On May 7, 2012, at a Springfield Ceremony, Ken Pettijohn of Carmi, was presented with the Martin Luther King Jr Public Service Award by the Illinois Association of Community Action Agencies. Pettijohn is the Executive Director of Wabash Area Development, Inc, known locally as WADI. His not-for-profit agency has offices in Albion, Bridgeport, Carmi, Enfield, Fairfield, Harrisburg, McLeansboro, Mt Carmel and Shawneetown.
Ken exemplifies the virtues of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. in many ways. Quoting Dr. Dalitso Sulamoyo, “Like Dr. King, many times when community action is confronted with challenges either with our state partners or within the community action family, I have always known him to be one to speak up. I have known him to ask those difficult questions that everyone has on their minds but for some reason won’t ask them.” He has served on numerous boards and has committed most of his life to the war on poverty. Ken is an advocate for low-income populations and, a voice for those who are not always given the chance to speak for themselves.
Ken started his career at WADI in May of 1975 as a Program Planner. He was responsible for research and development of grants and the implementation of new programs within the agency. It was at this time that Ken’s vision started to take shape. As the years progressed at WADI, Ken worked as; a Juvenile Counselor, Program Manager and the Associate Director for the Comprehensive Employment and Training Program, Assistant Director for the Jobs Training Program, and was hired as the Executive Director in 1991.
The Executive Director position allowed Ken to turn his vision into reality. This is evidenced by the growth and success of WADI in our communities and in the workplace. Due to Ken’s diligence, a Foundation was formed to assist the agency to build or purchase office buildings in 5 out of 7 of our core service counties. This has made programs like LIHEAP, Weatherization, Head Start, food pantries, CSBG scholarships, rental assistance, education assistance, and many other services readily available to those in need.
Ken’s dedication is, in part, due to the fact that he started out in poverty in East Carmi. Health issues and job loss forced Ken and his family to apply for assistance through social service agencies while he was growing up. The poor treatment that he and his family experienced by some of those agencies and at the hands of those who were more fortunate caused Ken to become passionate about making a difference in the lives of those who were less fortunate and often times “kicked while they were down.”
Ken has worked hard to become a strong and influential leader in the war on poverty. He has been able to earn his Master’s degree, receive numerous distinguished awards throughout the State and within the Community Action world, and gained the respect of his colleagues and communities. Each morning Ken wakes up and comes to work so that his shared vision of a better life for all can become a reality. This is why Ken Pettijohn was given the prestigious Martin Luther King, Jr. Public Service Award.