This week we would like to shine our spotlight on Shirley Levene, a past Women of the Year award recipient. Shirley tells us about the rollercoaster of emotions she experienced as a nominee and recipient! Her story is, like so many others, humble and revealing; showing us that service comes from the heart. You can learn more about Shirley and her charity at www.leejaylevene.com.
Year you were nominated: 2014
Category in which you were nominated: Community Service
Tell us about your work in the community that led to the nomination.
I use my late son, Leejay’s, artwork, to help raise money for charitable causes locally and across Canada. There are two ways by which I do this. One, is by shipping framed prints to live and silent fundraising auctions. The other way is by partnering with a different institution in K-W each year, and together selling thousands of fundraising calendars with Leejay’s artwork.
Tell us about your first reaction when you were approached about accepting a nomination for Women of the Year.
I received an email that read: “Congratulations, you have been nominated for the K-W Oktoberfest Rogers Woman of the Year Award”. This was SHOCKING to me!! Who would have done this, I thought? Any close friend of mine would certainly have known that this wasn’t my cup of tea. I do what I do as a form of therapy. I proceeded to email friend after friend after friend, but received similar responses which read, “No it wasn’t me”, or, “I should have, but no, I didn’t do it….” I was running out of friends to ask. When my husband came home from his office the day I received the nomination, I said, “Please look me in the eyes and tell me you didn’t nominate me for the K-W Oktoberfest Rogers Women of the Year Award”. He, of course, couldn’t wipe the grin off his face, nor could he look me in the eyes. “So it was YOU!”, I said. It took a few days for all this to sink in, but then I thought it was very nice of him to do this for me, even though I still didn’t like the idea, and agreed to go through with it and attend the award ceremony.
Tell us about your experience as a nominee. What was your favourite part?
My favourite part? Finding out who had nominated me and who had written letters of reference on my behalf. Humbling experience.
Tell us about your experience at the award ceremony.
I chatted with Miss Oktoberfest. She was a very sweet young lady. We were asked to have our pictures taken by the official photographer. Everyone in attendance was friendly and seemed excited. It was there that I felt honoured and humbled to be part of this evening, and I finally got over being annoyed with my husband. It was also very nice to see how proud my family and friends were of me. I can cry just thinking of it.
Tell us about your reaction when you learned you were chosen as one of the Women of the Year? How did you feel?
Well, I did not see this coming! I had nothing prepared to say; no notes, zip! I hate public speaking. I avoid it at all costs. When my name was called announcing I had won, I stood up from our table and headed towards the stage. I remember leaving my table, looking back, and seeing my husband, son, and mom, all crying. I still had no idea what I would say once I got onto that stage. I started by saying I didn’t know if I should laugh or cry. I then thanked my husband for nominating me, and heard a roar from the audience. And then it hit me! I might as well milk this opportunity. I should publicize the calendars we’re selling! I proceeded to tell the audience about my calendar project benefitting Meals on Wheels, and where they could buy one. All in memory of Leejay.
Did anything interesting happen as a result of being a recipient of this award?
Yes! Calendar sales soared. It was great!!
What are you doing now to continue your service to the community?
Same as I have been for the past 8 years. I sell calendars at $10.00 each, in memory of my son, Leejay. This year the calendars benefit Kitchener Public Library. With the money raised, they will create a Teen Tech Living Room which will include furniture, computers, and other tech components as part of the teen area at the Central Library. A nearby study room will be named in Leejay’s memory.
Following your experience, would you considered nominating someone for Women of the Year? Why or why not.
Yes, I definitely would! Most people would LOVE the opportunity to be recognized for the work they do in our community. I would also leave them with a few words of advice; no matter how strongly you feel that you will NEVER win this award, always have something written down… you never know! I would also like to say how honoured I felt to be nominated alongside three amazing women in our community who deserved an award as well; Meaghan Coneybeare, Alison Fraser, and Kristen Penwarden.