Mount Vernon resident Louise Cleveland describes herself as a curious person. Her curiosity has been an asset in her participation in local health and human services committees. It has certainly paid off—she has been recognized as the 2012 Mount Vernon District Community Champion.
Cleveland was nominated by Mount Vernon District Supervisor Gerry Hyland and was honored in April at the Volunteer Fairfax 20th Annual Volunteer Service Awards.
"Louise Cleveland is one of those extraordinary volunteers who have made such a difference in the lives of hundreds and hundreds of people," said Hyland. "She is just a person who's always there being involved, trying to help persons who are in need. She's an extraordinary woman who's just very committed and dedicated to find a way to help others, and in fact, she's done just that."
Cleveland said the honor was a “complete surprise” to her.
“When I realized that the supervisor had nominated me as a Community Champion, I thought, what a lovely title, because everything I’ve been doing is to find ways I and so many others can strengthen the community,” explained Cleveland.
Cleveland was asked to join the Mount Vernon Council of Citizens’ Associations Health and Human Services Committee in 1999. The committee then needed a chair and she volunteered for the position. She has organized more than 50 monthly Health and Human Services Committee meetings since September 2000.
“I went to a meeting for Health and Human Services, figuring I’d learn something, and the more I learned, the more I wanted to be involved,” she recalled. “They really do come together. It doesn’t matter what people’s religious or political backgrounds are.”
Cleveland also serves as the recording secretary for the Southeast Health Planning Taskforce and serves on the advisory board for the Gartlan Center in Mount Vernon.
She said the award has made her realize that her partnership with her husband has helped make her volunteer work possible.
“My husband and I have been just close partners for 50 years,” she said. “And we’ve made it possible for each other to do all the things we were really trying to do and I guess with this award, it makes me realize because he was completely there, we were working through grad school and then raising children and had very fulfilling careers. We supported each other and shared that in ways that kind of began with our generation.”
Cleveland moved to the Mount Vernon area in 1978 with her husband and children, because of its schools and the strength of the community.
Cleveland stresses that it is possible to have a fulfilling career and be engaged in the community.
“I know how hard it is for young families to volunteer,” she said. “I did what I could while I was working.”
She has many ideas for young people to step up and take an active role in the community, one of which is to encourage participation on advisory boards so they feel comfortable enough to take a leadership role.
“What I want people to understand is that there is so much that you learn by participating in these groups,” she explained. “All these people and experiences and representatives to advisory committees, you’re able to participate and look for solutions.”
Cleveland is now retired from a long career in communications. She has a PhD in English literature from the University of Wisconsin and taught comparative literature before working in communications. During her spare time, Cleveland enjoys gardening, hiking, and seeing plays and concerts.