LIMA — Michael Ayers found out he was one of the eight winners of the 2014 Jefferson Awards for Public Service from his mother.
“She called to tell me I was in the paper,” said Ayers, founder and president of photography studio Ayers Inc. “I thought, ‘Can’t they find anyone better than me?’”
This humble attitude is one of the reasons Dr. Eric Jelinger nominated Ayers for the award.
“He’s a humble guy,” he said. “That is what made it even better that he won — he wasn’t expecting it at all.”
The Jefferson Awards for Public Service recognize eight local winners for their volunteerism in the community. Each winner gets $350 for their organization. The awards are sponsored by Husky Lima Refinery, The Lima News, Your Hometown Stations and the United Way of Greater Lima.
Ayers was nominated for his volunteer work with the Black Swamp Area Council, which is the Boy Scouts of America council for the Northwest Ohio area. He is on the executive council, and is very involved in the organizations’ projects, events and fundraisers. He is also the scoutmaster of troop 777 in Shawnee.
“I do the photographs as a contribution to the council,” he said. “We also have a golf outing that I volunteer at every year, and I’m on the committee that puts on the Eagle Scout recognition dinner every year. Right now, the thing I’m doing is helping with the capital campaign. We are looking at building a new dining hall and some other buildings at the two local camps.”
Jim Mason, district director for the Boy Scouts of America, has been working with Ayers since he started the job in October.
“Michael is the prototypical volunteer,” Mason said. “He is always willing to make a phone call, run an event or help out in any way. He is the right person to volunteer because he has a great passion for the program. As a youth, he saw the benefits, and as a dad, he sees the value of the program for the kids we serve.”
A big part of Ayers’ passion is his own experiences.
“As an Eagle Scout our motto is ‘Service to God and country,’” Ayers said. “At an early age, Scouts influenced me to give of my time.”
That lesson has made a big impact on Ayers’ life. In addition to volunteering with the Boy Scouts of America, he also volunteers and gives of his time and talents in other areas as well.
“I’ve been very active in the Lima Symphony Orchestra and that is how I came to know Michael Ayers,” Richard Riggs said. “He is a professional photographer and he does a lot of free pictures for nonprofit organizations. The Lima Symphony is one of those. He took pictures and gave out prints free of charge. I think it is wonderful for him to be recognized for all he does for the community.”
Jelinger, who nominated Ayers, met him through another volunteer activity.
“I met him doing volunteer work with the Shawnee high school band,” he said. “We do everything and anything the band asks us to do. Mike also takes photos during the band camp events.”
Jelinger has known Ayers for about seven years and has been deeply impressed with the amount of time Ayers spends volunteering.
“Mike is one of the most giving people I know,” he said. “He’ll drop everything to do a photo shoot for whomever. I don’t know how he does it with the hours he works, to find the time to give of himself so much. He’s just a ball of energy and he’d give you the shirt off his back.”
Mason added, “I think it’s very fitting [he won] because of what he does in the community, not just for the Boy Scouts. His enthusiasm and energy are matched by very few people. He comes into a room and lights it up because of what he wants to accomplish. You rarely see that.”
Being one of the eight local winners is an honor, but this is not the end. One local winner will be announced at an event March 25 at the City Club in downtown Lima as the area’s representative to the national awards celebration in Washington, D.C., and the recipient of an additional $700 for the organization.
Ayers does not volunteer for awards though.
“This was a conspiracy of well-meaning friends who thought it was a good idea to nominate me,” he said. “It’s not about the awards though. If there are not people giving back to the community, there will be no community. Each of us has God-given gifts and it is our duty to use them.”