Louwers selected by readers as 2010 Humanitarian of the Year
"I long to accomplish a great and noble task, but it is my chief duty to accomplish humble tasks as though they were great and noble. The world is moved along, not only by the mighty shoves of its heroes, but also by the aggregate of the tiny pushes of each honest worker." — Helen Keller
The modesty shown in the above quote by one of the most famous humanitarians in American history are echoed on the island by longtime resident Tom Louwers, upon learning of his selection as 2010 Humanitarian of the Year by readers of Breeze Newspapers.
During the month of August, the annual "Best Of The Islands" ballots appeared in both the Island Reporter and the Sanibel-Captiva Islander. Readers were asked to nominate their local favorites in several business categories as well as whom they considered the island’s most deserving citizen and humanitarian.
Louwers, a tax consultant by trade who also assists in running Friends Who Care, an organization which assists individuals and families during times of need, was the overwhelming top choice.
"I believe in community service, and I believe in giving back," Louwers said on Monday after learning of the honor. "I’ve been involved with a lot of clubs on the island — Kiwanis, Lions, American Business Women’s Association — and each of those groups always does what it can to help those in need."
While Friends Who Care tries to maintain a low profile within the community, working on an anonymous basis so they may provide a more personalized effort here on Sanibel and Captiva, Louwers said that they always try to go "above and beyond" reaching out to their fellow residents and workers here.
He shared a story about a single father who, only a few days before the holiday, had no presents to give to his two daughters. Friends Who Care told the man to stop by and pick up some gifts, but when he arrived he only selected two presents.
"I told him it’s Christmas… that he should take more presents for his kids," Louwers recalled, noting that Friends Who Care sent him home that evening with a sack filled with already-wrapped gifts.
Louwers later learned that the man shared his bounty with several other families in his neighborhood, none of whom had presents to offer their children.
This past holiday season, the group assisted more than 100 children and 40 senior citizens on the island.
"I couldn’t do any of this without my wife, Theresa. She’s the catalyst behind everything I do," he said. "She’s the inspiration behind all of my good deeds."
Louwers was also quick to give credit to Sally Cheney, his assistant who takes calls on behalf of Friends Who Care and helps with distributing gift cards, food, school supplies and other needed items throughout the year.
Asked what keeps him going after 27 years offering assistance to anyone who asks, Louwers smiled and said, "All it takes is one story. It doesn’t take much."
Friends Who Care is alerted to need by people throughout the community — police, churches, schools and service clubs — and provides whatever goods or services an individual or family may require. While they do not offer financial assistance to pay for rent, utilities or similar expenses, they have provided items including turkeys during the holidays or, more recently, school supplies for underprivileged families.
"People are hurting. Right now there’s a bigger need here on the islands," said Louwers. "The biggest stigma is that people on Sanibel don’t need help. Maybe not the average homeowner, but all of the wait staff and service workers and laborers that are here every day. They are going through some really tough times."
Louwers also humbly thanked all of the Breeze readers for selecting him Humanitarian of the Year, and offered a single wish for people who might want to help out others in need.
"Just pay it forward," he said. "When things are going better for you, lend a hand to someone else."
If you know of anyone that needs assistance, or would like to offer assistance, call Friends Who Care at 472-5152.