This is a press release from The Junior Auxiliary of Hattiesburg.
HATTIESBURG, Miss. - The Junior Auxiliary of Hattiesburg (JAH) has named ARC executive director Cindy Pennington as its 2017 Humanitarian of the Year. Presented annually, this award recognizes an individual in our area who has given his or her time, talents and efforts in order to better the community and its citizens.
Cindy Pennington, originally from Decatur, Miss., moved to Hattiesburg to attend the University of Southern Mississippi and fell in love with the town. At USM, she earned a degree in nursing and a master’s degree in special education, while working part-time at local schools. Her plan was to go to work at Forrest General Hospital as a nurse, but instead she was offered the job of special education coordinator and case manager at Thames Elementary, where she has spent more than 20 years meeting the needs of and helping to shape opportunities for individuals and families with special needs in this community.
“It was a dream job for me that I never knew existed,” Pennington said. “God opened the door for me, and it was a fabulous blend of both my backgrounds.”
As a college student, she was asked to volunteer at the ARC’s Summer Adventure program. Later she was asked to direct that program and serve on the board of directors. Again her contributions and ideas were recognized by other volunteers, and she was named the executive director. Most days, she leaves her “regular” job, goes by the ARC, checks in, and does the less glamorous paperwork, correspondence and fundraising.
Pennington said her main motivation and reward comes in seeing the progress that has been made within the Hattiesburg community during the last three decades. During this time, the ARC has evolved from its beginnings in a small home to the building of the new ARC house to the addition of the multi-purpose building for events and the pottery shop.
“When I think about the level of acceptance and the level of participation in this community and how far we’ve come, it motivates me to keep doing it for them. It’s not for me,” she said. “It’s seeing what you can give to help them.”
Upon receiving the news that she had been named Humanitarian of the Year, Pennington said, “I was shocked and humbled, to say the least. I felt a little guilty because there are so many others who help. I feel truly blessed.”
Pennington may have asked “Why Me?” when she learned of her nomination, but JAH member Amber Wadsworth, who serves as the director of the Hub City Region Special Olympics, believes that she is most deserving.
“(Through ARC) she’s given adults and children with disabilities experiences they would never have, a face or presence in this town, and a safe place -- a home away from home,” said Wadsworth. “She has worked to break stereotypes of individuals with disabilities period. She provides peace, comfort and trust. She’s a hero.
Pennington will receive a $500 donation to be given to the 501(c)(3) organization of her choice. In addition, a $500 scholarship will be awarded in her name to a deserving area high school senior. Former JA Humanitarian of the Year recipients include Richard Potin, Iva Brown, Dr. Richard Conville, Father Tommy Conway, Jack Kennedy, Rev. Henry Craft, Dr. Etoile Dubard, Dr. D. B. Conerly, Rev. Bill Prout, Joey Pace and Russ Hendley.
Pennington will be acknowledged formally while serving as a special guest at the annual Junior Auxiliary Gala, which will be held on December 2, 2017, at The Bottling Company in downtown Hattiesburg. For more information about Junior Auxiliary of Hattiesburg, visit hattiesburgjuniorauxiliary.org.