Jefferson Award Winner: Birney Dibble - WQOW TV: Eau Claire, WI NEWS18 News, Weather, and Sports

Jefferson Award Winner: Birney Dibble

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Eau Claire (WQOW)- Tucked away in a corner of the local library you'll often find Birney Dibble and Paul Okooroji, in a room where these friends have met  for the past 12 years.

Conversation comes easily, but it wasn't always that way. Over a decade ago, Paul and his family traveled from Nigeria to Eau Claire, seeking U.S. citizenship.

"I wasn't happy," said Paul. "I was about to go, then I met him". The pair met through Literacy Volunteers of the Chippewa Valley, where Birney was hoping to help someone learn to speak English.

"He's just kind of one of those steadfast guys that's loyal, passionate about helping people, " says Cheryl Sutter with Literacy Volunteers. "He brings a heart to the work that I think he's done here volunteering."

Birney recalls the time before he was matched with Paul, "I said give me a student. And they said 'I have just the person for you.'"

Within moments of meeting one another, they formed a life-long friendship. Paul remembers the meeting, "When he mentioned Lassa Fever I said 'What?' He said 'Yeah, I was in Nigeria when the Lassa Fever was going on.'" Birney adds, "Having lived there for a period of time, working in a mission hospital and he coming from the same area. To match up like that... There's a hand there working behind the scenes."

Nigera was just one of many countries Birney lived and worked in, doing mission work around the world,in places like Saudi Arabia, East Africa, Guam and Equador.

"There were a lot of things on the mission field that were tough," remembers Birney. "And it wasn't easy. But we felt we were doing something worthwhile. And when you're doing something worthwhile it's easy to forget whatever mishaps, hardships whatever."

"He came into our life, assisted us, showed us the way," said Paul. "America is a land of opportunity if you know how to get through. And you get through with somebody backing you up. Without him backing us I don't think I would be here, happy, today."

Birney served as chief of surgery for many years at local hospitals before embarking on 20 years of mission work.

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