A Batavia woman who has made a career of volunteer service was named the 2015 Batavia Citizen of the Year Wednesday.
Joanne Spitz will receive the award at the Batavia Chamber of Commerce's annual awards celebration Jan. 29.
"I think that because she is one who is willing to get into the trench, she probably has a keener understanding and appreciation of the problems that many of the less fortunate people are facing," Batavia Mayor Jeff Schielke said in a news release. "She isn't one to merely talk about a problem, she jumps in and helps where she sees the need, which I think sets her apart from a lot of other folks."
One of those times Spitz jumped in was 2013 when she and Melinda Kintz were shocked to hear there were more than 50 homeless students attending Batavia public schools. They formed Community Helpers Impacting People In Need, or CHIP IN, to supply the kids with whatever they needed -- be it snow boots, school supplies, bikes to ride to school or snacks. It now helps all sorts of families in need, especially those living in several apartment complexes that have subsidized housing.
In a 2014 Daily Herald interview, Spitz said she carries out tikkun olam -- "repair the world" in Hebrew. It was how she was raised. She first volunteered as a treasurer at a synagogue, then a school PTO. Over her quarter-century in Batavia it grew to serving on the Batavia Bicycle Commission; being a director of the Batavia Foundation for Educational Excellence; and coordinating fundraising events for TriCity Family Services. She also volunteers with Feed My Starving Children, the Batavia Interfaith Food Pantry and Fox Valley Jewish Neighbors.
Nan Phillips, a retired Batavia educator, called Spitz "a local treasure" in her nomination letter because of the impact she's had, and continues to have, on the quality of life of families in need.
"Simply put, Joanne's heart is so large that countless children, adults and entire families' quality of life have been changed forever," Phillips wrote.
"In the past three years, Joanne has built CHIP IN into an organization that is envied by other area school districts," Kintz wrote in her nomination. "She is willing to drop everything when she learns of a need. I chuckle when I go on Facebook to reply to an inquiry only to see that it is already managed and usually under 30 minutes."
Spitz said her being named Citizen of the Year must be a mistake. "It is overwhelming and frankly, makes me uncomfortable," Spitz said in the news release.
Joanne and her husband, Greg, have three grown children.
"Through my volunteering, I meet the nicest people," Spitz said. "I have the best friends and acquaintances because they are all doing the same thing that I'm doing. I am so lucky, because I would not know them had I not been involved."