McCrabb: Middletown activist collects relationships, not paychecks

For all Jeri Lewis has accomplished, the most impressive is her ability to slow down time.

While the rest of us fight the evils of Father Time, a different clock, one that runs like it has a weak battery, dictates her life.

How else can you explain what Lewis achieves every day, what some of us — no, make that most of us — can’t check off our To Do List in a week.

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Lewis, 39, runs Free Family Movie Nights every summer in Middletown; hosts families at Sherman Park; organizes “Ladies Night Out,” a low-budget evening for women; drives around the city checking on the homeless and those battling addictions; serves as the marketing and development leader at Kingswell Ministry; and recently was named chairwoman of the city’s Memorial Day and Independence Day parades.

She is a one-woman ministry this Jeri Lewis.

Others must be noticing the difference Lewis is making in Middletown because she will be recognized April 20 as one of the two nominees of SELF’s Janet Clemmons Community Service Award. She will be joined by Peter Engelhard Jr., Shared Harvest, Fairfield. The award is given annually in memory of Clemmons, who founded SELF, to a recipient who has gone above and beyond in their service to the community, primarily through volunteer activities.

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Lewis’ life and the award’s criteria sound like they were written by the same person. She epitomizes the servant leader who cares for the community and all its residents through love.

“It’s a calling,” she said this week while sitting in Triple Moon Coffee Shop on Central Avenue. “I believe God has called me to do what I do in the community in every aspect.”

For all she does, Lewis receives no financial compensation. No cost of living raises.

“But I get paid seeing relationships building and I get paid seeing kids smiling, and kids that I know just the week before weren’t smiling,” she said. “So that’s payment for me. That’s eternal.”

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For every win, there are losses. Few leaders go undefeated.

“Every time I stand up, I get pushed down,” she said with a nervous laugh. “But when it’s a calling, it doesn’t seem as bad. Or it’s just part of it. My direct boss is God. When you’re serving God, you are going to get attacked, get pushed down. It’s a spiritual battle. The devil is not happy half the time, if not all the time, with things that I do.”

There are nights, she said, while in bed, she feels like walking “right to the edge and giving up.” Just that close to quitting.

And then God sends her somebody to remind her why she started serving her community. Even religious leaders can’t run on empty.

“He sends the right people at the right time to pour into my tank,” Lewis said. “To me, that’s confirmation to keep going. I have to be open to where God leads me.”

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With that said, Lewis understands her No. 1 priority is her family: her husband, Scott, and her five boys, who range from 2 to 16 years old.

“It’s a constant juggling act,” said Lewis, who added she spends two days a week volunteering in the community.

One day last week, a kid Lewis met told her one of his siblings was having a birthday. Since their mother was in jail, Lewis quickly organized a birthday party for the little boy.

“Just being aware to fill those gaps in our community,” she said. “That’s what the church is supposed to do.”

Lewis got divorced after having three children, then met Scott Lewis at Kingswell Ministry. She never expected to get remarried or have two more boys.

“God had a different plan, but I wouldn’t trade it in a million years,” she said.

A million years for Lewis is a century to the rest of us.


HOW TO GO

WHAT: SELF's 22nd annual Awards Dinner

WHEN: 6 p.m. April 20

WHERE: Receptions Banquet and Conference Center, 5975 Boymel Drive in Fairfield

COST: Tickets are $60 or $550 for a table of 10.

RSVP: www.selfhelps.org/awards-dinner or call 513-820-5019

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