The Light of Dawnn Awards: Honoring a Legacy

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When Dawnn Jaffier was four years old, she told her father she wanted to be a teacher. Her passion to teach and mentor youth never wavered, and Dawnn went on to impact young boys and girls across Boston in her role as a youth worker. On Wednesday, February 25, through a bright mural painted by her friend Oscar Aquino, Dawnn’s big eyes and warm smile looked over the almost 100 people who had gathered to celebrate her life and those who will carry on her legacy through the Light of Dawnn Awards. Assembled at the West End House Boys and Girls Club in Allston, Dawnn’s family, friends and colleagues joined nonprofit leaders, community members and elected officials to celebrate the first three recipients of the annual award.

Created to honor the work of Dawnn Jaffier, a beloved youth worker who was the innocent victim of gun violence last August, the Light of Dawnn Awards recognize frontline nonprofit workers whose tireless dedication to serve their community mirrors that of Dawnn’s. It was her legacy that inspired the creation of the awards, as those who knew Dawnn felt that her energy would be best used as a way to inspire others to continue her work building stronger communities.

This year’s Light of Dawnn Awards honored three outstanding individuals that stood out among oveMNN Light of Dawnn Awards Feb 25 2015 (96 of 161) (1)r 50 nominations that were submitted. The 2015 Light of Dawnn recipients are: Frank Coleman, Adolescent Program Manager at Friends of the Children- Boston, Vanessa Lewis, Leadership and Life Skills Coordinator at West End House Boys and Girls Club, and Reggie Jean, Teen Director at the YMCA of Greater Boston- Dorchester Branch.  These remarkable recipients are driven by service and demonstrate the spirit that is Dawnn’s legacy- a compassionate and unwavering commitment to assisting those in need.  More than 50 nonprofit employees were nominated by peers. The award winners were chosen by a selection committee comprised of Dawnn’s family and community leaders.

In his remarks, awards committee member David Shapiro, Board Chair of the Massachusetts Nonprofit Network and President and CEO of MENTOR, expressed the bittersweet sentiment of the day and emphasized the importance of recognizing those who walk in Dawnn’s path, ensuring a thriving nonprofit sector and elevating us all through unmatched talent and ingenuity directed exclusively towards service to others.

As David read the list of initiatives and causes each honoree serves it was clear that, like Dawnn had, these three individuals go above and beyond every day to bring about change. Frank Coleman works to engage children from high-risk communities through the use of transformative mentoring relationships. Vanessa Lewis, who worked with Dawnn, aims to provide a variety of activities to engage Club members in meaningful, structured programs with a focus on leadership, life skills and positive social interaction. And Reggie Jean has made it his mission to improve the health of mind, body, and spirit of individuals and families in Boston.

In attendance at the ceremony was Representative Kevin Honan, who spoke of Dawnn’s legacy and the incredible impact Frank, Vanessa, and Reggie have on everyone they encounter. This event was personal for Representative Honan, who was born and raised in the neighborhood and attended the West End House from a young age, spending countless hours of his childhood in the halls Dawnn walked too. He shared the significance that youth workers like the honorees have on young lives, explaining that they are “on the frontline in our wonderful city, giving kids in Boston the same advantages as others throughout the Commonwealth.”

Throughout the ceremony, speakers and honorees spoke extensively about carrying on Dawnn’s legacy- an important task that no one in the room took lightly. As winner Vanessa Lewis explained, “We all have work to complete because of her. It’s time to step up-who else can I help?” This sentiment, that there is always more work to be done, is characteristic of the admirable humility of those that work in the nonprofit sector. Dawnn’s hard work has inspired countless others to identify ways to give back, even driving her brother and West End House alumni to return and commit themselves to work with kids that Dawnn once mentored. In his remarks, Dawnn’s father, Ian Jaffier, expressed the immense gratitude that he and his family have for all those involved in keeping her memory and mission alive: “people can still feel her love even though she’s not with us.” He left those in the room with one simple request: continue Dawnn’s mission to giving back.

The mural mentioned above will remain at the West End House, allowing Dawnn to continue to look over the youth she loved and inspired, while also providing a comforting presence to those who worked along side her as they work to carry on her legacy.


Click here to view all photos from the event.