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There are a lot of unsung heroes in our communities, and they deserve recognition.

But they don't want it.

So many volunteers work quietly at their chosen tasks, putting in hours upon hours to help others, and they do it because they want to assist people less fortunate than themselves. Or they have a project that helps people in need, and the last thing they want is the spotlight on themselves -- they want light cast on the good work in which they're involved so that work can be supported.

But at this time of year, the JG-TC, along with dedicated local sponsors including Consolidated Communications and First Mid-Illinois Bank & Trust, reject the notion that these public servants should shun the spotlight.

We're ready again to give some of them the pat on the back that they never seek.

The Jefferson Awards for Public Service, in their 14th year locally, honor deserving people in our communities for their work in -- as the name states -- public service.

Via the Jefferson Awards website (, here's a basic summary of what the effort is all about:

OUR MISSION: To power others to have maximum impact on the things they care about most.

WHAT WE DO: Through celebration, we inspire action. Our programs and partnerships drive Americans to change their communities and the world.

OUR HISTORY: The Jefferson Awards Foundation was founded in 1972 by Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis, Senator Robert Taft Jr., and Sam Beard.

Locally, more than 80 people have received Jefferson Awards via this program. You'll find some of their names familiar: Justin Grady of Mattoon, founding member of the Mattoon Mural Arts Program, youth sports and PTA volunteer, a 2017 honoree; Skyler James of Charleston, who was abandoned at birth and later adopted, whose activities include advocacy for "safe haven laws" and similar programs, a 2016 honoree and a winner chosen to attend the national gala in Washington, D.C.; and 2016 awardee Gary Swearingen, financial adviser at Wells Fargo, whose activities include the Mattoon Rotary Club food drive, the bandshell project at Mattoon's Peterson Park and the board of the Little Theatre on the Square in Sullivan.

It's time to nominate additional deserving community members, and we urge you to do so by emailing the JG-TC's Karen Collier at Letters supporting the person you believe should be honored should give details on the work they do, and letters of support from multiple people for one nominee are encouraged. The deadline for nominations is March 13.

Here's what to think about when considering who you should nominate.

We're looking for people who have done things to help create the quality of life we enjoy in the Mattoon, Charleston and surrounding areas. In some cases, this means people giving of their time and talent. In others, it may be someone promoting a cause that has substantial public benefit.

As the JG-TC Editorial Board wrote for a previous year: As examples, in 2004, the first year of the local recognition, the five people who were chosen from our area included a cardiologist who donated his time to read heart tests of high school athletes to prevent potentially life-threatening issues, a woman who campaigned for a state law to screen certain birth disorders after the loss of her child, a 7-year-old girl inspired by her grandmother to raise money for cancer research, a Boy Scout leader for more than 40 years and a man who was a prolific writer and a volunteer with Lincoln Log Cabin State Historic Site.

In particular, we hope to see the nomination of young people in our communities as a way to recognize their interest in helping others.

There may not be much "glamour" in unpacking boxes of food at the local food pantry, or delivering meals to the elderly, or creating blankets for hospitalized children or military service members. But just think of the wide-ranging effects these unsung heroes have on the larger community.

So often it seems that "all" of the news we report is bad -- shootings, domestic battery incidents, dog-eat-dog politics and more negative stuff. The Jefferson Awards offer all of us the opportunity to enjoy the heart-warming stories that happen every day in our communities.

I hope you'll do your part to put the spotlight on a worthy person and nominate someone this year.


And just because once in a while I like to start an, um, interesting "discussion" ...

It's time to ban the AR-15 rifle.

Whoa. I guess I just threw that out there, huh?

I mean, it's time to prevent civilians from owning or having access to the AR-15 and similar weapons which have no other real use or purpose than to kill, and kill en masse.

I know, I know. I'm supposed to preface this with something like "I don't want all guns banned," "I support the Second Amendment, but ...", yada yada yada. Lessen the blow, y'know.


I do support our Second Amendment rights. I'm a gun owner and I enjoy target shooting. I don't think that banning a particular gun is going to solve the problem of mass shootings in this country in one fell swoop.

But it's a start.

I know, I know. More Americans die in many different ways other than by the gun. Some folks like to cite vehicle accidents as examples of deadly incidents that take lives ... well, a car is designed for transportation. It has a bad side effect of sometimes playing a part in deaths.

Guns, like the AR-15 in particular, are designed to kill. That's their entire purpose.

Oh, I know -- so are swords, for example. But a man with a sword can't kill dozens of people within minutes, and just keep shooting and killing and shooting and killing.

I think a little child's or a teenager's or an adult's right to not be shot down in school, for example, trumps gun owners' "rights," including my own. And no one has a "right" to own a rocket launcher ... so why do some people think it's their "right" to own a rapid-fire handheld killing machine?

So let's get the AR-15 out of civilian hands. And, let's improve mental health treatment in this country. And, let's work to temper bullying and hatred in our society. And, let's arm police with all the tools they need to protect people, so that fewer civilians will think they need to be armed to be safe.

It takes a holistic approach. We've got to do something to initiate change. So there -- I said it.

The AR-15 has got to go.

Let that be a start.

Penny Weaver is the general manager and editor of the JG-TC. Her columns include her own opinions and do not necessarily reflect the views, opinion or editorial position of the JG-TC. Contact her at or 217-238-6863, and follow her on Twitter @PennyWeaver.


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