"It's not just me . . .," Pawling repeatedly protested when asked about the award during a recent interview. "Lots of people have helped."
Others had a different view, suggesting that initiatives such as Coatesville's Police Athletic League program would not have happened without Pawling's perseverance.
Frances Sheehan, president and chief executive officer of the Brandywine Health Foundation, said Pawling led PAL's recent move to a new site in the city's west end.
"He's one of many people in the Coatesville community committed to helping young people here succeed in life," Sheehan said.
Gusz said Pawling "embodies the philosophy" of the award.
"His extraordinary efforts to better the lives of children in Coatesville and the surrounding areas are worthy of recognition," she said. "As a lifetime Coatesville resident himself, his love of his city is contagious and has led to his commitment to the PAL center and the numerous programs that PAL offers to youth in the Coatesville area."
For Pawling, 41, the job of serving Coatesville continues long after he completes each police shift, and it often involves his wife and their five children, who range in age from 9 to 18.
In 2000, Pawling worked with his current and former police chiefs to establish the Coatesville PAL center. When the group found a permanent home this year at 17 N. Church St., Pawling helped renovate and paint it, creating a safe, welcoming environment for numerous programs, including sports and mentoring.
Gusz said the PAL center even has a special room where victim advocates can provide counseling and support groups can meet.
Interacting with some of the city's disadvantaged children prompted another Pawling enterprise eight years ago: "Shop With a Cop," which gives children a shopping spree with a uniformed police officer.
The event, which began within the Coatesville PAL program, has become so popular that other law enforcement agencies and fire departments have joined it. Pawling said generous donations from a plethora of community businesses make it possible.
The children, who are about 5 to 15 years old, are selected by social-service agencies, given a spending limit of $100, encouraged to buy gifts for relatives and themselves, and then turned loose in the Parkesburg Wal-Mart with an officer to help juggle ideas, gifts, and finances.
Pawling, a graduate of Coatesville Area High School, joined the Police Department in 1995 and was promoted to detective in 2001. He said he recalled considering police work in high school but opted to study business in college, a plan interrupted by the birth of his first child.
To support his young family, Pawling said he sold Utz potato chips and went to the Police Academy part time. When he graduated, he got his first-choice job in Coatesville.
Aside from gratifying moments as a football or baseball coach, Pawling said he most enjoys encountering kids from PAL when he's on the street as a police officer.
"When you have kids run up to you, know your name, and will talk to you, that's special," he said.
Chester County First Assistant District Attorney Patrick Carmody, a previous recipient, has seen Pawling in action over the years and called him a "worthy choice" for the award, which was presented Thursday night.
"He shows great compassion to children and dedication to his job," Carmody said. "I'm very pleased to hear that he's being recognized."
Contact staff writer Kathleen Brady Shea at 610-696-3815, firstname.lastname@example.org, or @brandywinebits on Twitter. Read her blog, "Chester County Inbox," at www.philly.com/chescoinbox.