Voting is open to pick the 2021 Westies award winners, from educators to young citizens

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The voting period for the 2021 Westie awards is open, and residents can cast ballots online until Feb. 4. The awards, which are put on by the Westlake Chamber of Commerce, honor locals across seven categories including educator of the year, best new business and young entrepreneur of the year.

Three finalists were selected in each category based on community submissions, and Executive Director Cathy Hoover said the chamber saw hundreds of nominations in each category.

“I'm excited to feature all of the individuals and businesses that have made a difference in 2021,” Hoover said. “This year continued to be a very challenging year for everyone, and these community members, whether they are business or an individual or groups, all really stood out and made a huge impact in our wonderful tight-knit Westlake community.”

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The winners will be announced at a luncheon on Feb. 25 at the Hotel Granduca. Winners in the nonprofit, educator, young citizen and young entrepreneur categories will receive cash prizes. The event also includes a silent auction, which helps fund the chamber’s humanitarian projects, educational programs and community events throughout the year. The ceremony also will include a keynote speech by Alan Graham, the founder and CEO of Mobile Loaves and Fishes.

Nicole Halder, center, the director of strategic outreach at Wonders & Worries, poses at the 2020 Westies award ceremony with award sponsor Teri Evans, left, the owner of Hand & Stone Massage and Facial Spa, and the 2019 winner Dana Delorenzo, at right, from the Eanes Education Foundation.
Nicole Halder, center, the director of strategic outreach at Wonders & Worries, poses at the 2020 Westies award ceremony with award sponsor Teri Evans, left, the owner of Hand & Stone Massage and Facial Spa, and the 2019 winner Dana Delorenzo, at right, from the Eanes Education Foundation.

Nominees for citizen of the year include Eanes Elementary School teacher Elizabeth Dodge and retiring Westlake football coach and athletic director Todd Dodge. The Dodges have been committed to building leaders and role models in the Westlake community, according to their finalists bio on the Chamber's website. Laila Scott, another finalist in this category, founded Pop-Up Birthday, which creates meaningful celebrations for children in foster care. Fire Chief David Wilson and the Westlake Fire Department are nominated for their work providing emergency services throughout the challenges of the pandemic and the 2021 winter freeze.

Three seniors at Westlake High School were nominated in the young citizen of the year category. Cade Klubnik led the football team to back-to-back state championships, started a weekly Bible study for 15 teammates, coached a youth 7-on-7 football team and is deeply involved in Young Life, a Christian youth organization. Finalists Cole Kosch tackled the issue of teen vaping in his Eagle scout project, creating a 30 minute informational video to help kids avoid vaping and offering resources for those who want to quit. Nominee Nate McCall is very involved with the Chap Band and Jazz Ensemble and leads a group of middle school boys in a Bible study every Wednesday evening.

Young entrepreneur of the year award nominees include the six students behind GiftE, a free interactive app for users to store, trade, send and donate gift cards. Mace Massingill, an eighth grader at Hill Country Middle School, is nominated for creating the nonprofit No Hunger Inc. and for his years of work raising money and collecting food to help those facing food insecurity. Nick Matzorkis, who graduated Westlake High in 2018, was nominated for co-founding Lakeside Services, which started as the first boat gas delivery company on Lake Austin and now provides services such as fuel delivery, boat detailing, boat captains, boat rentals and paddle board rentals.

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Finalists for educator of the year include Forest Trail Elementary fifth grade teacher Jamie Berrios, Bridge Point Elementary first grade Spanish immersion teacher Katy Schueller, and Jeff Nixon, who teaches in the Westlake Business Incubator program and coaches cheer.

Three nonprofits are up as finalists for Westies in their own category, including Massingill’s No Hunger, Inc., which encourages young people to get involved in their community by training them to run their own food drives and this year will offer small matching grants to individuals or groups fighting hunger. GETMAD, which stands for “Girls Energized To Make A Difference,” was nominated for their work engaging girls in service projects with other area organizations. The Rotary Club of Austin Westlake is a finalist for its long history of service work.

In the new business category, residents can vote for the new boutique Grove Hill ATX, the mental health care office Heading Health or i Fratelli Pizza. Business of the year finalists include the restaurant Chinatown, Hat Creek Burger Company and title and escrow company Independence Title.

More information about each finalist, and the form to vote, can be found online at the chamber’s website, westlakechamber.com.

This article originally appeared on Austin American-Statesman: Voting is open to pick the 2021 Westies award winners