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Lee West Awards will be given

Tradition will go on despite virus

File photo REMEMBERING — Looking over a scrapbook devoted to her son, Lee, put a smile on Cookie West’s face in this file photo. This week, West will be presenting the ninth-annual Lee West Awards to educators and individuals who ha

STEUBENVILLE – This coming week, Cookie West will carry on a tradition that started nine years ago after the tragic death of her son, Lee — recognizing Jefferson County residents who go out of their way to make life better in their community.

Traditionally, the Lee Alexander West Spiritual Movement recognizes educators, first responders and community activists for their efforts to help those around them. Like everything else, West said they had to rethink it with the pandemic in mind so this year, instead of a centralized service, awards are being presented individually, on days and times of the recipient’s choosing.

“We had to consider everyone’s health and safety this year and we didn’t want to put pressure on families to attend,” she said. “(But) we never thought about canceling – we knew we had to put our minds together to figure out what we would do, but we (knew we) were going to do something.”

West’s son, Lee, was 15 and a freshman at Steubenville High School when he died in a 2012 house fire.

“Lee was a kid who was all ready for the unexpected,” she said. “Whether it was in school, sports or in relationships, he was always ready to step in or up. This is his legacy, this is his voice speaking to us. He deserves it. He wanted this done, that’s why he shared it with me continually and as long as I have breath in my body we will continue to let his voice be heard.”

This year, instead of asking students to nominate teachers who go the extra mile, West said they opted to recognize each school district – Buckeye, Edison, Indian Creek, Jefferson County Christian School, Jefferson County Joint Vocational School, Catholic Central, Steubenville City Schools, School of Bright Promise and Toronto City Schools — as well as the Jefferson County Educational Service Center, for their efforts to assist their student population, in school and out.

“The school districts have really been working their butts off … the administrators, principals, teachers, support staff … so we decided to just celebrate and appreciate all the school districts, every one that is a part of that group because so often they’re not appreciated — that’s why we started the Teacher Impact Awards, they’re unsung heroes, and they’re the ones who nurture and develop our young adults. We just want them to know we appreciate all the hard work they put in.”

West said three Village Impact Awards–given to individuals seen as building “healthy villages” for children–will be handed out this year:

¯ Ross Ivkovich, a 21-year teaching veteran with Steubenville City Schools. He’s currently teaching social studies and is head tennis coach at Steubenville Big Red. Ivkovich is “really just a guy who’s always there to promote children maximizing their lives,” West said. “He’s someone I think a lot of the students feel they can talk to.”

¯ James Maul, in his 49th year as an educator. Described by co-workers as “the nicest guy,” Maul taught earlier in his career but currently serves as guidance counselor at Indian Creek High School. He has been with the Indian Creek School District since 1999. “He really wants to be there, really wants to help,” she said.

¯ Troy Fernandez of West Karate Studio in Weirton. Fernandez was a longtime student of the late Clarence West, who lost his life in a 2008 house fire in Wintersville. Fernandez started West Karate to carry on his mentor’s legacy, helping children “get their minds focused and develop leadership skills,” she said, adding, “I’m just excited to be able to honor him as well.”

She said they won’t be handing out a Heart Award in 2021. That honor, which the committee started a year ago to recognize first responders, just isn’t doable in the middle of a pandemic, she said, pointing out she can’t single out just one first responder or organization when so many are doing so much.

“That’s truly what it is,” she said. “We just can’t single one out–they all deserve it. So, this year, we’re remembering all of their sacrifices–the one’s we know about and the one’s we don’t.”

Next year, to mark the 10th anniversary of the awards programs, West is hoping to be able to bring the honorees from 2012 onward together for a special recognition dinner.

“I can’t believe it’s been nine years, it’s been an interesting ride,” she said.

“My son truly loved people. He never met a stranger and wanted to make peoples’ lives better. So we want to continue to honor his spoken wishes, because those wishes are increasing value in peoples’ lives. There’s a quote I remember — ‘Give someone their flowers while they’re still here’ — we certainly agree with that.”

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