Natick employee named Army's NAACP award winner
August 4, 2014
NATICK, Mass. (Aug. 5, 2014) -- When Donna Leon was growing up in Oxford, N.C., her parents taught her to always be charitable with others, a lesson that their daughter never forgot.
"My parents are very giving in nature," Leon said. "We weren't independently wealthy or anything like that, but it was just the nature of both their families to share and have open doors for everybody."
No matter where she went during her 20-year career as a Soldier, Leon remembered to volunteer her time and talents to help others at work and in the community. After she retired in 2007, she continued that practice as an Army civilian employee at the Natick Soldier Systems Center.
"I feel like, honestly, my life is a life of service," Leon said. "This is something I can feel almost … in my soul, as if this is who I am."
Leon's devotion to selfless service in her professional and personal life was recognized by the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People on July 22, when the NAACP made her the U.S. Army's recipient of the 2014 Roy Wilkins Renown Service Award at a ceremony in Las Vegas.
The award is given annually to American service members and Department of Defense civilian employees who have distinguished themselves by contributing to the DoD mission, overseas contingency operations, and demonstrated role model qualities and the core values of their respective military service or agency. Recipients promote the tenets of civil/human rights, equal opportunity, human relations, and/or public service. Leon was recognized for her support to equal opportunity policies and programs.
"My initial reaction upon hearing that I was to receive the award was surprise, quickly followed by an almost overwhelming feeling of gratefulness," Leon said. "This award, to me, means that even the smallest efforts can make a difference in the lives of others, as well as your own."
Leon's efforts include collecting donations for the homeless, encouraging fellow workers and serving on various committees at Natick.
"I've always been an advocate for the disadvantaged, and I can remember even within my life not always being in the best position, needing some help myself," Leon said. "It's always meant a lot to me, what people have done for me, the kind words. You never know how far that goes in a person's confidence.
"I've always been a volunteer. I've always tried to help. It's just a natural thing for me. I'd have to say I've done none of this on my own. There's been a lot of encouragement throughout the years."
Leon, who retired from the Army as a sergeant first class, serves as lead technical writer/editor and is a team leader for the Aerial Delivery and Soldier Protective Equipment Logistics Support Team at the Soldier Product Support Integration Directorate, TACOM Life Cycle Management Command at Natick.
"I would like to thank all of my leadership for their confidence in me with the award nomination," said Leon, "and more importantly, for their support in my volunteer efforts."
Obviously, Leon is at Natick for the Soldier.
"This is a job, of course, but it's a mission," Leon said. "The people who we support (are) the reason why we do this job. Your work does make a difference. I think it's very important that we all try to reach the highest skill levels possible."
Leon demonstrates that same sense of mission in her personal life.
"I wish I were able to do more or had the time to do more," Leon said. "It's not always about the money. Your time and your talent mean a lot. When you have the time and if you have a talent, use it."
If her parents are any indication, Leon will continue serving others well into the future: Donnell and Leora Smith both continue to volunteer their time and help others at age 80.
"They are very pleased, very happy," said Leon, "because they see me as just sort of carrying on."
And Leon's charitable tendencies have nothing to do with trying to draw attention to herself.
"I like being behind the scenes," Leon said. "I don't like being in the limelight."
Leon plans to devote even more of her time, talents and energy to others when she reaches retirement age.
"It would be very difficult for me to just sit there and do nothing," said Leon, "especially knowing that there are so many people who could use a hand.
"It's just a part of me, I guess. I think I am the happiest when I'm serving others."