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Teisha Simmons recipient of Volunteer of the Year award

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FAIRBANKS — When Teisha Simmons learned she received one of first lady Sandy Parnell’s Volunteer of the Year Awards, she was surprised. Simmons, 35, said she doesn’t feel like she is volunteering as much as she is fulfilling a responsibility.

“I’ve always been an advocate for healthy lifestyles,” she said.

Simmons, director of the University of Alaska Fairbanks Interior-Aleutians Campus, spends a lot of her free time helping people. She helps rural families who experience the loss of loved ones, people battling cancer who spend a lot of time away from home and people who lose their homes to fire, among others, to raise money to cover expenses. And she offers her support.

Twenty years ago, Simmons was in a car accident in her hometown of Galena that changed her life forever. She broke her fourth cervical vertebrate and became paralyzed from her shoulders down.

In an article from 2000, Simmons told the News-Miner that the accident might have been a blessing in disguise.

“I think that was what got me back on track,” she said. “I was very present-oriented when I got hurt.”

In 2000, as a master’s student of community psychology at the university, Simmons was already passionate about volunteer work and helping others. She was excited about a study of sobriety among Alaska Natives known as the People Awakening Project.

Today, she sits on the Doyon Foundation committee and a couple of subcommittees. She also sits on the Doyon Limited board.

“My biggest passion is language revitalization and suicide prevention,” she said.

Simmons travels around the state for work, to Unalaska, Tok, McGrath, Holy Cross, Fort Yukon, Galena and Nenana, among other places, encouraging people to realize their educational goals.

“My heart has always been with our youth,” she said. “Along the same lines, like many of our people, it breaks my heart to see families experience difficult times and grief, so I try my best to help out where I can.”

Simmons was one of six recipients of the Volunteer of the Year Awards.

“It is an honor to continue this exceptional tradition that recognizes citizens who have given their time and talent to help others,” Parnell said in a press release. “Our state is blessed to have so many Alaskans dedicated to serving their communities, fellow citizens, and encouraging others in volunteerism.”

Simmons and the other volunteers will be recognized at a luncheon and ceremony on May 4.

Contact staff writer Reba Lean at 459-7523.

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