Monday, February 16, 2009

And the Winner Is...

The Jefferson Awards Ceremony, honoring the top volunteers in our region, took place on Thursday night, Feb. 12.

Each year, thousands of local applications are submitted to the Jefferson Awards. Those applicants are narrowed down to 50 Community Champions. From those 50, seven "unsung heroes" are selected as the local winners. They receive a Jefferson Award medallion, a $1,000 grant for their organization and publicity in the Post-Gazette. Among those seven was NAMI volunteer Dick Jevon.

At the awards ceremony, seven video clips showcased each of the winners and what they do for their organizations. Then each winner had a few minutes to speak.

Listening to their stories was inspiring. From Amy's Army (started by a stay-at-home mom trying to find a bone marrow match for her friend's daughter Amy) to Raising Achievement in Monroeville & Pitcairn (run by a second grade teacher trying to close the education gap), each story was more touching than the next.

Dick Jevon did us justice with a wonderful presentation on who NAMI is and what we do. We were all very proud to have him represent us at such a prestigious event--and we very fortunate to have him as our own volunteer and advocate.

The final winner (selected onstage from the seven) was Nancy Heil with Homeless Ministry. Her story was amazing. She started a small ministry 15 years ago when someone left a coat at her house. She ended up giving it to a cold homeless man on the street. From there, the ministry began, moving from clothing to food and beyond. She does no fundraising and only accepts in-kind donations.

Nancy describes her work as "an endless flow of miracles." Whatever she needs seems to magically appear. For instance, one time she needed diapers. On her way out of church that day, she saw a man in the back pew. They made small talk and she told him about her ministry. She said she had to make some calls to find diapers. He said, "I can get you diapers... I'm a diaper rep!"

That's the way Nancy's ministry works. She was in tears as she received the top honor and a standing ovation. Nancy will go on to represent the Pittsburgh region at the National Jefferson Awards.

NAMI would like to congratulate the 50 Community Champions and seven Jefferson Award winners, and say thank you to Dick for all he's done for us over the past 25 years.