Leona Doner said she felt the local community’s support more Monday evening than ever before.
She had good reason. The founder and executive director of Shepherd’s Care Medical Clinic was named the 2013 Citizen of the Year at the Zebulon Chamber of Commerce’s annual awards banquet.
“It means a lot,” Doner said as the awards event concluded at East Wake Academy. “When I first started the clinic, it felt like the town didn’t really care – didn’t believe it was going to work. And then, now, they’re saying, ‘Yeah, we believe in you now.’
“That’s important to me. The biggest thing is, now I feel accepted in the community.”
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Doner started the free medical clinic, which serves the uninsured who have chronic diseases, in response to what she says was a vision from God. This June will mark four years since its doors first opened on Pony Road in Zebulon.
Mayor Bob Matheny couldn’t keep the identity of Zebulon’s top citizen under wraps for too long as he read from nomination letters touting Doner and her one-of-a-kind service. One letter described her as a loving person with a great heart for the underprivileged.
“She is on a mission for the citizens of Zebulon,” Matheny read from the letter. “Every time I leave (the clinic) I feel that I have been cared for and cared about.”
Another patient was quoted as saying Doner “and all the others that give so freely of their time and expertise should be highly commended and continually blessed for their unselfish care, concern and commitment to all those who walk through Shepherd’s Care’s door.”
Doner said she didn’t know why she was selected for the honor, other than what the clinic has been able to accomplish.
“I want to give God the glory for (the clinic), because without Him giving me the vision I would have never done it and without Him by my side I could have never accomplished it,” she said in accepting the award. “And I’d like to thank the support of the Town of Zebulon for believing in what we are doing.
“There is a big need here. We’re trying to fill it.”
Several other individuals and businesses were recognized following a catered meal and a keynote speech by Ellis Hankins, the recently retired executive director of the North Carolina League of Municipalities.
Dallas Pearce Realty was named the Small Business of the Year, and Walmart reaped the large business award. Daralyn Sacarello was named Ambassador of the Year.
The banquet ended with a changing of the guard, as outgoing chamber president Kathy Smith passed the gavel to John Hanlon for the year ahead. Gary Hinson and Sharon Davis joined Smith as outgoing board members.
Hanlon previously served a stint as chamber vice president in 2005 before being named president and holding that title through 2006. He was also treasurer from 2011-13. The upcoming year will be his seventh as a chamber board member.
“I can't even say enough about how much he contributes and what kind of person he is,” said Kim Valentine, the chamber’s executive director.
Hanlon played a role in several key chamber events over the years. He came up with the idea for the annual 5K road race in 2007, and for the chamber’s first car show in 2010.