"Harlan County Santa" awarded national Volunteer of the Year

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WALLINS CREEK, Ky. (WYMT) - Mike Howard was awarded the 2016 Kentucky Association of Health Care Facilities Volunteer of the Year award. Now, Howard has won a national Volunteer of the Year award through the American Health Care Association.

Howard was nominated by the Harlan Health and Rehabilitation Center for both awards. Howard has volunteered at the facility once a week for around 40 years.

"That's my job. I love my job," said Howard.

Volunteering at the nursing home was a good deed Howard did not expect to turn into recognition two years in a row.

"He gives them his time and he visits with them, talks with them, prays with them," said Gail Hensley, Administrator at Harlan Health and Rehabilitation Center.

Howard has devoted time to many other causes in Harlan County, which is what made him stick out from other nominees.

The most popular of his volunteer acts is acting as the "Harlan County Santa". He spends a week in December handing out donated gifts to children across Harlan County. Howard says he has affected at least over 2,000 children.

"It means something to me when a kid comes out, and they're barefooted or ragged and you get to go and give them new stuff," Howard said.

Howard will not be attending the American Health Care Association award ceremony in Las Vegas in October, due to his recent diagnosis of lung cancer. Hensley is accepting on his behalf though, and she says there is no one better to represent.

"I noticed the plaque on his wall in the kitchen that says love is more than just words," Hensley said. "Well he lives by those words."

Howard says he wishes he could receive the award himself and give the acceptance speech in person.

"I appreciate the people of Harlan County, and all people all over for the awards people give me," Howard said. "It's an honor."

Starting next month, Howard will begin to wrap presents for the children in Harlan County, so he can deliver them in December.

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