program.  Jeri quickly signed up and volunteered to take four individuals, not wanting to be outdone by Jeanette.  Jeri makes one-to-two calls to each of her telephone buddies each week.  She has logged more than 400 phone calls during the past almost two years as a Telephone Buddy. The friendships that she developed with her telephone buddies is amazing.

 Jeanette Mayes Parker was born to in Muscle Shoals, Alabama in 1948.  Jeanette graduated from high school in 1967 and moved to Denver in 1971.  She landed her dream job as a flight attendant in 1971.  In April 2021, she celebrated 50 years with Delta Airlines.  As a flight attendant she has traveled extensively throughout the world.  She usually flies several times a month on cross-continental trips.  At the beginning of the pandemic she was one of the individuals who came forward to help us with the launch of the Telephone Buddy program.  She immediately signed up to call four individuals once or twice a week and has continued in that volunteer work, even though she has gone back to work for Delta.  She is also active in other community volunteer work and with her church.  She is currently planning to move back to Alabama to be near family in 2022.  Her Telephone Buddies are planning to continue to keep in contact with her even though she is planning to move.

Axel Treutler is part of the Telephone Buddy program. Axel lives in an assisted living to receive the help he needs with his many health conditions.  Despite these health issues, he finds many opportunities to be involved in the community. As part of the Telephone Buddy program, Axel writes a weekly postcard to an elderly gentleman who lives in a nursing home and loves to get mail.  The gentleman’s guardian from the Office of Public Guardianship called to see if we could find someone who would send her client some mail.  Axel rose to the occasion.  In addition, prior to the pandemic, Axel was volunteering with Birds of Prey, a bird sanctuary. He worked specifically with cleaning the cages of the bald eagles.  He also volunteered with Holy Ghost sandwich line, making sandwiches for the homeless.  In addition, he is an accomplished artist making cards for school children and is looking for an opportunity to share his art work with any school that might be interested, as the Native American school where he was donating his work is not allowed to take any cards that are not packaged in a warehouse.  He also regularly volunteers with The Society.  He lives at Kraft Home whose owner is Julie Kraft, a CGS Board member.  Julie says that Axel is her helper in the kitchen, especially at holidays when she is preparing special meals, cookies, cakes, and pies to celebrate the occasion.  Born in Switzerland, Axel gives back to the community in many different ways.Melanie Leaverton was born the eldest of seven children to a pioneering couple who raised her on a homestead in Montana in a two room log cabin with no indoor plumbing until she was 8.  Her family installed indoor plumbing when the fifth daughter was born to her hard-working mother and father.  Melanie grew up ranching and attended a one-room county school, riding horses, helping milk cows, and build a larger log cabin for the growing family.  Melanie has lived in Montana, Minnesota, Oregon, Alaska, Iowa and now in Colorado.  She loves the mountains and currently resides in North Park which encompasses Jackson County on the Wyoming border in north central Colorado.  She volunteers with the Jackson County Council on Aging and the Aging Services Coalition of Northwest Colorado.  She serves as Project Coordinator for North Park Community Heart & Soul, and secretary of the North Park Area Chamber of Commerce.  As a community–minded servant and business owner, Melanie is active with the Lions International, the NW Loan Fund and Economic Development District Board for Northwest Colorado Council of Governments.  She is also a member of Club 20.  One of her favorite positions is a Court Appointed Special Advocate (CASA), where she loves on children who are victims of abuse or neglect.  She is a mom of 3 girls and a son, and “Grammy” to 12 grandbabies, Melanie says she is a happy and busy “young at heart” individual.  She also participates in the Housing Advocacy Coalition with The Society.Barb Noll was looking for something that she could do safely from home given the pre-schools in which she was substituting were closed due to the pandemic. She immediately responded to the request for help in the STA-Well News. Barb moved to Colorado in 1987 and continued teaching the Montessori method for 45 years when she retired at age 66. She says misses being in the classroom. She likes working part-time to give the regular teachers breaks and time to take lunch. She has gone through three different types of cancer. Her bladder cancer is now in remission. She recently had open heart surgery to replace two valves which she describes as a learning experience filled with stress and uncertainty. However, having a good support system has helped her get through a lot of it. Her Telephone Buddy has continued to be a source of support during this time.  Based on Barb’s values she notes that she would do the same for anyone, if the tables were turned and suffering from serious health conditions. She credits her belief system that has helped her get through all of these traumas. She notes that without her faith, she would be at a loss, scared, and helpless.