The husband of the founder of the Jewish Volunteering Network Leonie Lewis has recalled how she was unable to turn down any opportunity to support the community, in an emotional speech at an awards evening held in her memory.
Howard Lewis hailed his late wife’s legacy at the Jewish Volunteering Network (JVN) awards, following her sudden death in April 2022 aged 66 after a diagnosis of lymphoma.
Addressing 400 guests from the Jewish and wider communities at the Grove Hotel in Hertfordshire, he said: “Whenever she was asked to do some task, on a voluntary basis, she could never refuse, despite my best efforts to get her to say no, just once.
“The room is overflowing with people who have come across Leonie over many years. It’s so nice to see them all – it’s very special. All I ever get from people I don’t know is what impact she had on their lives – she touched many, many people.”
Leonie and Howard’s sons, Ben and Adam also spoke movingly in tribute to their mother.
In the JVN’s first in-person awards event since the pandemic, 90 award winners from 46 charities were recognised across four categories: Volunteer of the Year, Volunteer Team of the Year, Young Adult Volunteer of the Year and Lifetime Achievement Award. Additionally, an outstanding winner was awarded in each group.
Outstanding Volunteer of the Year was won by Dr. David Spitzer, a GP for KEF Kids at their residential schemes for children with disabilities.
Ian and Jane Pearl, parents of a child supported by the charity, said: “Our child has highly complex medical needs and we have only been able to send him to Camp Kef due to Dr Spitzer volunteering his time and expertise summer and winter for years! He is an exceptional doctor, an incredible person and an outstanding volunteer.”
Volunteer Team of the Year was awarded to the Royal Free Charity digital volunteers, who teach patients how to attend their appointments remotely using bespoke NHS software. Jon Spiers, CEO of the Royal Free Charity, said: “The volunteers have helped thousands of patients attending our sleep and ventilation clinic at the Royal Free Hospital across the past two years and saved the NHS many, many hours of professional time.”
Young Adult Volunteer was awarded to Ben Brownson, who has spent the last 13 years volunteering for Maccabi GB and set up the Jewish Golf Initiative, aimed at making the game more diverse, inclusive and accessible.
Ashley Lerner, CEO Maccabi GB said: “Ben has always had Maccabi at the centre of his life. Whilst golf is his passion, Ben always is the first to volunteer to support one of our projects, always on hand to assist his colleagues and the professional team and always doing it with a smile on his face.”
Meanwhile, Jewish Care volunteer Rita Newmark, 89, was given the prestigious Outstanding Lifetime Achievement award following five decades of volunteering. Newmark was one of the founder members of the Meals on Wheels service, established in 1973 by a group of friends cooking in their own kitchens for older, isolated people in the community.
Accepting her award, for which she was given a standing ovation, Newmark said: “It seems strange to win an award for something that has given me and my husband Leon, so much enjoyment. During this time, we have made so many lifelong friends whilst serving our local community.”
The charity’s CEO Daniel Carmel-Brown hailed Rita for “continuing to give her skills, time, and expertise delivering meals and nurturing and inspiring many others to volunteer. Today, this service provides 700 meals each week to 300 older people.”
A fundraising campaign to create the ‘Leonie’s Life and Legacy programme’ for 2023 has surpassed its original £36,000 target and is now aiming for £66,000: £1,000 for every year of her life. The JVN is in conversation with ten charities including Mitzvah Day, Faiths Forums for London, Camp Simcha and Goods for Good to partner on events over the year to inspire people into volunteering.
Nicky Goldman, JVN’s Chief Executive, closed the evening by hailing her mentor. “I am so proud that JVN, together with Howard, Adam and Ben Lewis, celebrated the life and legacy of Leonie Lewis MBE z”l at the JVN Celebration of Volunteering Awards. On a personal note, Leonie Lewis was my mentor, my colleague, my friend. Her memory will always be a blessing to all those who she inspired throughout her life.”
A group of Leonie’s friends are collecting money this Friday for Community Connex (formerly Harrow Mencap, which she fundraised for regularly) outside Tesco’s in Pinner Green.
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