'The very best of us': Utahns, nonprofits granted Spirit of Service awards

Recipients of the first annual Governor's Spirit of Service award pose for a photograph on Wednesday.

Recipients of the first annual Governor's Spirit of Service award pose for a photograph on Wednesday. (Ashley Fredde, KSL.com)



Estimated read time: 3-4 minutes

SALT LAKE CITY — A high school student, a mayor, a community advocate and a 10-year-old girl were all among recipients of Gov. Spencer Cox's first annual presentation of Spirit of Service Awards.

The ceremony was held Wednesday at the Utah Capitol, honoring four individuals and four organizations. The awardees were selected from over 100 nominations and were meant to represent "the very best of us," according to the governor's office.

Service has been a leading initiative for the Cox campaign and administration, as well as for first lady Abby Cox.

"We really wanted to take an opportunity to recognize individuals and groups who are making a difference in our community through acts of service; now everyone being recognized today is the reason that Utah leads the nation in volunteerism and charitable giving," the governor said.

Cox added that while he always loves to share where Utah ranks No.1, this statistic is among his favorite since the state has led the nation in service and volunteerism for approximately 13 years.

Among the awardees, Cristina Diaz de Leon who was honored posthumously. Diaz de Leon was a major community advocate throughout the COVID-19 pandemic and worked to get members of the Hispanic community vaccinated.

"My mom was a passionate person and she was unwaveringly dedicated to her community. She was always involved in activities and programs that brought people together. She wanted to be a voice for the Hispanic community in Utah," her daughter, Maya Mismash, said on Diaz de Leon's behalf.

Diaz de Leon battled lung cancer throughout the pandemic, and has since died.

"Although she was fighting cancer and had health concerns of her own, she prioritized the health of her fellow community members. Her cancer journey was long and difficult and she was a fighter and that presented itself in everything she did. My mom was a very fierce compassionate person," Mismash said.

Diaz de Leon's efforts were recognized by the governor as something that "saved hundreds of lives, if not more."

Another recipient was 10-year-old Andilynn Chambers, of Harrisville, who has been asking for donations in lieu of gifts on her birthday for the past four years. The donations are then taken to homeless shelters, domestic violence shelters and other nonprofit organizations.

"You do it for yourself and for the other people that, actually — I want to show people how to give an act of kindness and I'm wanting other people to keep creating that chain of kindness," Andilynn said.

Other awardees include:

  • Helper Mayor Lenise Peterman
  • Emily Rojo Mendoza
  • Little Lambs Foundation for Kids
  • Artes de Mexico en Utah
  • Ruff Haven Crisis Sheltering Center
  • The Moab Multicultural Center

"There are good people everywhere giving back, don't get me wrong, but we still have that sense of community here and the people you've heard from today for them," said Cox. "The cool part about it is we could have done hundreds of these. You all have friends and neighbors, people in your neighborhoods, who you're thinking: they qualify for this."

The governor intends to continue awarding selected people and organizations for years to come.

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Ashley Fredde covers human services, minority communities and women's issues for KSL.com. She also enjoys reporting on arts, culture and entertainment news. She's a graduate of the University of Arizona.

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