The Meaning and Purpose of An Award

I don’t believe in self-promotion by any means.  Okay, the picture above would contradict that, but follow me here.  If done too much, it makes you sound like a narcissistic hog:  walking around with its nose stuck up in the air, covered in mud. 

However, when something comes along that is very important and you get recognized for it, you feel proud. 

Last week was one of the moments, when I received an award for community service from the Young Professionals Connection, which is a young professional organization under the Greater Des Moines Partnership

The story, to me, isn’t how I received the award, or the acceptance speech, but the story of how this award was created. 

The Ashley Okland Community Service Award was created this year by YPC to honor the memory of an individual whose time here on this crazy place we call Earth ended too early, senselessly and unspeakable. 

Friday, April 8, 2011 appeared to be a normal day around town.  I was hanging out at Scooter’s Coffeehouse (now closed) in West Des Moines.  An acquaintance of mine, Liz Nelson, posted on Facebook that she had an extra ticket to a Civic Music Association concert at Drake University that evening and the first person who sent her a message, would get it. 

Not wanting to pass up a chance, I let Liz know I would take it and attend the performance.  About 3 minutes later, a twitter post came across my laptop that there was a shooting in West Des Moines at a model home.  I casually glanced at it and went back to work, waiting for more information to come out. 

Ten minutes later, it was posted that an Iowa Realty real estate agent was shot and was transported to the hospital.  At first thought, I selfishly was hoping that who ever it was will pull through. 

I headed home, got dressed, and headed to Drake University for the concert at Sheslow Auditorium. 

I arrived on campus, met Liz, picked up my ticket and went inside for the performance.  A little after 9pm, there was a 15-minute intermission period.  I headed outside to check my Twitter feed and get caught up.  The reception in the auditorium was not very good.  I started to see several “RIP” tweets and other tweets with “shocked”, “horrible”, and “sad.”  I scroll down my timeline to find out more about who was the agent that was shot. 

The agent died.  The name of the victim:  Ashley Okland.  I started running through my all-too informative brain trying to picture her.  I did.  I ran into her a week before at Smokey Row.  We didn’t know each other very well, beyond the fact that she served on the YPC board and the both of us participated in several YPC functions. 

The cool evening wind I was feeling felt like an ice storm that blew in and froze time.  It was surreal and unsettling.  I was not in a state of shock.  I was angry.  Pissed off.  Only a coward would do this and run.  Only a cold-calculated individual would commit a heinous and unspeakable act.  

Ashley Okland

A couple of deep breaths and then a long drawn in breath and I exhaled.  I turned around and walked back inside for the second half of the concert.  Yeah, there was no way I could enjoy the rest of the evening.  I was worried about everyone else that knew her:  her family, friends, and colleagues.  It was not going to be easy for them.  

During the final portion of the concert, I knew what I needed to do:  write about it.  I knew what to write and what I needed to describe.  Not for myself, but to offer what small solace it could offer at a time of raw emotions that is neither neat and clean, but rather crestfallen and heartbroken.  I have always been able to shut off my emotions and write what I think and observe.  That night, I needed that ability more than ever to do it. 

Arriving home, I sat down and read as much as I could from the Des Moines Register and other sources online.  As the cursor blinked, I began writing.  In two hours, I wrote this piece that resonated with the YPC community here in Des Moines.  Out of all of the blog posts I have written over the past 6 years, this one was the most challenging and the one I didn’t want to write.  In fact, I hate re-reading it even to this day. 

But I re-read the post once a month as a reminder for myself that internally I will not have satisfaction or relief until the coward who pulled that trigger and cut down an innocent person is captured, tried by a jury of his or her peers, and learn their punishment for this crime. 

Flash forward, eight months to that day in April, I’m receiving congratulations from friends upon being bestowed the inaugural Ashley Okland Community Service Award.  I was selected due to the work I have done as a volunteer in several groups and in general.  I’m a volunteer veteran.  I’ve been lending my time to volunteering for roughly 6 years.  Ashley was just starting to hit her stride as a volunteer. 

Yes, most of you who are my friends will keep reminding me that I’m deserving of this award.  I can’t deny that.  I should embrace it. 

But this award isn’t about the winner of the award, for it is the person for which this award is named after.  We tend to forget the story and the value of what an award means when it’s named after someone, as a way to honor them, or remember them when they are no longer here. 

Let us not forget this reminder when we are recognized for the great things we do in our careers, jobs, and in the community, be it church, park, or school.  For every award, there is a reason and a purpose behind it. 

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