TRAVERSE CITY -- This year's recipient of the Sara Hardy Humanitarian Award was so shocked to be selected by the Traverse City Human Rights Commission that she called back the chairwoman two days later to make sure she'd correctly heard the news.
The commission selected Traverse City resident Jane Hayes for her dedication to supporting education and furthering the ideals of equality and diversity.
The annual award recognizes Sara Hardy, who was instrumental in establishing the human rights commission more than 30 years ago, by honoring someone in the community who exemplifies the commission's ideals. Those include promoting mutual understanding and respect among all people and discouraging discriminatory practices.
Anyone in the community can be nominated.
"We go through the nominations and we take our time in reading what people have to say about the particular person and what they've done for the area, or maybe for a particular venue that they're working with or working in," chairwoman Theresa Gardner said. "Every year we have so many worthy candidates."
Hayes stood out in this year's pool. She made a career in social services and higher education and served on community boards, including the Great Lakes Community Health Board and the Traverse City Area Public Schools Board.
Hayes taught at Grand Valley State University's School of Social work and was program director for the Ferris State University School of Social Work. She also worked for Catholic Human Services, Inc., Community Mental Health and the Women's Resource Center in Traverse City.
Nominees wrote about her impact on her students and peers.
"I truly believe that a true humanitarian is one who holds respect for self and others, who listens not only to the voices that we all hear but to the unheard voice," Constance Baab wrote in her nomination. "The true humanitarian is one who encourages others to speak up and when needed will stand strong with a voice that speaks of truth and justice for all. This is Dr. Jane Hayes."