A Pickerington woman whose faith led her to work with female felony offenders in a poverty-stricken community is among the finalists for a central Ohio volunteer award.

A Pickerington woman whose faith led her to work with female felony offenders in a poverty-stricken community is among the finalists for a central Ohio volunteer award.

About two years ago, Michelle Wascomb, a Texas transplant living in Pickerington the past six years, took a drive that not only changed her life but has affected the lives of women seeking redemption in their lives with the aid of religion.

The inspiration came from a billboard for a local radio station featuring only a woman's chest clad in a white tank top. It urged motorists to pray for rain.

"It really broke my heart because, to me, it was degrading of women," Wascomb said.

From that moment, Wascomb, 46, a devout Christian, said she was compelled to help women foster positive senses of self by carrying out the word of God. She sought outlets for such work and became involved with a Lower Lights Ministries program with Rachel's House, a Christian rehab community in Franklinton, one of the poorest areas of central Ohio on Columbus' West Side.

Since then, Wascomb has spent countless hours weekly with the program that helps women coming out of prison steer clear of past misgivings and focus on their religious faiths. As a mentor, she's provided them with transportation to various appointments, helped them become self-sufficient and spent many hours with them in prayer.

"Michelle has compassion for women trapped in cycles of poverty and hopelessness," said Anna Feeney, a Lower Lights member who nominated Wascomb for a Jefferson Award. "This is made evident by her facilitating a support group in the prison for those suffering from traumatic experiences. Her heart for the people in Franklinton and incarcerated women has led many other volunteers to commit their time and talents to this neighborhood.

"Franklinton will one day be restored to a vibrant community, thanks in part to the work of Michelle and other selfless volunteers like her."

The Jefferson Awards recognize individuals who do extraordinary things in their communities without expecting a reward.

The awards were created in 1972 by Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis and Ohio Sen. Robert Taft Jr. to highlight the work these people do.

Wascomb is one of 20 central Ohioans being considered for five Jefferson Awards that will be presented at an April 1 ceremony at the Wigwam in Pickerington, a corporate meeting center owned by ThisWeek's parent company. The event, sponsored by ThisWeek Community Newspapers, WBNS 10TV and the Nationwide On Your Side Volunteer Network, will be televised on Channel 10 at 7 p.m., April 25.

One of the five recipients then will be selected to travel to Washington, D.C., where national awards will be presented in May.

While she said she was overwhelmed by the nomination, Wascomb isn't interested in any accolades. She declined an invitation to the local ceremony and repeatedly said her volunteerism is motivated by God, the desire to help local women and the chance her work might lead to more empowerment programs.

"My faith and belief is in Jesus Christ and I believe I'm doing what He would do," Wascomb said. "I don't want to be at the award ceremony.

"My reward is eternal. I don't want to be recognized for something I'm called to do for Jesus Christ."

Beyond the structure of any assistance program, Wascomb said she tries to be available to the women, who often are suffering mentally and emotionally but want to change their lives. She said she talks with them about their spiritual lives and helps lead them to services and programs that will help land them jobs or obtain General Education Development diplomas.

"It's basically to empower and equip them to re-enter society," she said.

Wascomb said she agreed to talk about her nomination with hopes that others would look within themselves and be moved to help people in their communities. She noted there are ample opportunities to help masses of people in need, and the work results in a better society.

"I would hope that if anyone reads this, they're stirred to give," she said. "It's not only to be the physical person who helps, it's financial. If you have the resources, open up the hand."