When LeeAnn Ludwig was matched up with a teenage girl in foster care more than two years ago as her mentor, she had no idea she'd be recognized by the state for her efforts.
So when her name was called Monday in Detroit's Gem Theatre as the winner of the Mentor of the Year award, she couldn't quite believe it.
"When they called my name, I didn't move for a second, and my mom had to push me out of my chair for me to go up on stage," she said.
Ludwig received one of Gov. Rick Snyder's Governor's Service Awards that night. She told him about her disbelief in winning when she spoke to him on stage, having beat out many nominees for one of eight awards.
An Alpena native, Ludwig lives in Mount Pleasant after moving there to attend Central Michigan University, she said. She earned a degree in sociology in 2009.
Since then, she's been involved with Helping Others Prepare for Everything. Through the program, she was matched with Nichole Jenks. The two spent several hours a week together going bowling or doing other activities. Ludwig even attended her mentee's graduation from Mount Pleasant High School.
Their time together was part of HOPE's mission of helping foster kids make the transition to adult life, Ludwig said.
"Some of them turn 18 and the foster family says, 'OK, we're done with you,'" she said.
HOPE volunteers help mentees with anything from getting a driver's license to getting a job, Ludwig said.
Over the 2 1/2 years Ludwig and Jenks were matched together, Ludwig has noticed positive changes in her mentee, she said. Jenks was a shy and introverted 11th-grader when the two first met.
"She definitely had broken out of her shell," Ludwig said. "She's more talkative, more outgoing, and got a lot more involved with stuff."
These changes should help Jenks in her transition to college, Ludwig said. It's a good thing, too; she's the recipient of a Seita Scholarship from Western Michigan University, a scholarship aimed specifically at children who grew up in foster care. It'll cover Jenks' tuition for four years.
"Even though I'm a CMU Chippewa and I tease her all the time, but you know, going to college for free is pretty good," Ludwig said, alluding to the two schools' rivalry.
Jenks would agree that Ludwig had a positive impact on her, Ludwig said. In a presentation made for the awards ceremony, the mentee is quoted as calling Ludwig one of the most influential people in her life.
"I... pretty much would consider her a little sister, and she considers me a big sister," she said.
Jenks already has finished her first year at Western, Ludwig said. Despite the distance, the two have kept in touch.
"Technically, I think we're still matched within the program," she said. "Even if it ends through the formal program, we're still going to keep on being matched and get together when we can."
Ludwig was nominated by Alecia Wrapp, the mentor coordinator and AmeriCorps member for HOPE, she said. She was honored to be nominated, and surprised to win out over the other mentors who were.
"I was just trying to be there for somebody and be a mentor," she said. "I didn't expect anything out of it."
Andrew Westrope can be reached via e-mail at email@example.com or by phone at 358-5693.