WASHINGTON – Fifty-seven volunteers from all over the country converged on the Capitol Tuesday to be honored as “the best of America” with the Jefferson Awards for Public Service.
And Carolyn Leavens,of Ventura County,Calif.,still can't figure out why she was there.
“I'm astonished,almost to the point of unbelief,” Leavens,70,said. “I have to pinch myself and wonder what in the world they choose me for.”
The awards are given by the American Institute for Public Service to individuals across the country who have shown commitment to community service. In addition to the awards ceremony,honorees attended a gala dinner in their honor and the awarding of the Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis Award for Outstanding Public Service to five of the honorees at the Kennedy Center Wednesday.
The Ventura County Star nominated Leavens,a rancher,for the award.
Leavens said she's done nothing extraordinary during her 25 years of volunteer work. Ignore her work with FOOD SHARE,a food bank that also helps serve children meals in after-school programs. Never mind how she worked to help bring a branch of California State University to her area,the first public,four-year college there.
Forget about when she flew to Lithuania with the Volunteers in Overseas Cooperative Assistance Program to speak to farmers about how to survive the destruction left in the wake of the Russian occupation. She didn't volunteer to get accolades; she did it because it needed to be done.
“There was an issue that needed to be dealt with,and I was in the right place,with the right tools and knew the right people to make it happen,” Leavens said.
Although Leavens couldn't recall all of the organizations she's worked with over the years,she has been most recently involved with Pacific Agribusiness Alliance,Wellness Community,the Agricultural Women's Leadership Network and the Ventura County Community Foundation.
“I can't even imagine,” she said. “You go from one to another and sometimes add on three and four and realize you're overloaded,but you don't have any option because that group needed help.”
So what's next for Leavens?
She's going back to Anchorage,Alaska,where she and her husband,Paul,left their RV when they flew down for the ceremony this week. Leavens said they have to get back to their home in Southern California before July 14,when one of the organizations she volunteers with kicks off its campaign to expand its facilities.