New Albany resident Brian Probst is among 20 finalists for the 2011 Jefferson Awards for Public Service, which recognize "unsung heroes."

New Albany resident Brian Probst is among 20 finalists for the 2011 Jefferson Awards for Public Service, which recognize "unsung heroes."

Five winners will be named April 5 at a ceremony at the Columbus Museum of Art.

Probst, 19, is a freshman at Clemson University in South Caroline. His nomination for the Jefferson Awards is the result of a senior seminar project he completed last year at New Albany High School. To graduate from New Albany High School, seniors must research an idea, complete a project and file paperwork to show their progress.

After visiting St. Stephen's Community House on East 17th Avenue in Columbus, Probst realized the food pantry could operate more efficiently if it were set up more like a grocery, where people could pick out the items they wanted.

"I thought it would be better if they could come in and choose instead of getting a bag of stuff they might not use," he said.

Probst decided to help St. Stephen's create a "choice" food pantry that worked as more of a food and nutrition center for his senior project. He drafted a plan for the space and got permission to use an adjoining room.

"At first, they were in basically a closet, which, obviously, you couldn't walk around in," Probst said.

He then had to find ways to fund the project. He enlisted the help of local people to take out a wall and put in shelves.

"We gutted it and made a whole new big room for shopping," he said.

"They tore down walls and recreated the food pantry to make it a food and nutrition center, which is what we still call it today," said Renea Williams, vice president of development and communications for St. Stephen's Community House.

Doorways were widened to help people with carts move through the area and people are allowed to choose the foods that are best for them and their families, helping St. Stephen's to "better accommodate diet restrictions and eliminate waste," Williams said.

The St. Stephen's food and nutrition center serves between 400 and 600 people monthly, with some months reaching 1,200 served, Williams said.

"(Probst) was great for us because of his energy and what he did. We would not have had the resources to pay for it by any means," Williams said.

Probst said he "got to see how community centers work, how much the people are helped and how many organizations there are out there."

He also got some leadership experience by organizing workers.

"It was a good opportunity for me to kinda go out and get involved in the community," Probst said.

Probst said without the senior seminar requirement, he might never have done the work he did.

Williams credits Probst's family for supporting him in the project.

"His family has been huge, huge supporters of St. Stephen's," she said. "He was a senior in high school when he did this and it could not have happened without family support and good parenting."

Williams said an added benefit came out of Probst's school presentation, where he shared his experience with his peers and encouraged them to help others.

"He said that we often are sheltered and don't see what others see and don't know the choices people are forced to make in their lives," she said.

ThisWeek Community Newspapers is a sponsor of the Jefferson Awards for Public Service.