By Jessica Bagley
The Tonawanda News
Tonawanda News — The Chamber of Commerce of the Tonawandas will honor three award winners at a dinner Wednesday at Banchetti By Rizzo’s banquet hall.
The chamber’s tradition began in 1956 with the Citizen of the Year Award, and they added the Business of the Year in 1985. Sporadically, the organization awards a lifetime achievement award when a desrving individual comes to the attention of the judges.
This year, Matthew Piorkowski, owner of Matt’s Music Store in North Tonawanda, will be given the Lifetime Achievement award.
“He is always giving back his time and talent,” Joyce Santiago, executive director of the Chamber of Commerce said.
Piorkowski’s Oliver Street store has been open for 49 years and throughout that time he has made a big difference in many of his students’ lives and has also devoted much of his time to charity.
His jazz band, Matt’s Music Sensations, has played for Camp Good Days, Special Times and local nursing homes.
He’s also been known to give instruments to children whose families’ can’t afford them.
“That talent will stay with them for the rest of their lives,” Piorkowski said. “I love helping people.”
Another long-time volunteer, Larry Denef, will accept the Citizen of the Year award.
Denef, among other accomplishments, is the president of the Canal Fest board of directors.
“I put my all into that and try to make it better every year,” he said.
Although Denef is best known for the fest, he’s been an active volunteer since 1984 after being inspired by the death of his father.
“It just pushed me in that direction,” he said.
So Denef joined the Power Squadrons, a non-profit educational organization whose mission is to improve maritime safety and enjoyment. He became very involved in the organization and his family was named the WNY Boating Family of the Year.
Denef is also an Elks Lodge member and volunteer and has served as a member of the community advisory panel for 3M, FMC, DuPont and Ashland Chemical.
“He is always willing to help,” Santiago said.
And Painters Plus Home Decorating, Inc. has won the Business of the Year award. Opening its doors in 2001, the business is known for being a great employer as well as giving back to the community.
“Our community has been really good to us,” owner Jesse Gooch said. “It’s our way of giving back.”
Painters Plus holds a program called Project H.O.P.E., which stands for Helping Others Paint Exteriors. The program was started in 2011 and for the past two years, the business has painted individuals’ homes free of cost.
“Last year it was a disabled veteran,” Gooch said.
And this year, they painted the home of a 90-year-old woman, Jane, who had just moved into her home and had to replace both her roof and furnace unexpectedly.
“She had just lost her husband, too,” Gooch said.
So, in just a few hours, volunteers from the company painted her home.
“She was just ecstatic,” Gooch said.
All three award winners were quite humble about their accomplishments and were shocked when they heard the news.
“I was just completely surprised by it,” Piorkowski said. “I never expected anything like it.”
Members of the community are invited to come to the dinner Wednesday and honor the three award winners. The cocktail hour begins at 6 p.m., with dinner beginning at 7 p.m. Call the Chamber of Commerce at 692-5120 to buy a ticket.If You Go: WHAT: Chamber of Commerce of the Tonawandas awards banquet WHEN: 6 p.m. Wednesday WHERE: Banchetti By Rizzos, 550 N. French Road, Amherst TICKETS: $35 per person by calling the Chamber of Commerce at 692-5120 DINNER: Choice of steak, chicken saltimbocca, swordfish pescatore, vegetarian pasta primavera Contact reporter Jessica Bagley at 693-1000, ext. 4150.