When it comes to giving, Herb Konowitz is the state champ – literally.
Konowitz, 78, was recognized July 29 with a $500 check as Delaware's winner in the Salute to Seniors contest, sponsored by the Home Instead senior care network.
Home Instead specializes in non-medical home care for senior citizens. It sponsors the annual contest to highlight the accomplishments and contributions of older people who volunteer in their communities.
Konowitz, who was nominated by his daughter, Cindy, was one of eight candidates from Delaware.
Although he doesn't know how many votes he received, he knows many came from not only the First State, but from friends in Ohio, California and even the United Kingdom.
“It's amazing how many people I'm in contact with who said they voted for me,” he said.
The overall winner was 95-year-old “Major” Melvin McLaughlin of Vermont, a retired Marine who has put in 40 hours a week each week since 1973 at a local hospital. He received the majority of the more than 118,000 votes cast, and a $5,000 donation to his favorite charity.
Although he didn't take first place nationwide, Konowitz is pleased with having been recognized for his contributions in Delaware. He currently works with the Dover Interfaith Mission for Housing, which is dedicated to getting homeless men back into the workforce. In addition, Konowitz has volunteered at Congregation Beth Sholom and for the SCORE Association, which provides mentoring services for small businesses.
The former owner of the Milford Stitching Company, Konowitz started volunteer work after he closed down the company in 2006.
“I asked my wife what should I do, and she said, 'You're not staying home,'” he said.
He eventually was introduced to the people who ran the homeless mission, and started helping out there, first as secretary and now as vice chairman of the board of directors.
There isn't much material compensation to volunteering, so Konowitz counts as his reward the knowledge that he's able to help those men, many of who are former prisoners and military veterans, find meaning in their lives.
“It's very infectious,” he said. “You're able to help these guys turn around. They're human beings and they deserve a second chance.”
Through the shelter's efforts, many of these formerly homeless men have found work, many turning their skills to carpentry and other repair work.
And as soon as he knew he'd won the $500 prize, Konowitz said he knew where it would go.
“The first thing I thought about was the shelter,” he said. “We basically live off donations and grants, so I thought of the shelter first.”