Citizen of the Year winners Todd Lipa and Reena Naami-Dier stand with Farmington Area Jaycees President Andrew Buck at the 34th annual Farmington Tree Lighting Ceremony Dec. 7.

Citizen of the Year winners Todd Lipa and Reena Naami-Dier stand with Farmington Area Jaycees President Andrew Buck at the 34th annual Farmington Tree Lighting Ceremony Dec. 7.

Photo by Jonathan Shead


Farmington Jaycees name citizens of the year

By: Jonathan Shead | Farmington Press | Published December 17, 2019

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FARMINGTON — Several years have passed since the Farmington Area Jaycees announced their last round of Business and Citizen of the Year winners, but Jaycees President Andrew Buck said it was time to bring those awards back, with a twist.

“We know there are a lot of great people locally doing great things for the community. We wanted to recognize those folks,” Buck said. “(But) instead of having the Jaycees decide, we wanted to take that responsibility out of our hands and put it into the community’s hands, so they had the ability to express their admiration.

“The vision was that, by revising or starting this again … it would have an effect on the community in such that people would want to win this award, helping to drive positivity in the community.”

Leveraging social media, the Jaycees spread the message and motivated community members to nominate one another. In total, 13 businesses and 21 residents were nominated for this year’s awards, receiving 428 votes overall.

The winners were announced at the 34th annual Tree Lighting Ceremony Dec. 7 at the Governor Warner Mansion. Buck called this year’s winners “champions of the community.”

 

Business of the Year Award: Greenpath Financial Wellness
Greenpath Financial Wellness is a national nonprofit that has called Farmington Hills home since 2002. The business previously called Novi home, since 1961. Jason Hughes, the digital marketing manager, accepted the award on behalf of the company, which received 85 total votes.

Hughes said Greenpath works to alleviate financial stress in people’s lives. Learn more at greenpath.com.

“It’s really rewarding to not only affect the financial wellness of people throughout the country, but also have an impact here in Michigan and the local community,” Hughes said. “We pride ourselves in being part of the Farmington area community, and we always look for opportunities to lift up the community where we can.”

 

Citizens of the Year: Reena Naami-Dier and Todd Lipa
Reena Naami-Dier, the owner and director of the Spark Center for Autism, and Todd Lipa, the director of Youth and Family Services for Farmington Hills, as well as Community Action Resources Empowerment Services of Farmington Hills, tied for first place, both receiving 75 votes.

Lipa is a previous recipient of the award as well, in 1994.

“The more the merrier,” Buck said about the tie. “It just felt like they both deserved an award.”

In 2014, Naami-Dier returned home to Michigan to help make the state better for those on the autism spectrum. She created the Spark Center for Autism, which works with children on the autism spectrum up to age 10, building independence, language and communication skills, and academic and social skills. Learn more at sparkcenterforautism.com.

One resident who nominated her said in the submission, “Without (her) help, I would have never been able to get the ... therapy for my son that he needed.”

Naami-Dier has seen firsthand how her services have helped families, but she said winning the award adds more fuel to her fire.

“Now, more than ever, I want to make sure to continue reaching out and, hopefully, even be able to expand more,” she said. “Hopefully, we’ll be able to help more families who didn’t know our services were available and in a close range to them.”

Logging 25 years with Farmington Hills Youth and Family Services, a program that’s helped over 14,000 kids, and another four with CARES, which has helped and fed over 780 families in southeast Michigan, “it’s hard not to see what (Lipa) does in the community,” Buck said.

Although Lipa felt honored to receive the award, he said none of the work would have been possible without his teams’ support.

“It can’t be one person doing it. I accepted the Citizen of the Year award, but I really only received it because both of my teams at the city, with the after-school program, and definitely my team at CARES,” Lipa said, adding that some of his staff members have been with him for over 20 years. “I feel really blessed to have a staff that’s stayed with me because they believe in the same cause.”

Lipa said receiving the award reminds him he’s doing the “right work” in the community.

“I think when you receive something like this, it’s a good reminder. … People are seeing what your cause is, respecting it and caring about it, and they’re motivated to help you build what you’re working so hard on,” he said. “That’s what I keep getting refueled on.”

Learn more about CARES at caresfh.org.

Buck said he hopes to use social media even more during next year’s nomination process to showcase each person’s and business’ story.

“We plan to produce video shorts on each candidate and put those on display where the voting will take place, so that if you want to vote but aren’t sure who to vote for, you can get educated on who those people are and make an informed decision.”

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