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Annual Lee West Memorial and Awards Service to take place Friday in Steubenville

TRIBUTE — Cookie West reflects on the all-too-short life of her son, Lee, who died in a 2012 house fire. On Friday, friends and family will celebrate his legacy with the annual Lee West Memorial and Awards Service at Tower of Power Church. -- Linda Harris

STEUBENVILLE — Friends and family will celebrate the legacy of Lee West on Friday, the eighth anniversary of his death.

The annual Lee West Memorial and Awards Service, which pays tribute to teachers, community volunteers and — new this year — first responders, will be Friday at Tower of Power Church, 1310 Maryland Ave., starting at 6 p.m.

West, who was a freshman at Steubenville High School, died in a house fire on Jan. 31, 2012.

“I just feel it would be what he would want to be done, if he were here,” said his mother, Cookie West. “It would be something he would be doing.”

West said her son made no secret of his appreciation for his community and the people in it.

“He had such a fondness for people who helped him in the community, this is an opportunity for us to continue to thank people within this community,” she said.

“He always made people feel special, he always had this ability to celebrate people. It just seemed natural to celebrate his life every year, but with the award aspect of service. It’s a way to give back and celebrate people doing amazing things in this country.”

The awards program is made possible through the nonprofit Lee Alexander West Spiritual Movement, otherwise known as L.A.W.S.

“In the last eight years we have awarded 24 Teacher Impact Awards, 15 Village Impact Awards, and this year we are introducing the Heart Award,” West said. “The Heart Award was established to honor first Responders, for their courage, bravery and selfless acts of preserving life. Lee passed away when our family’s home caught on fire and because of the bravery of firefighters, we had hope. The Heart Award honors individuals that look a crisis and challenge in the eye and decide to stay and fight, and we want to say, ‘Thank you’ ‘We appreciate you’ and ‘You are doing a fantastic job!'”

This year’s Heart Award will go to Steubenville firefighters in recognition of their efforts on behalf of her late son.

“We feel like they’re unsung heroes,” West said. “They really are individuals running toward a crisis, running toward challenges in these situations. As first responders, they give people hope that everything is going to be OK. Unfortunately, there are times when it’s not going to be — we just want to recognize not only the Steubenville Fire Department for those moments of hope, but all first responders who put themselves in harms ways to help preserve life.”

Others receiving awards include teachers Kevin Gallagher and Sandy Morelli of Steubenville Catholic schools, and Joe Biasi of Steubenville High School; and community volunteers Asantewa Anyabwile and Dr. Amjad Alkaed.

“We started with the teacher impact awards because so many people contributed to his life,” West said.

“Lee maybe didn’t have the opportunity to express his thanks to (everybody), but we have that opportunity to. From that award, it’s obvious a lot of other teachers are doing those things, impacting students, shaping our now and our future. It’s just been very rewarding, not only for us to see their smiles but also for students to nominate teachers and teachers to receive the award,” she added.

She said the village impact award is an opportunity to celebrate people who, often unnoticed, are working behind the scenes to try and make a difference in their community.

“I think a lot of times people (are quick) to point out negative things, but there’s a lot of great people doing a lot of great things in community and going (above and beyond) to help people have hope and push toward their future.”

West said she’s grateful for the opportunity to show her appreciation to the community.

“I’m grateful God has given us the strength to turn something so tragic into an opportunity to love other people and recognize other people,” she said.

“But by the same breath, we’re doing it because he’s not here. It’s kind of an indescribable feeling, but it is the circle of life. Being strong in my faith I understand that; but I am grateful to live in a community that has been so loving towards us, it really has made a difference.”

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