The Moorestown Service Club Council has named Monique Begg its 2024 Citizen of the Year.
“I thought it was a dream,” the 92-year-old Begg said of her award. “In fact, I was asking myself, ‘Am I, with old age, beginning to hallucinate? Did I dream this? Where did that come from?’”
The award recognizes a Moorestown resident who – through voluntary community service – has significantly contributed to the quality of life in the township.
“I like the Quaker influence in a way, and I think it’s still, in some ways, it’s still there,” Begg noted of the community. “It’s, to me, a message of love and inclusion. We always have to do more to work with people who are not like us. Working with people who are not like us is the best way to avoid war.”
The longtime township resident likes a lot of things about the town, including its Main Street and library. But that’s not all.
“I think in general the town… it certainly has a good government,” Begg related. “I think affordable housing is needed and I think we need more, and I think this administration is making sure that we get more …
“I think there’s an enrichment that comes from having people of various incomes in the same place.”
Begg is the founder of the Friends Enrichment Program (FEP), which has supported more than 1,000 scholarships and created special programs for more than 500 children. Her partnerships with the Moorestown parks and recreation department, the Perkins Center for the Arts, the township library and other regional organizations help fund financial assistance for needy children to participate in summer camps, music lessons, sports and other enriching activities.
“My hope (is) that it would become like affordable housing, like MEND (Moorestown Ecumenical Neighborhood Development), that it would be where all the churches join together and where we expand beyond,” Begg explained of the FEP.
“I don’t think it ends with me,” she added. “That’s why I recruit younger people to work with me, because I don’t think it is the 92-year-olds of this world who are going to continue this work.”
Years ago, Begg became curious about how to help students in town who needed recreational activity and a bit of guidance. With the help of the Moorestown Quaker Meeting, she created the FEP for children 5 and up who could benefit from supervised recreational activities. Its participants are referred from school counselors, juvenile officers and the Burlington County Probation Department.
Begg initially funded the program through the sale of a cookbook she edited and sold, but as time went on, fundraising events kept the FEP alive.
The organization has raised more than $400,000 in funds to date, and relationships with the more than 500 participants have continued well after students completed their programs. FEP was the recipient of the Community Service Award of the NAACP, Southern Burlington County, and Begg was the recipient of the Church Women Rights Award in 2006. She gets to know students and their families one on one and encourages them to get engaged in the community beyond their FEP activities.
“I started it, I got other people involved and I want to continue to get other people involved because I know, eventually, I will have to pass on this responsibility, because everybody dies,” Begg acknowledged.
“ … You come to this end …” she added. “We don’t know the future, but I would like to think that people will take it (the FEP), and I don’t know what it will look like … A lot of the kids who were in the program are successful nowadays, so that’s important.
“Did we save everybody? I’m sure not, but many of them we did and that matters.”
Begg is a Quebec native who was born in 1931 and attended the University of Montreal. She’s fluent in three languages and was a translator for the Canadian government before meeting her husband, Edwin, and moving to New York in the 1960s. The couple eventually moved to New Jersey, where Begg pursued her career in journalism, concentrating on environmental issues. Their son Daniel was born in 1972.
“I’m very, very lucky to live in Moorestown,” she noted. “I’m lucky to have the son I have. I was lucky to have the husband I had … If I look at all the options of what happened in life, I think I got lucky.”
The Citizen of the Year dinner honoring Begg will be held on Wednesday, Feb. 7, at the Community House of Moorestown. Cocktail hour will start at 6 p.m. and dinner will follow at 7.
Tickets are available at the community house and Moorestown Hardware. They can also be purchased through members of the Moorestown Rotary and Moorestown Lions Club.