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Jefferson Award: Ida Cockrum

Ida Cockrum is shown in the building materials storage room at the Coles County Habitat for Humanity office. Cockrum's work with Habitat for Humanity was one of the efforts that led to her selection as a Jefferson Award winner.

CHARLESTON -- Ida Cockrum's motivation from her time teaching carried over to helping families find homes, girls get prom dresses and more.

Her work took the form of everything from raising money to the more hands-on effort of helping to build houses.

Melissa McDaniel, executive director of Coles County Habitat for Humanity, said it's a "better organization" because of Cockrum's involvement.

"She is an amazing person, a loyal volunteer and a generous donor," McDaniel said. "Habitat and our families have received tremendous blessings from Ida."

Those thoughts and similar ones from others helped lead Cockrum to be chosen as one of this year's Jefferson Awards recipients.

As for Cockrum, she said the passion to help others dates from her time in teaching special education students, which she feels "blessed" to be able to do.

"It's just service to others," Cockrum said. "I think that's what we're all about."

Cockrum remains active with Habitat for Humanity, which assists families in obtaining mortgages, buys property for the homes and oversees construction.

She said the organization's mission hit close to home when she became involved in 2001. A co-worker at the Armstrong Center in Mattoon was a recipient family and their entire office volunteered for the home project, she said.

Now, she noted, the county chapter is observing its 30th anniversary and has plans for its 39th home. This house will be built in Mattoon, and Cockrum is part of recipient family's support team.

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Cockrum also served on the chapter's board of directors and said she sees an abundance of value in Habitat for Humanity, both in what this organization does and how Habitat does it.

Recipient families not only pay the mortgages for their home but also volunteer to help with the construction of their houses and others, Cockrum said. Among the benefits is that children who grow up in safe homes do better in school, she said.

"It's not a hand-out," Cockrum said. "It's just so rewarding to see families get their homes and thrive."

Cockrum's volunteerism also extends to other organizations, including the Mattoon Salvation Army, an organization she calls "true service."

She takes part in Salvation Army's Cinderella Closet program that helps girls who need prom dresses. She also works on its community Thanksgiving dinner and its participation in the One Stop Community Christmas program.

There's also time spent at the Mattoon Veterans Administration office, where Cockrum sends reminders to veterans about their appointments, serves snacks and helps with whatever else is needed.

Cockrum credited military service by her father, husband and other family members for helping with her belief that veterans should be treated honorably.

"I think it was my foundation," Cockrum said.

The Jefferson Award winner said she has found that there are numerous worthwhile organizations that "welcome everyone" and let anyone be opened to a "great world."

"There's a place for someone everywhere," Cockrum said. "It just takes that effort."

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Contact Dave Fopay at (217) 238-6858. Follow him on Twitter: @FopayDave

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Dave Fopay is a reporter for the JG-TC who covers Coles County, the local court system, Charleston schools and more.

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