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Idahoans honored as 2019 Hometown Heroes

The JRM Foundation celebrated its ninth year of recognizing Idahoans who have committed their lives to improving our communities.

Ten people were honored with the Hometown Hero medal Saturday, including seven southeast Idaho philanthropists.

Robert Wallace, from Pocatello, was honored at the 2019 Hometown Hero Award Celebration for his efforts as a mentor for at-risk youth.

“I met a young man that used to follow me when I was coming home from work. He was getting out of school, and he would ask me for my bike,” Wallace said. “Then I got to know him, and he was having a rougher situation, and I realized I could help in more ways than just that.”

Wallace became like a big brother for the young man, who helped come up with the idea for Wallace’s youth group, Big Brother Lowriding.

Wallace and his brother-in-law, Michael Miller, mentor at-risk youth, teaching them people skills, responsibility, respect and also helping them with their education. On top of that, they’ve given out more than 200 lowrider bikes to get the kids and community back on bikes.

“When I was a kid, freedom was a bike. There wasn’t social media, there wasn’t internet, there wasn’t stuff like that. I was out on my bike constantly,” Wallace said.

In exchange for the bike, club members volunteer their time fixing bikes and cleaning up the community while keeping their grades up.

Being honored as a Hometown Hero is special for Wallace, who grew up in foster families and had troubles with drug abuse and the law.

“Coming from a harder background, it was like I had to work so hard to get something, and I was so focused on some things, and maybe they didn’t work out for me. But, this time I wasn’t.

“It just rolled into it for me, you know? I just lost sight of what was going on and got so invested that one day I was like, ‘Wow, I got nominated for something?’ That feels amazing,” Wallace said.

Big changes are happening in Wallace’s life, as he just resigned from his job at the Salvation Army to focus more on Big Brother Lowriding. He hopes to open an after-school program in the future.

Rita Haggardt, another medalist from Pocatello, has been serving food to people with food insecurity for 38 years. She also volunteers her time with the Girl Scouts, the Bannock Kiwanis Club, United Way and many more organizations.

“Whenever I’m needed, I’m there,” Haggardt said. “My parents were immigrants from Greece, and they really loved this country. They expected their children to respect and do things for it.”

She says she feels humbled to be honored as a Hometown Hero.

“I’m with a great bunch of people, and a great number of people have won over the years. People say to me, ‘You should get this,’ and… I’m touched,” Haggardt said.

Southeast Idaho had five other medalists awarded as Hometown Heroes: Ronda Cheatham, from Blackfoot; Stephanie Taylor-Silva, of Idaho Falls; Bill Maeck, of Idaho Falls; Toni Carter, of Idaho Falls; and Norm and Beth Hill, of Pocatello.

“These are common folks who have given their lives for other people’s benefit and betterment,” said Fahim Rahim M.D. F.A.S.N, the chairman of the JRM Foundation board.

The full list of medalists and their accomplishments can be found here.

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