Thirty years ago, when her kids were still young, Batavia resident Carolyn Sprawka decided to volunteer at Hesed House.
After seeing plenty of children at the Aurora homeless shelter during her 11 p.m. to 3 a.m. shift, Sprawka went home and looked at her own kids sleeping in their beds and decided she needed to continue her efforts at the shelter.
"Every day, we're presented with opportunities to make a difference and we have to make that choice," she said. "I'm a doer. When you see a need right in front of you, how could you not respond?"
Sprawka's service, including 20 years as the president of the Hesed House board of directors, helped her earn the Roscoe Ebey Citizen of the Year Award, which was presented Thursday by Kane County Sheriff Pat Perez.
Sprawka was nominated by Kay Yotz, a Geneva resident who knows Sprawka from helping cook dinners for people and families at Hesed House.
"This is a woman who never says 'no,' " Yotz said. "She's just a true leader, and that passion she has rubs off on everybody around her."
Sprawka didn't know about Yotz's nomination and tried to decline the honor. Sprawka is the shift coordinator at the Geneva United Methodist Church, preparing meals for both Hesed House and Lazarus House in St. Charles. She is a member of the Illinois Coalition to End Homelessness and also is involved in Fox Valley United, a coalition of churches, corporations and nonprofit groups working for social justice.
"I don't think I do anything that special. I will admit that I do try, and I think the trying and showing up is what counts and makes a difference," Sprawka said, adding she never thought about stepping back from volunteering because she had too much on her plate.
"When you actually do the work, it's not an 'us and them' situation. It becomes a 'we' (situation)."
Thursday's ceremony was Perez's last presentation of the awards because he is retiring next month.
"(Nominees) spend so much time helping others. They don't help themselves," Perez said. "You don't do it for the recognition. You do it because it's the right thing to do."
Sheriff-elect Don Kramer has said he will continue the award, which was named in honor of Roscoe Ebey, an Aurora Township man and World War II veteran who was killed by an intruder in 2007. Ebey's neighbor, Leslie Fleming, who caught Ebey's killer in Ebey's basement and detained him until authorities arrived, won the inaugural award.
Ebey's son, Richard, has attended each of the award presentations.
Richard Ebey praised Perez for being a great leader and close friend and said the award is a breath of fresh air in a world seemingly dominated by bad news.
"I just want to give a special thank you from myself and the Ebey family for everything (Perez) has done," Ebey said. "I hope this (award) goes on forever and ever. We need to turn this community around and hear about good stuff. People need something to hang their hat on."