Professor Sandra Pavelka was on her way to a Dixie Chicks concert in West Palm Beach on Saturday, Aug. 20 when she found out that she had won a Daily Point of Light Award, an honor created by former President George H. W. Bush that recognizes the accomplishments of individuals who have made a significant impact on their community.
“I didn’t know I was nominated,” Pavelka, an associate professor in the Department of Political Science and Public Administration, said. “I was really surprised and kind of floating because it was just— I knew the history of the Points of Light and what an honor it is.”
Points of Light, a nonprofit organization founded in 1990, is dedicated to engaging people with resources in solving social problems through service. According to their website, four million people have volunteered through POL, with around 250,000 service projects being carried out by the organization every year. Pavelka was officially awarded on Tuesday, Aug. 30. She received Point of Light Number 5816, as she was the 5,816th person to receive the recognition.
Deborah Comella, the executive director of the Lee County Coalition for a Drug Free Southwest Florida, in which Pavelka serves on the Board of Directors, called her to let her know that she was nominated.
“I’m truly humbled by this award because it’s such a distinct honor in my eyes,” Pavelka said. “The work I do, I don’t do it for any award, I do it because it’s the right thing to do.”
She began working with the Lee County Coalition for a Drug Free Southwest Florida about 10 years ago, when she was approached by Comella.
“Deb had called me because someone had mentioned to her to call me because of my work with juveniles,” Pavelka said. “They told her to contact me because that was part of my interest, and so we met and she asked me if I was interested in serving on the board, and of course I was.”
The coalition, which was founded in 1989 by president of Lee Memorial Health Systems, Jim Nathan, and Lee County Sheriff, Mike Scott, works to provide prevention resources to families in Lee County.
When Pavelka began working with the organization, the coalition was in the process of changing their board.
“They were going through a transition,” she said. “They kind of had to rebuild their board and rebuild their coalition so there was a lot of work that needed to be done, also in terms of their message in regard to prevention intervention programs for youth, underage drinking and substance abuse, so I was very honored when they asked me to serve on that board because that was impacting the community in a very beneficial way.”
Along with working with the coalition, Pavelka serves as the founding director of the Institute for Youth and Justice Studies at FGCU.
“I actually started the institute,” Pavelka said. “It actually stemmed from my work with youth in juvenile justice.”
The institute works with local, state and national groups on “issues that benefit youth and juveniles in the justice system.”
“We deal with issues all the way from preventing intervention, juvenile delinquency, juvenile court, and then all the way through re-integration if a child has been placed in the juvenile justice system,” Pavelka said.
She also serves as the chair of the Juvenile Justice Advisory Board, a circuit advisory board under the Florida Department of Juvenile Justice that focuses on juvenile delinquency prevention.
Pavelka will be invited to the Points of Light Conference on Volunteering and Service in Seattle, Washington from June 19 to 21 2017. For Pavelka, winning this award merely serves as motivation to continue bettering her community.
“It inspires me even more to do more good work,” she said. “There’s so much more work that needs to be done for the betterment of our youth and our future generations.”