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Laura Kessel is managing editor of The News-Herald in Willoughby. She writes a weekly column and shares her thoughts here.

Friday, April 20, 2012

No better proof of Nowackis’ goodness

Very few people can pinpoint the moment in which they made a difference in someone’s life.
But, you can count Denis and Sheila Nowacki in that elite group.

The Painesville Township residents have experienced it a few times over the past seven years.
Fifteen times, to be exact.

The most recent time was April 14 at Holiday Inn Express Hotel and Suites LaMalfa in Mentor.
On that night, it happened four times.

The Nowackis are the parents of Andrew “Ace” Nowacki, a Grand River police officer and U.S. Marine who died Feb. 26, 2005, in Babil Province, Iraq, when a roadside bomb exploded as his convoy was passing by.

His parents vowed to honor his legacy, establishing a scholarship fund in his name with the goal of continuing Nowacki’s mission to educate as well as serve.

The scholarships to any publicly funded school go to young men and women who hope to work in the fields of criminology, fire science, emergency services or law enforcement. The awards are full scholarships, paying for the winner’s entire education.

Two of the awards presented last Saturday went to people who will begin their work at Lakeland’s Police Academy on May 14.

Anthony Palcisko of Willoughby and Jessica Newsome of Painesville Township were thrilled to be counted among the winners, but both admitted before the ceremony that the speech that’s required of winners had them a little on edge.

Palcisko, who is a graduate of Cleveland State with a bachelor of criminology and sociology, is anxious to get started in the academy.

He said he’s wanted to be a police officer since he was a junior in high school, for what he says are the usual reasons.

“I would say the excitement,” he said. “It’s kind of a change of pace, doing something different every day, and, it sounds a little corny, but helping people, having compassion for people.”

Newsome said a high school class sparked her drive to become a police officer.

“In high school, I took a joint vocational program for law enforcement, specifically for the forensic science, and I loved it,” she said. “To get into that you have to go to school, you have to go to the academy and get certified for all those things. It’s actually what made me realize it was what I wanted to do, because we had to go and figure out crime scenes. They would set up everything in the classroom, they even had a separate house for the school and you had to figure out what was what in the crime scenes, which was really cool.”

Newsome is a perfect embodiment of the Nowackis’ mission to offer opportunity to those who need a boost.

In a video produced by The Lakeland Foundation, Sheila Nowacki makes the scholarship committee’s priorities clear:

“It has to be a full scholarship,” she said. “They have to show financial need, but they don’t have to have the best grades, because that’s not what this is about. So their motivation for going into (law enforcement) has to be from the heart, as Andy’s was.”

Though Newsome was an excellent student before graduating in 2009 from Mentor High School, she makes no secret of the fact that financial pressures kept her from pursuing her education after graduation.

“I was never able to go to the academy because of money,” she said. “I’m pretty independent, no one pays for any of my things, and with the scholarship, now I don’t have to work as much and I can put all my time and effort into school and graduating and then I can get a good job.”

Newsome points those who come after her to the opportunities she found in researching scholarships.

“I never knew scholarships like this were even out there. I have friends out there who are a couple years younger than me, who are in high school, and I’m like, look at the scholarships and grants — write a paragraph. This is what a paper did for me. And now i’m going to college. For free. It’s crazy.”

She wasn’t shy about sharing her appreciation for the Nowackis last Saturday night, either.

“Your entire family has changed my life forever,” she said. “If there’s ever a brief moment when you question if you ever made a difference to anyone, please know that you made a difference to me.
Thank you for supporting me and trusting my professional qualities.

“I never had the privilege to meet Andy, but I know I have big shoes to fill. I will be the best I can be to carry on his legacy. Andy has truly made my dreams come true.”
Twitter: @Lauranh


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