Housing authority leader honored with John Penn citizenship award

Jan. 27, 2014 @ 10:12 PM

Xavier Wortham, executive director of the Oxford Housing Authority, was presented the John Penn Award for outstanding citizenship on Monday evening at the annual meeting and banquet of the Granville County Chamber of Commerce.

“He humbles me every time I am with him because of his dogged determination to improve the lot of so many in our community,” said Jackie Sergent, the mayor of Oxford who made the presentation in the Vance-Granville Community College Civic Center.

Wortham serves the community, Sergent said, “by taking the meaning of his day job and doing more with it than anyone could imagine, by nurturing the habit of consistently trying to meet the requests that come to him from all corners, and by identifying fundamental needs in the community and stepping in to develop systems to address them.”

Sergent cited the numerous value-added activities Wortham conducts at the Housing Authority and listed the many offices and memberships he has held in the community.

In accepting the award, Wortham said, “Everything Jackie said would not be possible without the support of a lot of people.”

He thanked the staff of the Housing Authority and “all of you who do anything for our children. Thank you for this honor.”

Wortham, grew up in Granville County and graduated from J.F. Webb High School. He earned a bachelor’s degree at Winston-Salem State University, studied at the Institute of Real Estate Management in Atlanta and received a degree from Rutgers University’s Center for Government Service.

The award, presented annually to recognize outstanding citizenship and contributions to the county, was named for Granville County resident John Penn, one of three North Carolinians who signed the Declaration of Independence.

The chamber’s Outstanding Community Service Award was given to Area Congregations In Ministry. In accepting the award, director Sue Hinman said it belongs to the volunteers. “I don’t do it, I just get the glory.”

William Adcock, chairman of the chamber’s Meetings Committee and master of ceremonies for the evening, said the meeting was planned as a tribute to the military.

Speaking on that theme were Lori Southerland, manager of the Fisher House at Fort Bragg, and John Falkenbury, president and chief operating officer of USO of North Carolina.

Southerland said, “I’m a gold star mother.”

Her son Michael died in Iraq in 2007. She said she was honored to work for the Fisher House at Fort Bragg since 2008. She showed a video and slides to illustrate what Fisher House does for service people and their families.

She described Fisher House as “a home away from home” for families of patients receiving medical care at military and Veterans Affairs medical centers. There are 62 Fisher Houses located on military installations or at VA medical centers in the U.S. and Europe, including two in North Carolina, one at Camp LeJeune Naval Hospital and the other at Womack Army Medical Center at Ft. Bragg.

Fisher House is a non-profit organization supported by donations, both cash and in-kind.

“Every day someone comes in with something we need,” Southerland said. “An Eagle scout built our gazebo. Home Depot tiled our bathrooms. Girl Scouts bring cookies.”

She said the best part of her job is, “I get to hug a soldier every day.”

Falkenbury said USO-North Carolina is the oldest continuous organization serving service personnel. It began in December 1941 at Camp LeJeune.

With a staff of 21 and with 800 volunteers around the state, USO-NC served 655,000 in North Carolina last year, he said. The organization helps soldiers dealing with issues arising from combat, eases the transition to civilian life and supports service families.

Monica Satterwhite, the outgoing chamber president, presented checks to Southerland and Falkenbury, saying, “I’ve been touched and I’ve learned a lot tonight.”

To the incoming chamber president, Cecilia Wheeler, she said, “Find your comfort zone and you’re on your way.”


Contact the writer at dirvine@hendersondispatch.com.