Story by Connie George, World Ark contributor
Photos courtesy of Suzanne Awalt
If life were a sport, we’d all want Suzanne Awalt on our team. In her life and extensive roles supporting Heifer International, she’s passionate, disciplined, considerate, inquisitive, structured, positive and committed. Awalt is a longtime Heifer volunteer, donor and former board member.
A curiosity about the world led Awalt, at the age of 26, to enlist in the Air Force as a commissioned officer. While stationed at Travis Air Force Base in Fairfield, California, Suzanne was introduced to Heifer International through her husband, Roy, and his church.
The commitment of the congregation to raise money through local produce and flower sales for complete strangers halfway around the world resonated with her. From one global citizen to another, the congregants offered the gift of animals, trees, seeds and training to those in need.
The Awalts settled in a suburb of Sacramento following her retirement from the service and immediately got involved in the Sacramento Hunger Happening with proceeds benefiting Heifer. From there, her focus was volunteering with Heifer’s former learning center in California giving farm tours and assisting with a children’s camp. What Awalt remembers most from her time there were the committed staff and fellow volunteers with whom she worked. The Becks, Quinleys, Millers and Marvel Lund were all her mentors and became close friends.
In 1998, Bill Beck nominated Awalt to be an at-large member of Heifer’s Board of Directors. Being on Heifer’s Board brought a new dimension to her volunteer efforts: spokesperson. Awalt took her first field visit to Peru and Bolivia and found the connecting link to her volunteer efforts. Meeting the farm families was a joyful, transformative experience for her. Seeing the project families’ trust in Heifer’s training program and their willingness to learn, not only sustainable agricultural practices but also how to work as a family and a community more effectively, gave Awalt the stories about Heifer’s work she wanted to share.
Awalt led a Heifer tour to Albania and Kosovo in 2006 where one noteworthy project focused on war widows. She met a teacher who had helped the widows escape from Kosovo to Albania by walking them across the mountains to safety. Their houses had been bombed, their husbands and teenage sons were killed and all their farm animals killed as well. When the war was over, the teacher helped in the community’s rebuilding efforts and introduced the women to Heifer, where they began to rebuild their agricultural lives and homes.
Awalt also credits her husband, Roy, with their involvement with the Heifer Foundation. He saw the opportunity to donate the proceeds from the sale of a condominium as a perfect way to contribute financially to the organization. A charitable remainder trust was established and funded with the proceeds from the sale. When he passed away in 2006, Suzanne established the Awalt Family Endowment to honor Roy’s memory through the Heifer Foundation.
Awalt says her three decades of involvement with Heifer transformed her life and have given it meaning. Meeting the project families around the world and sharing their stories has been a bonus to her work with Heifer. She has seen tremendous growth since the ’70s through Heifer’s agroecological methods of farming as well as marketing and value-chain development to bring small business entrepreneurship to the farmers. She is proud of Heifer’s role as a world leader in hunger and poverty alleviation and plans to continue to support Heifer’s country programs as a donor and passionate volunteer.