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Passionate volunteer is Citizen of the Year

Penny Traber of Fredericksburg is a nominee for Virginian of the Year. Penny volunteers at the homeless shuttler, nursing home, and on mission trips to Kentucky, Ohio, and Peru. (Suzanne Carr Rossi/The Free Lance-Star)


This Christmas, the  homeless children at the Thurman Brisben Center  will have something to celebrate, thanks to Penny Traber.

Each year, the Spotsylvania County resident heads up efforts to gather holiday treats: brightly wrapped presents for Christmas, candy-filled plastic pumpkins for Halloween and baskets brimming with goodies for Easter.

Traber doesn’t just help people in need during the holidays, though. Throughout the year, she makes dinners, collects food, visits nursing homes, organizes church mission trips, helps support an orphanage and volunteers with several area nonprofits.

It would exhaust anyone just to read a complete list of Traber’s volunteer work. And she has a husband, two children and a full-time job to boot.

“I try to live my life to the fullest each day, and then I’m ready to go to bed at 8 p.m.,” Traber said.

The Free Lance–Star recently chose Traber as its Citizen of the Year after reviewing nominations of many local residents. Now, Traber is in the running for Virginian of the Year, an award given by the Virginia Press Association.

Last year’s recipient was Fredericksburg resident and philanthropist Doris Buffett.

Traber was chosen this year because of her extensive, hands-on work in the community and beyond.

She’s always had a heart for those in need. As a child, she said she begged her mom to adopt a foster child.

“I felt so bad for those kids who didn’t have a family,” she said.

Traber’s mom was a single parent raising five kids, so she didn’t give in to her daughter’s pleas.

But that childhood compassion stuck with Traber, and she often donated to local charities.

For years, Traber’s charity came in the form of a check. She made a good living as a Realtor and was more than happy to share her bounty with those in need.

Then, in 2005, Traber went to Peru with her congregation, Ni River Community Church. There, she saw firsthand a level of poverty she’d only read about.

On the last day of the trip, the church group held a bonfire on the beach. Staring into the flames, Traber felt God speaking to her.

“He was saying, ‘I don’t want your money, I want your time,’” Traber said.

She returned to Spotsylvania and immediately joined a new effort at her church, an outreach group called Mercy with a Mission.

Traber soon became director of that ministry. And she’s led the group to organize a monthly dinner at Thurman Brisben Center and regular visits to Carriage Hill Nursing Home.

The group also helps needy area residents repair their homes; mans the red kettle for the Salvation Army; sponsors families for holiday help through the department of social services; and collects food for the Fredericksburg Area Food Bank.

The ministry also heads to Ohio and Kentucky each year to build youth centers and hand out coats to low-income children. And each year, the church sends a team to Peru to help with an orphanage and host Vacation Bible School.

“She has all this passion on such a grand scale,” said the Rev. Travis Pauley, lead pastor at Ni River Community Church. “Through that passion, all these people wanted to follow her lead and serve others.”

Church member Carla Hord said that Traber’s enthusiasm inspires the whole congregation.

“Penny never makes you feel uncomfortable or guilty about not doing something, but she presents the opportunity to get involved and you want to be part of it because she’s so positive,” Hord said.

Hord, who teaches kindergarten at Robert E. Lee Elementary School in Spotsylvania, nominated Traber for the award because of her impact on children in the area and across the globe.

Hord wrote that hungry children in the area will eat breakfast because Traber organizes an annual cereal drive for the food bank.

“Penny has a huge heart of compassion, care and generosity,” Hord wrote. “She is humble and her radiant smile reflects the joy that fills her heart.”

Amy Flowers Umble:   540/735-1973


The Free Lance–Star’s choice for Citizen of the Year has lived in Spotsylvania County for most of her life. She graduated from Courtland High School in 1984. She and her husband, Greg, have two children: Macy, a sophomore at James Madison University and Kyle, a freshman at Riverbend High School.

Traber’s volunteer efforts are too numerous to list, but they include: serving on the board of directors for the Spotsylvania Education Foundation; supporting the Fellowship of Christian Athletes; directing the Mercy with a Mission ministry and volunteering with Habitat for Humanity, Hope House, Rappahannock Big Brothers/Big Sisters and the Thurman Brisben Center.