Everyday Hero: Chip Neumann provides ‘buddies’ for vets

Chip & Nova

By Amy Geiszler-Jones

With Midwest Battle Buddies, founder Chip Neumann combines his love of man’s best friend and his deep gratitude for those willing to serve our country.

Two years ago, Neumann started the nonprofit that provides service dogs and training to military veterans living with PTSD, traumatic brain injury, military sexual trauma and other service-related conditions. While it costs about $30,000 to train a service dog, the only cost the veteran pays is the $20 application fee.

“I just feel veterans have given so much and they deserve this service,” said Neumann. “It’s my way to serve them.” While Neumann never served in the military, his dad and uncle did.

With shelter and rescue dogs, dogs donated by breeders and occasionally a dog already owned by the veteran, Midwest Battle Buddies provides extensive training that meets the standards of Assistance Dogs International. One veteran suggested lead trainer Tammy Hazlett is as good as Cesar Milan, the well-known “dog whisperer.”

“We try to train for every situation so these dogs are practically bulletproof when they graduate,” said Neumann, explaining they go to malls and other places to conduct training among crowds, be in a dining situation and more.

For both veterans and Neumann, the results are making a significant impact.

Studies show that for veterans with PTSD, service dogs can have both behavioral and psychological benefits. For some veterans, the dogs mean freedom because they are no longer housebound by the fear and anxiety crowds can bring. The unconditional love and bond with the dog help keep depression and even suicidal thoughts at bay.

Because the Veterans Administration doesn’t recognize service dogs as a treatment option, veterans who can benefit either have to pay for a dog and training themselves or rely on organizations like Midwest Battle Buddies.

“This has really opened my eyes about what is going on among veterans,” said Neumann. “Many aren’t getting the help they need.”

So Neumann – who funds this endeavor with donations and his pension from a nearly 40-year career as a printer – has now become much more than a trainer. He’s become an advocate, visiting with policymakers, helping the Robert J. Dole VA Medical Center develop a service dog behavior policy for its facility and making connections with similar training groups across the country.

To find out more about Midwest Battle Buddies or to donate, visit midwestbattlebuddies.org.

The 2019 Everyday Heroes Award is sponsored by Envision

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Everyday Hero: Student starts teen mental health initiative

Ngoc Vuong

By Amy Geiszler-Jones

Ngoc Vuong knows the depths of despair caused by grief. But he also knows the impact of having a good support system.

Vuong, 18, developed severe depression after his mom died of a brain aneurysm in his sophomore year at Wichita South High School. Already very involved with extracurricular activities dealing with leadership and volunteerism, Vuong decided to help other teens who deal with mental health challenges. Not only did he start talking about his bout with grief and depression, but he worked with National Alliance on Mental Illness Wichita to start mental health awareness campaigns and wrote a grant to organize a community-wide initiative.

Started with a $1,000 grant from the Wichita Community Foundation, ICTeens in Mind is a student-led mental health support and advocacy group that is forming networks with schools, neighborhoods, nonprofit organizations and communities to create resources for teens with mental health conditions. In 2018, ICTeens in Mind was integrated into Partners for Wichita, a nonprofit whose purpose focuses on making Wichita a better, safer place for its citizens.

Growing up, Vuong listened to the stories his parents told him and his siblings about the hardships they endured as dissenters in Vietnam. His father fought against the North and ended up leaving his family and everything behind. His maternal grandfather was subjected to horrors in a “re-education camp,” while his wife and daughters tried to carry on until his release.

“They found solitude in Wichita,” said Vuong.

And he found strength, gratitude and drive in those stories – stories that showed hardships can be overcome. That’s why he started looking for opportunities to lead and make changes, he said, as early as middle school. It’s why he decided to do something about combating the stigma of depression.

Now a freshman at Wichita State University and considering a degree in psychology, Vuong also works at Partners in Wichita and continues to find ways to expand the reach of ICTeens in Mind.

“My goal is to encourage schools to be proactive in conversations with students and staff about mental health,” he said. He’s visiting area middle and high schools to talk to students and staff to get their input on creating programs focused on mental health, and he’s working on creating a countywide, student-led initiative.

To find out more about ICTeens in Mind, visit the group’s Twitter page,  https://twitter.com/ictymhc or Facebook page.

The 2019 Everyday Heroes Award is sponsored by Envision

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Community members are celebrated for “Making a Difference”

Wichita Difference Makers Awards

The second annual Difference Makers of Wichita Awards Banquet was held Feb. 24, 2018 at Newman University.

Newman, along with The Wichita Eagle/Kansas.com and Cooks Heating and Cooling, sponsored the event. A total of 11 awards were given throughout the night. Five individual “Difference Maker” awards were given along with five “Everyday Hero” awards.

Difference Makers

difference makers

Lance Minor, owner of Aero Plains Brewing, accepts the Murdock Award for Business.

Aero Plains Brewing received the first Difference Maker award. Owner Lance Minor accepted the Murdock Award for Business, an award sponsored by The Wichita Eagle/Kansas.com and given to a business in the community working to make Wichita a better place and help those in need.

“When I first got the call, I thought someone was messing with me,” he said with a smile. “But actually, once I realized this was a legitimate and prestigious honor, I was very humbled and surprised, and I was really proud of the whole team.”

Minor is a Wichita native who lived all over the country during his time as a marine. He recently returned to his hometown and opened Aero Plains Brewing about a year ago. His wife Mary is very proud of him and he credits her for keeping him focused.

“I hope that every Wichitan wants to win this award,” Minor said. “I hope that everybody cares about this place and this community and wants to help one another. We’re all trying to make a difference. That’s what it’s really about. I wish there were more of these awards to give away.”

The Ivonne Goldstein Award for Community Volunteer, which is presented to an individual who through outstanding volunteer community service and commitment is making a measurable difference, is named for the late Ivonne Goldstein, who served on the boards of or raised money for more than 50 Wichita organizations.

This year’s award was presented to Don Barry.

difference makers

Don Barry (center) poses with the daughters of Yvonne Goldstein, Andrea Stas (left) and Laurie Berman (right)

Barry considered the late Ivonne Goldstein a good friend and was very humbled to receive an award named after such an extraordinary role model.

It’s the ability to make a difference, and it may be in just a few people’s lives, or it could be hundreds of lives. But that is the drive behind it.
– Don Barry

He has been a volunteer for organizations such as Interfaith Ministries, Goodwill Industries, Wichita State University, Wichita Public Library and more. His most recent accomplishment has been his role in the opening of the new Advanced Learning Library. Barry serves as a chairman of the Wichita Public Library Foundation.

“I think for most people that are involved in philanthropy,” explained Barry, “it’s the ability to make a difference, and it may be in just a few people’s lives, or it could be hundreds of lives. But that is the drive behind it.”

difference makers

Kevin Mullen (right) poses with Robert Donovan of Donovan Truck and auto, sponsor of the Russ Meyer Award for Community Leadership award.

The Russ Meyer Award for Community Leadership is given to an individual making a positive impact in our community through demonstrated excellence in leadership and outstanding initiative to create solutions for critical issues facing the area.

The award, sponsored by Donovan Auto & Truck, was presented to Kevin Mullen, president of Ritchie Associates.

Mullen said, “It’s a tremendous honor, and to be honest, I’m not sure why I’m getting the award because I just did things people are supposed to do. This is the way the world is supposed to work, we’re supposed to be helping other people.”

Mullen has worked with the Lord’s Diner for more than eight years and has played a vital role in its growth. The diner, he said, “has more than 6,000 volunteers that come from all walks of life and all faiths.”

difference makers

Lloyd Hanna poses with Sister Tarcisia Roths, ASC at the Difference Makers for Wichita banquet.

Lloyd Hanna, executive director of the Medical Loan Closet, received the Sister Tarcisia Roths, ASC Award for Not-For-Profit. When he found out he won the award, he said, “I was absolutely floored; this is unbelievable. It’s very flattering.”

The award is presented to a mission-driven not-for-profit organization that is creating a significant impact in the community.

Hanna and his wife started the organization six years ago in their garage.

“We take donations of medical equipment, fix them up and loan them to those that need it,” he said. “We did more than 4,500 units this last year and we have about 20 volunteers that run it.”

Hanna found it ironic that Roths was presenting the award because she was, in fact, one of the first donors to the Medical Loan Closet.

Simpson Construction sponsored the Brian Bergkamp Student Service Award, which was given to high school senior Hailey Colborn, founder of Self Posi. She and other members help young girls learn the importance of self-love.

difference makers

Hailey Colborn, founder of Self Posi.

Colborn started the organization because of her involvement in pageants. She was told she needed to develop a platform, and at the time she was 13 and struggling with self-image issues. She has impacted hundreds of girls in the community by speaking to them about self-positivity and being willing to listen to any issues they’re having.

“Being able to talk with them one-on-one after a presentation is really amazing, said Colborn. “Or when a girl raises her hand in front of all her peers to tell her story, that’s even more amazing. Seeing those girls be so brave and open puts me in awe of them.”

Her mother, Denise, said, “She has been that kid that works really hard to achieve her goals; it’s good to see that she’s an asset to our city. Her confidence has increased as she’s gone through this whole process. When she created this program, she started to really grow and realize she’s beautiful no matter what. We’re very proud of her.”

Colborn will major in political science at Princeton and is also prepping for Miss Teen USA.

Everyday Heroes

Among those honored at the banquet, five Everyday Hero awards, sponsored by Envision, were presented to community members.

The recipients are individuals who do not seek recognition but rather are inspired by an unwavering commitment to the day-to-day service of others to make a positive difference.

The first honoree was Michael Pasco, who started “Coffee With a Cop” at the age of 17. The idea was to help improve trust and build relationships between citizens and law enforcement. About 10 people showed up to the first event in November 2015. Now, the event hosts crowds of more than 300.

Larry Hanafin was honored for his tremendous amount of work on the Christmas light display The Arc of Sedgwick County prepares each year. He plays a vital role in the creation and disassembly of the display that The Arc considers their premier fundraiser.

Janelle McGee brings Broadway to the senior citizens of Brookdale Senior Living. She enjoys performing pieces from popular shows such as Phantom of the Opera and knows how much the residents appreciate her creativity.

Bob Lutz is a familiar name around Wichita. Lutz was recognized as an Everyday Hero for starting League 42, a baseball league for boys and girls ages 5-14. Lutz calls it a labor of love. He enjoys giving youth an affordable way to get out there and play.

Jean Pouncil-Burton founded the Wichita Griots, a group considered one of the 15 affiliates of the National Association of Black Storytellers. The Griots present at schools and other organizations to tell stories, teach character education, and promote literacy.

Everyday Hero: Larry Hanafin – Bringing light to a cause

Larry Hanafin

By Amy Geiszler-Jones

For the past 15 years, retiree Larry Hanafin has been helping the lights shine bright for one of the Wichita area’s most popular holiday displays.

Now the volunteers and staff of The Arc of Sedgwick County want to shine the light on Hanafin’s efforts as a volunteer for the nonprofit organization that offers various programming to make a difference in the lives of individuals and families living with intellectual and development disabilities.

The Arc’s Lights holiday display features 1.4 million lights and 20-plus miles of electrical and extension cords, enough to go from Wichita to Newton, according to The Arc officials. The most recent display – starting at the intersection of Douglas and St. Paul in west Wichita and continuing through the grounds of The Art and the adjacent Independent Living Resource Center – was open nightly from Nov. 23 through Dec. 28. The light display, held for the past 21 years, is the premier fundraising event for The Arc.

Volunteers such as Hanafin start work in September on the display by testing the lights to see if they work. Then the displays are assembled. In January, the display is disassembled, an effort Hanafin also participates in.

“I’m the high man,” said Hanafin. “I do all the displays that need a lift.” His signature creation is a tunnel of lights.

“He’s a huge part of our life here,” said Sarah Maddux, The Arc’s special projects assistant and volunteer coordinator.

“He loves to give of his time for people who need it,” added Mike Kelly, program director.

The Arc has become his saving grace, the 69-year-old Hanafin said, a place for the former Vietnam War veteran of the 25th Infantry Division to be part of something positive and rewarding.

“This has become my lifeblood,” said Hanafin, who also serves as one of two Santas during holiday parties for The Arc’s clients. He and his wife, Brenda, also serve as chaperones for several local and out-of-state trips for The Arc’s clients. They’ve been to the Grand Canyon, Nashville, Branson, Missouri, and various other locations, and even a cruise in Mexico.

“We’ve gone a lot of miles,” Hanafin said.

He started volunteering about 15 years ago, when one of his daughters, who was working for one of The Arc’s programs at the time, told him that organization needed help setting up its holiday display. She thought it would be an ideal place for him to share his skills – and his giving nature. After his 18-month stint in the Army, Hanafin had spent decades working in maintenance, including 25 years at the Boeing-Wichita plant. One of his major hobbies is collecting and restoring vintage cars.

“There’s not much on a car that I can’t fix,” he said.

The 1945 Dodge pickup he drove back and forth going to high school in Valley Center and the car in which he learned to drive are among his car collection.

Seeing an Arc client’s face light up when he plays Santa or helping someone make memories of a lifetime during an out-of-town trip are particularly special for Hanafin.

“I just love helping people and I always get back tenfold what I give.”

Everyday Hero: Jean Pouncil-Burton – Telling stories

Jean Pouncil-Burton

By Amy Geiszler-Jones

Once upon a time, there was a fascinating woman who loved to tell stories. She’d read aloud from books, raising and lowering her voice as the story dictated, switching voices as the characters changed. Sometimes she’d recite stories from memory – folk tales, ghost stories, historical stories and more – exciting her audiences with gestures and sound effects to accompany a voice that demanded attention.

Jean Pouncil-Burton loves introducing children to the powerful medium of stories, as told in books and in the oral tradition.

“I love to tell the stories so profoundly that the audience can see the characters and not forget them,” said Pouncil-Burton.

But it’s her story that deserves to be told, according to her nomination for February’s Everyday Hero award.

Twenty years ago – after spending more than three decades as a Wichita public librarian – Pouncil-Burton founded the Wichita Griots: Keepers of the Stories. It’s a group of about a dozen storytellers who preserve the art of storytelling and the spoken word by presenting programs at schools and other organizations to tell stories, teach character education and promote literacy. Griots is a West African term used to identify storytellers and musicians. The Wichita Griots are one of 15 affiliates of the National Association of Black Storytellers.

The Griots also hold local storytelling workshops throughout the year and a summer cultural arts camp for Wichita youth where “kids use their imagination to grow,” said Pouncil-Burton. During the weeklong arts camp, students ages 6 to 16 are exposed to a variety of arts – from drumming to dancing to reading and drama. The camp culminates in a major production staged by the kids to showcase the talents they acquired.

Pouncil-Burton has had a a lifelong love of books and words, encouraged by her mother and a specific teacher from her youth, Ms. Mildred Robinson.

“Laura Ingalls Wilder’s books held me hostage for hours on end,” recalled Pouncil-Burton. She later discovered the books and poems of African-American writers Langston Hughes and Paul Laurence Dunbar. She still loves being transported to different places and learning about the characters she finds between the covers of a book.

As a librarian, Pouncil-Burton enjoyed encouraging youth to discover books, as well. As the manager at the Maya Angelou Northeast Branch Library, she would often recommend books to children to read while they waited their turn to use the library’s computers.

“The next thing you know it would be time for them to use the computers but they’d be in the stacks, reading,” she said. She would then encourage them to check out the books to continue their reading.

“I was so inspired when I saw that,” she said, of turning young children into readers and public library users. Her storytimes also gained in popularity, leading many parents and teachers to ask her to come to parties or classrooms to share her enthusiastic readings.

“When I retired early, I thought, ‘I can’t leave those kids. I love encouraging them and turning them into readers,’” she said.

So she founded the Griots in 1998. Pouncil-Burton said the Griots reach about 24,000 people each year through presentations, programs and community events.

The Griots’ summer camp, now in its 14th year, outgrew its original location at North Heights Christian Church and is now held at the Wichita Urban Preparatory Academy, based in the former Mueller Elementary School. Grant funding – from organizations such as Westar Energy and local arts groups – helps keep registration to an affordable $30 per child, with sibling discounts, for the 40-hour camp, Pouncil-Burton said. A grant from the Wichita Community Foundation and the Wichita Wagonmasters Fund will provide scholarships for six students this year.

Quiet Hero: Bob Lutz hits home run with League 42


By Amy Geiszler-Jones

Baseball has always been special to Bob Lutz, who covered a variety of sports during his 42-year career as a sports writer and columnist for The Wichita Eagle.

“It’s always been my biggest love,” Lutz said. For him, it helped form a bond between him and his dad.

And for the past three years, it’s a sport he along with hundreds of volunteers have helped introduce to hundreds of urban kids in Wichita.

Lutz calls League 42, a baseball league for boys and girls ages 5 through 14, a labor of love. The league is named after the number worn by Hall of Famer Jackie Robinson, the first African-American to play Major League Baseball.

In 2013 on a local radio sports show, Lutz pitched an idea he had been thinking about for more than a decade: creating an affordable opportunity for youth, especially minority youth, to play baseball.

By the next year, after heavy recruiting by Lutz and others who helped create the league, 220 players signed up to form 16 teams. This year’s season, the league’s fourth, involved about 600 players on 42 teams. There was a waiting list for some age groups this year. Around 175 volunteers were involved in coaching and other team roles, Lutz estimated.

The league’s registration fee is $30 per child or for an entire family, and all equipment is provided at no cost.

Making baseball affordable for urban kids isn’t the only goal of League 42, a nonprofit organization.

“The very foundation of the league is sportsmanship,” Lutz said. “We want the experience to be fun and enjoyable. We don’t want the kids to feel any pressure or for coaches and parents to apply pressure.”

He also likes the fact that the league brings families of different backgrounds and ethnicities together to “enjoy night after night at the baseball field. We have reached out and done a good job of attracting African Americans, Hispanics, whites and Asians. … I get tremendous satisfaction from the diversity.”

On a recent warm summer evening, Lutz sat behind home plate at one of the three fields at McAdams Park in northeast Wichita that League 42 uses for its games. The teams were representing three of the four categories, determined by age, in the league. The categories carry the mascot names of the high school, collegiate, Negro Baseball League and MLB teams on which Robinson played: Lancers, Bruins, Monarchs and Dodgers.

At the field, Lutz visited with volunteers, sent out messages to coaches about an upcoming skills clinic and watched one of six games being played that night.

For years, the McAdams fields hadn’t been used for organized baseball. During the league’s season, which runs early April to early July, at least two games are played every weekday night on each of the fields. Games postponed due to weather are made up on Saturdays.

One of the fields, the one where a T-ball game was underway this evening, is brand new, the result of the city’s allotment of $1.5 million in community improvement funds to support the park and the league. Besides the turf T-ball and coach pitch fields, the funds also were used for a new restroom/ concession facility. The league is raising money for other improvements, Lutz said, that will include a fourth field, more parking and lighting.

Eventually, Lutz would like for League 42 to expand its outreach and become involved in academic tutoring for its players, helping improve their success in the classroom, as well.

Lutz recently retired from his career at The Wichita Eagle, in large part because running and growing League 42 needed more of his time. He estimates he puts in about 50 hours a week during the league’s season and about 25 hours a week in the off-season. The Derby native also coaches a team of 7- and 8-year-olds in League 42; the team is named the Panthers, in homage to his high school team.

Lutz credits the hundreds of volunteers and generous donors with being the major reasons of the league’s success. Run primarily on donations, the league costs about $100,000 to $125,00 to operate each year. To find out more about League 42 or to donate, visit league42.org.

Tom Sanders – 2017 Ivonne Goldstein Award

Tom Sanders

The Ivonne Goldstein Award for Community Volunteer, named for the late Ivonne Goldstein who served on the boards of or raised money for more than 50 Wichita organizations, is presented to an individual who through outstanding volunteer community service and commitment is making a measurable difference. The award was presented by Star Lumber. The 2017 recipient was Tom Sanders, former CEO of the DAV/VA Medical Center, who is active with 11 Wichita non-profit organizations. Continue reading “Tom Sanders – 2017 Ivonne Goldstein Award”

Fred Berry of Berry Companies, Inc. – 2017 Russ Meyer Award

Fred Berry - recipient of the 2017 Russ Meyer Award

The Russ Meyer Award for Community Leadership, named after longtime aviation advocate, philanthropist and community leader Russ Meyer, is given to an individual making a positive impact in our community through demonstrated excellence in leadership and outstanding initiative to create solutions for critical issues facing the area. Continue reading “Fred Berry of Berry Companies, Inc. – 2017 Russ Meyer Award”