About a year and a half ago, a particularly bad storm brought flash floods to the Great Falls area. Potomac High School student J.R. Parker was heading with his mother to a friend’s house when he was stopped in his tracks by a section of Riverbend Road that had become too flooded with water to pass.
“We got to the edge of the water and stopped and I heard someone yelling for help,” said Parker, who is now 18 and a senior at the Potomac School. “I looked around and I saw this woman sitting on top of her car, about 100 yards off the road. My mom got on the phone to call for help but I was already waist-deep in the water heading toward her.”
Using a stick, Parker made his way over to the stranded woman and helped carry her to safety.
“It was a pretty strong current and the water was really cold,” said Parker.
During this time, Parker also helped to direct other cars away from the flooded area. It was these actions that inspired numerous local residents to nominate him for the Neighbors’ “Under 22 Neighbor of the Year” award.
“R.J. directed traffic away from the danger, helped residents turn their cars around to avoid getting stuck and saved a woman trapped on top of her car,” said Rainey.
Sharon Rainey, founder and president of the Neighbors community e-mail network and its charitable arm the Neighbors International Foundation (NIF), decided last year that she would create an annual Neighbor of the Year award to recognize those community members who have served their community in an outstanding manner. Rainey chose to call the award the Michael J. Kearney Neighbor of the Year Award in honor of Old Brogue Irish Pub owner Mike Kearney.
“When I originally thought of this award, my first inclination was to award the first Neighbor of the Year award to Michael Kearney,” said Rainey. “Truly, Mike should be recognized for his cumulative donations to the Great Falls community. Mike is the original owner of a long-standing, well-respected business in Great Falls. Mike participates in, and has led, countless community activities. He has created a non-profit foundation as another avenue to give back to the community, and Mike has employed our children — including one of mine — as members of his wait staff. Mike has participated in, and led, most of our local community associations at some point in time, and every year, Mike has donated money and gift certificates to almost every charity that has knocked on his door requesting help — which in this community is quite a lot. Countless times, Mike has connected those who are in need with those who can help in a myriad of ways. Mike even paid for the fireworks, rather than have Great Falls go without it. Mike is a husband, a father. He is a business owner, community activist. And, Mike is a great neighbor and an even better friend. Imagine this community if all of our neighbors cared and gave as much as Mike has and does. So in recognition of all that he has done for our community, we have instead chosen to name this award The Michael J. Kearney Neighbor of the Year Award.”
RAINEY HANDED OUT the first ever Michael J. Kearney Neighbor of the Year awards on Saturday, Dec. 15 at the Old Brogue. Two women received the honor: Janet Jameson and Barbara Morehouse.
“Janet’s nominations came from a myriad of people from representing all different aspects of the community, which I thought was really interesting, and Barbara’s nominations came mostly from moms whom she had helped from different family, school and church events,” said Rainey. “There was supposed to just be one award for each category, but Janet and Barbara’s nominations were so different that we really couldn’t choose one over the other, and we decided that since it was our award, we could bend the rules a little bit.”
Rainey said she estimates receiving between 75-100 e-mails in response to her request for Neighbor of the Year nominations, and while the majority of them came from Neighbors network members, many also came from general community members.
“We were laughing as we went through all of the responses, and we learned so much about everyone — we just had a great time doing this,” said Rainey.
R.J. Parker said he was surprised to find out that he had won the “under 22” category.
“I had no idea,” said Parker. “My mom told me about it.”
MANY TEARS were shed as the awards were handed out on Dec. 15 in the Old Brogue Snuggery.
“Janet’s commitment to helping others ranges from the cute secret gifts left at a neighbor’s house, to testifying before Congress on legislative issues to protect our children,” said Rainey. “She has worked with the media to tell of her own tragedies and struggles and how she has overcome difficulties and become stronger as a result.”
Rainey also shared one of Jameson’s nomination e-mails, noting that Detective John Carney wrote, “Janet is the epitome of ‘when life gives you lemons, make lemonade,’ attitude. I have seen her in the face of happiness, sorrow and adversity and no matter what the situation, she has remained strong and always would find something positive in an otherwise negative experience.”
Jameson said she was honored to be in such good company with the other nominees.
“I feel so honored,” said Jameson, adding that her own nomination was “a happy pat on her back.”
“When I started making my list of nominations, I realized how generous they all are, and how busy their lives are while they are doing something nicer than I have done.
“Thanks for holding me up,” she said as she addressed the crowd at last week’s award ceremony. “It’s not been easy to stay afloat and I appreciate it.”
Rainey noted that Morehouse’s nominations were “varied and numerous,” but mostly came from “mothers who had direct interaction with Barbara.”
“Barbara’s kindness was repeatedly highlighted,” said Rainey. “Barbara is rarely asked to do something, but instead offers her help whenever and wherever possible. Sometimes she chairs a committee, bakes the cookies, arranges play dates. She plans parties, she calls to see how a friend is feeling, and she offers to help someone feeling overwhelmed.”
Like Jameson, Morehouse was emotional as she accepted her award.
“I felt so undeserving of this, and now I feel even more undeserving,” said Morehouse. “I was never so surprised … but truly, I think the most important part of this day is that I want my children to use this — not me, but everyone here — as an example. I tell them all the time how important it is to be kind and generous. This community has given so much to us and I feel like we have done nothing.”