Centralia Police Officer and Family Receive Governor’s Service Award for Volunteerism

By Natalie Johnson / njohnson@chronline.com

On April 11, Gov. Jay Inslee recognized people from around the state with Governor’s Volunteer Service Awards, acknowledging their commitment to serving the communities they live in.

For Ruben and Teresa Ramirez, who were given one of the awards along with their children Bo and Leticia, the award recognizes too few people. 

“There have been so many people that have helped, so many businesses that have given,” Teresa Ramirez said. “It’s a community effort.”

The Ramirez family was recognized for their work with the Centralia Police Department’s Night Out with Santa event. Ramirez, an officer with the Centralia Police Department, is also involved with the department’s Special Olympics Torch Run and fundraising efforts for the programs. 

“You don’t really think about why you do it,” he said. 

Inslee proclaimed April 11 as Volunteer Appreciation Day in Washington.

“I join all Washingtonians in thanking these individuals who contribute tirelessly to benefit others,” Inslee said in a statement. “People who volunteer their time and energy are the backbone of our state. I encourage others to look for opportunities that not only provide valuable experience but also help strengthen our communities.”

Honorees were nominated by members of the public, private and nonprofit groups and volunteer organizations.

Ruben Ramirez took over the management of the department’s Christmas program about five years ago, he said. Then, it was a Shop with a Cop event, in which individual officers accompany children while they shop for Christmas gifts for their families. 

However, Ramirez said that program was limited by the number of officers were off-duty and could attend. 

“We were leaving a lot of kids out,” he said. 

The program’s budget could support more, so the department revamped it into the popular Night Out with Santa event, during which children and their families selected by school counselors join officers for a night of fun in the days leading up to Christmas. 

Children and their siblings are treated to presents, pajamas and food while they play games, watch movies and visit with officers. 

The Ramirez children have also been involved with the programs from a young age. 

“I always wanted them to see that stuff,” he said. 

Last year, both of the Ramirez’s children moved away for college, but both came back to help with Night Out with Santa. 

“We didn’t want our kids to never understand what it’s like to go without,” Teresa Ramirez added.

Ramirez said he benefited from the kindness and charity of others as a child at Christmas. 

When his family came to the area they were poor immigrants who didn’t want to ask for charity, he said. 

“My parents were afraid of the police,” he said. 

One year at Christmas, a church group brought them food. A few days later, sheriff’s deputies showed up with presents. 

“I remember back then, my mom and dad, how thankful they were,” he said. 

The Ramirez family said none of their efforts with Night Out with Santa or any other project would be possible without donations from individuals and businesses in the community.

“A lot of people have helped,” Teresa Ramirez said. “You feel like everyone should get it.”

The family plans to continue working with Night Out with Santa and the police department is actively raising funds for the 2017 event.