First Lady Cathy Justice presents Rhododendron Awards to three Communities In Schools site coordinators


​CHARLESTON, WV – First Lady Cathy Justice presented a series of Rhododendron Awards today to a trio of site coordinators for the Communities In Schools program across West Virginia.

The First Lady’s Rhododendron Award recognizes individuals in West Virginia who have demonstrated goodness and worked for the betterment of their communities. In particular, this award seeks to recognize the “unsung heroes” throughout West Virginia, whose work has made a significant difference in the lives of others.

Kathy Brunty of Westside High School in Wyoming County, Mike Mullins of Clay County High School, and Carla Snell of Huntington High School in Cabell County were all honored with the award during a virtual ceremony in Charleston today.

“We have three exceptional people that we get to give our Rhododendron Award to today,” First Lady Justice said. “We’re so proud of all of our recipients for their work with Communities In Schools and we encourage them to keep doing what they’re doing.”
The First Lady was also joined for the ceremony by Deputy State Superintendent of Schools Michele Blatt, who oversees the Communities In Schools program for the West Virginia Department of Education.
Communities In Schools aims to forge community partnerships and bring resources into schools to help remove barriers to student learning with a goal of keeping all students in school and ultimately graduating.

CIS site coordinators work inside schools as the point of contact for students, connecting them with resources to ensure their academic and nonacademic needs are met; allowing them to be in the classroom, fully engaged, and ready to learn. They also work alongside community partners and school leadership to implement programs and bring additional supports into their facilities to help students succeed.

First Lady Justice and Gov. Jim Justice started CIS in three counties in 2018. Since then, the program has expanded to 23 counties, serving more than 30,000 students in 109 schools across the state.

In August, First Lady Justice announced the latest expansion of the CIS program included schools in Brooke, Kanawha, Jackson, Mingo, Mercer, Wayne, Pocahontas, and Upshur counties.
“Thank you so much,” Brunty said to First Lady Justice. “You truly are our hero in Wyoming County for investing in our schools and our students. You’ve just been that light that we could really turn to.

“I receive this award very humbly and I thank you for the recognition,” Brunty added. “But, as I thought about it today, the success of Communities In Schools is the school staff, the students, it’s the community partners, our central office, our superintendent, assistant superintendent…and the rest of our Communities In Schools workers. It’s just been an amazing journey.”
“I’d like to thank you, First Lady Justice, and Governor Justice for your support of the Communities In Schools program throughout the state,” Mullins said. “One of the goals of the Communities In Schools program is to meet the physical, social, and emotional needs of all West Virginia students. I believe that the best way to do this is to match students with a caring adult.

“The old adage that ‘They don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care’ is very true, especially in this time of COVID,”  Mullins continued. “I think students need to have a caring adult to talk with and meet.”
“I not only have to thank the First Lady, but I really have to thank the students at Huntington High…and the community here in Cabell County,” Snell said. “We went through drug epidemics – we’ve been through all kinds of stuff here in Cabell County – I can’t tell you enough about the support we have of the businesses here.

“I just have to thank you for honoring me with this award,” Snell continued. “I knew that God needed me here at Huntington High. I knew that West Virginia needed this Communities In Schools program really bad, especially during COVID. If there was a time for Communities In Schools, it’s right now.

“First Lady Justice has made a huge impact on all of our lives. When I walk down the hall, kids ask me when she’s coming back to visit…I just want to say thank you so much for everything.”

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Katie Speece,


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