West Michigan Works! recognized 10 area frontline workers with Beverly A. Drake Essential Service Awards. Honorees were recognized at The Economic Club of Grand Rapids meeting on February 5 and presented with a $100 gift card. The Essential Service Awards recognize frontline workers who go above and beyond their daily responsibilities and display integrity, passion and commitment.    

2023 Essential Service Award honorees are Kristie Azzoli, customer experience specialist at The Rapid ITP; Heidi Carpenter, program aide at Barry County Commission on Aging; Scott Kinyon, cleaning at Aggressive Tooling, Inc.; Marolyn Lopez, corporate receptionist at Plascore; Kim Pitsch, park ranger for Allegan County; Derek Ryan, courtesy team member at Meijer; Beatrice Salgado, preschool teacher at Early Learning Center; Denver Sincler, beer tender at Tantrick Brewing Co.; Maria Solis, senior quality assurance specialists at Trans-Matic; and Darcie Wallace, care coordinator at Meals on Wheels Western Michigan. 

“While we have always valued the contributions of frontline workers, the current economic climate, marked by rising inflation and cost of living pressures, makes this year’s Essential Service Awards even more pertinent,” said Mark Bergsma, West Michigan Works! workforce development board member. “Honoring frontline workers’ dedication and perseverance remains crucial as many continue to navigate uncertain economic waters while serving our community.” 

Beatrice Salgado, a preschool teacher at the Early Learning Center in Grand Rapids, was honored in the childcare category. Early Learning Center site director Jennifer Barlage recalls Salgado going above and beyond to support a refugee child and her family. 

2023 Essential Service Award honorees from left to right: Kristie Azzoli, Heidi Carpenter, Scott Kinyon, Marolyn Lopez, Kim Pitsch, Derek Ryan, Beatrice Salgado, Denver Sincler, Maria Solis and Darcie Wallace.

“The little girl had quite a bit of trauma and separation anxiety. She was struggling with moving to another country, starting a school and speaking a new language,” said Barlage. “Beatrice just took that whole family under her arms. She helped the child feel safe and welcome at school, connected the family with her friends so they could secure stable housing, helped the mom look into potential schooling and got the staff together so that we could help give them a Christmas.” 

“I want to be that special person who children can form relationships with and feel safe around,” said Salgado. “Winning an essential service award means that my work doesn’t go unnoticed and makes me feel proud of what I do.” 

Essential Service Awards categories include administrative/office worker, cleaning/housekeeping/groundskeeping, childcare, food service, government, health care/elder care, hospitality, nonprofit, retail, skilled labor and transportation. 

Marolyn Lopez, a corporate receptionist at Zeeland-based Plascore, Inc., was recognized in the administrative category. Lopez started with Plascore as an operator in the factory. However, her hard work and soft skills led to her promotion to receptionist. 

“We have interview candidates come in and I’m the first person they meet and I don’t take it lightly. We have a lot of Spanish-speaking candidates that come in, so being bilingual, I’m able to help them as well,” said Lopez. 

Lopez attributes her work ethic to her mother.  

“My mom was a housekeeper at Country Inn, and my very first job was working alongside her on the weekends while I was still in high school,” said Lopez. “I have been raised to be independent, strong and compassionate for others.”  


For Denver Sincler, a beer tender at Allegan’s Tantrick Brewing Co., the human connection draws her to the service industry. Sincler was honored in the food service category. 

“I like making people feel special, and it’s just the little things – remembering their drink or something small like that – that makes people feel special,” said Sincler. “It is nice to recognize that I go above and beyond to make people feel special. It feels amazing to be acknowledged.” 

To be eligible for an Essential Service Award, individuals must have at least two years of employment with their current company, hold a non-managerial position and exhibit pride in their job, a positive attitude, a strong work ethic and effective time management.