Joe Principe Honored With Governor’s Outstanding Volunteer Service Award

It started with wanting to make things better for his kids

Published: February 23, 2022          by: Lisa Walenceus and Carla Koss

Joe Principe will be recognized for more than 13 years of volunteer work with Autism Delaware when the 2021 Governor’s Outstanding Volunteer Service Award is presented in a virtual Facebook Live ceremony on February 24, 2022, at 7:00 PM. 

The New Castle County resident and co-owner of Benchmark Transmission volunteers his time and skills at annual Autism Delaware fundraising events, including the Drive for Autism, Track Walk and Autism Day at Dover Downs Raceway, the statewide Walk for Autism, and the statewide holiday party for families affected by autism spectrum disorder (ASD). Joe also donates his time and effort as a tireless hands-on member of Autism Delaware’s Walk for Autism and Blue Jean Ball committees. 

“Volunteerism has been central to building Autism Delaware into the organization it is today,” says Brian Hall, the agency’s executive director. “And over the years, I’ve met many family members who are committed to helping to create a caring community around people with ASD. But the legacy Joe has established is simply amazing. He always goes the extra mile, and he’s always willing to help out — all with a smile. 

“Thank you, Joe!” adds Brian.

Joe shies away from words like “legacy” or even the suggestion that there’s anything special about his volunteering: “I only do what I do because I want to help Autism Delaware programs in any way they need,” he explains. “I want everything to work and be the best it can possibly be for the sake of our [the autism] community.”

Volunteering begins with his kids

Joe met his future wife, Deanna, in the summer of 1988. After graduating from Delaware Tech with an accounting degree and deciding that what he really wanted to do was automotive work, Joe knew it was time to settle down and start a family with “Dee,” but he had no clue that ASD would become part of his life.

“When my son Joey was a toddler, and then my daughter Sami came along,” he says, “we knew that there were problems, but we just didn’t know what was going on. With Joey, things just came a little slowly, things like talking and potty training. With Sami, well, her issues were much more severe.”

The process for evaluating his children’s issues was long and difficult—and not what Joe and Deanna had expected from life. But once they had diagnoses, Joe and Deanna had a sense of direction for helping their children.

Joe Principe with NASCAR collectibles he sells to raise money

Joe collects signed NASCAR memorabilia to raise money for Autism Delaware.

“We reached out in any way we could to connect with other parents of children with autism,” Joe says. “I think that’s really important for parents with newly diagnosed children. 

“Autism Delaware programs, like the parent coffee hours, the holiday train rides, and bowling nights, were important to us because we met people who were going through the same things we were going through. We could support each other and learn from each other, too.”

Because Joe wanted to make good things happen for his kids, he began to volunteer.

“My first volunteer job was when Joey and Sami were at the Brennen School,” he says. “Dee was on the PTA, and parents wanted to organize a typical Fun Day for the kids so they could have a good time—just like at any other school.”

Now that his children have graduated from high school, Joe focuses more than ever on his volunteer work for Autism Delaware.

“I’ve been on the Blue Jean Ball and Walk for Autism planning committees for the last 10 years. I also attend these events as a sort of freelance volunteer so that I can pitch in to deal with anything unexpected that comes up. I like to keep things going smoothly. It makes for long days, but I love to be a part of making these events work as well as they do.”

Joe, the phenomenal fundraiser

Joe is also phenomenally good at raising funds: “I never mind asking people to contribute. I know a lot of people through my connections to parents, customers, and fellow business owners. I just email people to let them know what’s up with my kids and how they can help. People are always willing.

“I know the money will go to a good cause that impacts more and more people all the time,” adds Joe. “When Dee and I started, it was one in 150 who were diagnosed with autism. Now, it’s one in 44. I think everyone probably has some connection to autism.”

“Joe is truly an inspiration because he engages at every level he can and has done that for many years,” says Autism Delaware volunteer and community engagement specialist Susan Campbell. “We are so grateful for his hard work and dedication.

“Our community is blessed to have people like Joe involved in our work,” she continues. “He represents an extraordinary group of volunteers who are dedicated to helping us fulfill our mission—and we always have room for more! I hope people will follow in Joe’s footsteps and become a part of our service to the autism community.”

About the Governor’s Outstanding Volunteer Award

Joe Principe is the second Autism Delaware volunteer to receive this awardParent-advocate and longtime Autism Delaware volunteer Karen Tuohy was a 2018 award winner.  

Administered by the State Office of Volunteerism, the outstanding volunteer award honors people from across the state for the significant impact that their engagement and volunteerism have had on Delaware communities. The awards are sponsored by the Office of the Governor, the Department of Health and Social Services, the Division of State Service Centers, and the State Office of Volunteerism as well as the Governor’s Commission on Community and Volunteer Service.