Family, friends and neighbors celebrated Monique Begg, the township’s citizen of the year, at a dinner earlier this month arranged by the Moorestown Service Club Council at the community house.
“It is not an exaggeration to say that my mother has been on cloud nine ever since she received the news that she had won,” said Begg’s son Daniel. “She keeps asking me if she dreamed it all and I keep having to assure her that unless we are all having the same dream, it is actually happening.
“The truth is, that as proud as I am of her and grateful to those who have made it possible, I was not at all surprised when my mother found out that she was receiving this award,” he added. “As long as I can remember, my mother has poured her heart into this community and the causes she champions. I have witnessed first hand the love that she has for others, and I have seen that love return in so many ways over the years.
“I can feel that love in this room tonight.”
The 92-year-old Begg is the founder of the Friends Enrichment Program (FEP), which has supported more than 1,000 scholarships and created special programs for the enrichment of more than 500 children. Her partnership with the township’s parks and recreation department, Perkins Center for the Arts, the Moorestown library and other local organizations enabled kids in need of financial assistance to attend summer camps, music lessons and other extracurricular enrichment activities.
“I always felt like being introduced to the program leveled the playing field,” noted Rachel Simmons, the first person to be enrolled in the FEP. “It allowed me to explore a lot of opportunities that I wouldn’t have been able to explore.
“Also, another phrase I always think of when I think about Mrs. Begg is, ‘A light in a dark place,’” Simmons added. “When you grow up a certain way, you experience certain things. You have what people may refer to as dark experiences. But meeting Mrs. Begg, each time I came to those dark experiences, she was the light and she kept shining that light, and it continued to shine, and it brought me to where I am today.
“I’m forever grateful for those dark moments, but I’m also more grateful for the light that shined each time.”
The citizen of the year award recognizes Moorestown residents who – through varied service activities – have significantly contributed to the quality of life for both the community and its citizens. The honorees are chosen, after careful consideration, from nominations made by Moorestown residents.
“Working with kids has been one of the most rewarding activities I’ve had in my life as an adult,” Begg said. ” … I encountered so many wonderful children. Rachel was the first, but she was not the only one. She was followed by many.
“Even hearing Rachel tonight speak to you and realizing how difficult a time she had as a teenager, I feel that this was the most rewarding thing I could have done for somebody, and I didn’t do it. She did it. She had to do it.”
Begg is also the 2015 recipient of the community service award of the NAACP, Southern Burlington County New Jersey. She still participates in the FEP and has built a strong group of volunteers to assist her and continue the work.
“The one simple but powerful philosophy that guides my mother’s actions is that love can change the world,” Daniel explained. “Not just love for family and friends, but love for those who are struggling, suffering or in need. Love for those of whom you may not agree or have much in common (with).
“It is the simple demonstration of love that can conquer the darkness in our hearts and bring hope to the world.”
Begg also received proclamations by the township, the Burlington County Board of Chosen Freeholders and a New Jersey Senate and Assembly resolution.
“ … Everybody knows Mrs. Begg, everybody wants to be around her,” Mayor Nicole Gillespie stated. “.… She is truly one of our treasures in Moorestown and I am so honored to be able to stand up here tonight and to present this proclamation.”
Earlier at the dinner, Moorestown High student Melissa Krasner was presented with the good citizen award. Kahra Buss, Moorestown’s 2017 citizen of the year, also spoke a few words.
“If you have not yet had the opportunity to speak to Monique personally, I encourage you to do so,” Buss emphasized, “because I assure you, you will leave the conversation smarter, more enlightened and more inspired than you ever could have imagined.”