LIMA — A willingness to put the needs of others ahead of one’s own is among the many traits shared by winners of Jefferson Awards for community service.
Few of those award-winners over the years, however, have used a weekly visit to the local prison as a source of their own inspiration and motivation. Then again, James (Eddie) Monfort is not your typical award-winner. He is involved in myriad activities throughout the community — mostly behind the scenes.
“I try to keep in the background,” Monfort said after being named one of 10 Jefferson Award winners this year. “The award is kind of overwhelming. I’m humbled to be put in the same category as all the past winners and the other winners this year.”
Trained as a substance abuse counselor, Monfort assists in three specialty courts operated through the Allen County Common Pleas Court. Judge Jeffrey Reed oversees the drug court and mental health court proceedings while Judge Terri Kohlrieser runs the re-entry court. All three special dockets deal with criminal offenders who have been shown to require special attention on their respective roads to recovery and rehabilitation.
“I assess everybody who is part of those courts to make sure they meet the various criteria, and then help coordinate — along with the probation department and the substance abuse facilities in town — the best approach to their rehabilitation,” Monfort said. “We have a ton of facilities in town now and that’s a good thing. We can tailor the treatment for individuals and not have to pigeon-hole them into one or two agencies.”
Monfort was on the ground floor of the creation of Allen County’s drug court, working with Reed and former Judge Richard Warren to get the specialty court up and running in 2001. It was one of the first drug courts in the state and was a model from which other Ohio counties modeled their own court.
“I have known Eddie for over 30 years both in his professional capacities and personally. He epitomizes the spirit of volunteerism and service to his fellow man more than any one individual that I know,” Reed wrote in support of Monfort’s nomination.
Working with inmates
Monfort can also be found on Tuesday evenings at Allen Oakwood Correctional Institute leading a weekly session of the Celebrate Recovery Inside program. The 70-year-old Monfort said the program provides him with energy.
A 12-step, Christ-centered program for prisoners that has been in operation for 10 years, Monfort said Celebrate Recovery is aimed at inmates with “any kind of hang-ups … from drug and alcohol problems to just some terrible thinking habits.”
“As we begin to go through the 12 steps you can see their frustration. Then we break down how the steps translate to them individually and it’s kind of amazing to see them go from where they were to where they are now,” said Monfort. “I absolutely get something out of it, too. I think of it as my fueling station for the week. Watching these guys lifts me up.”
Eddie the goalie
Before a 25-year career with the Lima Police Department that ended two decades ago, Monfort was a skinny goalie for the Lima Chargers ice hockey team. When ice hockey left Lima, Monfort teamed up with the Lima Exchange Club to develop the city’s roller hockey program.
“The first rink was in the parking lot at Lima Senior, then the Exchange Club said they would provide the funding for the rink we have now along Jameson Avenue,” said Monfort of the program that is available to local youth. He is also credited with the development of the first middle school soccer program at Lima City Schools.
“Eddie has been inspirational in changing others and demanding action to save lives and improve the community we all live in,” said Tammie Colon, executive director, Mental Health and Recovery Services Board of Allen, Auglaize and Hardin counties.
How long does Monfort intend to continue his many and varied pursuits?
“Oh, I don’t know. This all keeps me moving; it keeps me young. I enjoy it, so I’ll hang on for as long as I think I’m making a difference,” he said. “The good Lord has been good to me.”
The Jefferson Awards honor 10 individuals for their community service. There will be an awards ceremony at 6:30 p.m. Tuesday, March 28, at the City Club in downtown Lima. At the ceremony, one of the winners will be selected to represent the region at the national Jefferson Awards dinner in Washington, D.C.