MOUNT VERNON — Patrolman Jeremiah Armstrong of the Mount Vernon Police Department was honored with Knox Pages’ first annual “Solutions Seeker” award on Saturday, June 25 during the newsroom’s Reporting: Reimagined event in Mansfield.

The award is meant to recognize “a person who brings people together, stands for north central Ohio, delivers on promises, begins with gratitude, looks for solutions, and iterates on ideas,” according to Knox Pages Engagement & Solutions Editor Brittany Schock.

“Solutions Seekers are problem-solvers. They are challenging the status quo,” she continued. “They don’t accept past challenges and limitations, and instead push through them. They are actively working to leave their communities better than they found them. We believe they should be recognized for this worthy work.”

Armstrong was recognized for his work in spearheading the MVPD’s PAK United program, which aims to connect the city’s youth to its police force in a positive, recreational environment (the acronym stands for “Police and Kids United”).

Armstrong – with the approval and support of Chief Robert Morgan and Lieutenant Andy Burns – helped launch the program in July 2021. It has since taken off, involving dozens of officers and adolescents over the last year.

Mount Vernon High School and Middle School students have competed with – and against – officers in games of kickball, dodgeball and frisbee golf. They’ve watched movies together and gone fishing, among other activities.

“Being in the school and being able to interact with them on a daily basis is huge,” Armstrong, who also serves as Mount Vernon’s school resource officer, told Knox Pages in an interview last summer.

“I’ve always felt there’s something the kids have needed in the community.”

The goal of the program is two-fold: to provide a recreational outlet for students who otherwise might face a troubled home life, and to strengthen the bond between the community’s youth and its police force.

“While a positive experience predicts a positive view of the police, a negative intervention predicts a negative view of the police,” Burns said in an interview last summer.

The program has grown over the last year, attracting participation from the Mount Vernon Fire Department and other city officials, including Mayor Matt Starr.

The MVPD received the Community Impact Award from Law Publications in December 2021 for its implementation of the program. Law Publications wrote in a press release that the program “demonstrates a unique way to make a truly lasting positive impact on the community.”

When May rolled around, Knox Pages staff members were invited to submit nominations for the company’s first-annual “Solutions Seeker” award. Nominated individuals had to be the main focus of a story written in 2021 or 2022 – and they had to exhibit the qualities described above.

Armstrong was one of three individuals nominated by Knox Pages for the award. The other two were Courtney Lower, human resources director for Knox County Job and Family Services, who has spearheaded two programs internally that have reduced burnout and helped the agency retain employees; and Jeff Gottke, president of the Area Development Foundation, who has spearheaded Knox County’s efforts to plan and prepare for the arrival of tech giant Intel in Licking County in the coming years.

Readers were then invited to vote for their favorite nominee, with the winner announced June 25 at Reporting: Reimagined, an event meant to link local solutions journalism to the art community.

Armstrong was honored as the winner of the first-annual award. While he was on vacation at the time, MVPD Captain Scott McKnight came to accept the trophy – hand-crafted by local artist Lucas Hargis – and deliver brief remarks.

McKnight thanked Knox Pages and Source Media Properties for the honor and the opportunity to have their story told.

Richland Source and Ashland Source, Knox Pages’ sister sites in Richland and Ashland counties, respectively, handed out their own first-annual “Solutions Seeker” awards on June 25 as well.

Edward Akinyemi earned the designation in Richland County for his work with Demeter’s Developments, a rent-to-own matched savings program that gives people a path to home ownership.

Terry McQuillen earned the designation in Ashland County for her leadership of the “As You Wish” program at The Good Shepherd Skilled Nursing and Rehabilitation Campus, which gives residents a chance to do something they’ve always wanted to do, or allow them another chance to do something they have long loved.

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