Volunteering has been a major part of Ben’s life. His passion is helping the homeless population and ministering in prisons. He was one of the founding members of AECH (Advocate to End Chronic Homelessness).
Juanita creates grassroots projects and support groups, and redirects families to available resources all within the Wichita community. She is passionate about service and helping children and families thrive.
Touching Others Until Change Happens (T.O.U.C.H.) partners with USD 259 schools to provide clothing to children in need.
Carol serves juvenile offender and foster care youth. She mentors through two organizations; Youth for Christ and Mentoring for Success. She dedicates her time to young people and shows them unconditional love.
Started by a 6-year-old boy and his mom, Paxton’s Blessing Boxes are located all around Wichita and outside the state of Kansas to provide food for the underserved.
By Amy Geiszler-Jones
Madeline Akers has been volunteering for more than 35 years with the Wichita Fellowship Club, a nonprofit that helps people become and stay sober.
It’s a path she’s familiar with. Akers, who has served as the group’s president for a decade, said for years before she sobered up, she “was one of those functioning alcoholics, but then I started missing more Mondays at work.” A health scare and going to Alcoholics Anonymous meetings helped her achieve and keep sobriety.
Founded in 1966, the Wichita Fellowship Club provides an alcohol- and drug-free residential facility for both men and women who want to become sober.
“What we do is very simple – we give them tough love,” said Akers. “We are there to help them change their lives and to get better. We become their sobriety family.”
Initially, WFC accepted only men at its facility. Ten years ago, when Akers became president, the facility opened a separate wing with room for up to seven women. Akers is a sponsor for the women clients.
WFC also provides space at another location for AA, Narcotics Anonymous and Cocaine Anonymous meetings and has a 80-acre recreation club facility, called the 101 Club, where it hosts bingo and other sober activities. The 101 Club is where they show clients how to have fun without alcohol or drugs, Akers said.
Akers said the more than 40 or so residents at the WFC house are encouraged to stay for at least a year. The residents get room, board, three meals a day and support 24/7 at a cost of $100 a week.
“When they do (stay for a year or more), they are statistically more able to reach five years sobriety. And if they reach five years sober, they can usually stay sober for life,” she said.
While her position running the WFC is technically a volunteer position, Akers said, “I work every day of the week.” Her second bout with lymphoma last year, shortly after retiring from a 54-year career in accounting, slowed her down for a while until she recovered, she said.
She also spearheads the organization’s fundraising efforts. WFC is supported by private donations. Recently it received a $300,000 challenge grant from a donor, who wishes to remain anonymous, so she’s helping raise the $100,000 required to get the grant.
To find out more, visit wichitafellowship.org.
By Amy Geiszler-Jones
When he first started volunteering for the Wichita Women’s Initiative Network 13 years ago, Glen Chambers was teaching women how to do math.
Now he teaches women what a respectful man looks like, says WIN executive director Karen Schmidt. It’s an important thing for many of the women who’ve endured some of the worst kinds of relationships.
WIN serves female survivors of intimate partner abuse situations, giving them access to needed skills to overcome financial barriers to living independently.
Chambers, a retired Boeing computer programmer, started volunteering as a math tutor in one of WIN’s education programs, teaching algebra and geometry. Along the way, he learned more about domestic abuse and how it affects survivors.
In what Schmidt calls “his patient, kind, respectful manner,” he started earning their trust, a connection he doesn’t take lightly. For some women, Chambers knows, he’s likely the first male figure who’s given them the respect they deserve.
In a gesture of support and to model what a healthy relationship looks like, he and his wife, Carolyn, take WIN clients out to lunch. The women take heart that a good relationship can last, like the Chambers’ 45-year marriage. He holds open doors, helps them get out of a coat, helps them get seated – the kind of chivalrous behavior they’re likely not used to, but those are a few things he thinks a gentleman should do for a woman.
Schmidt estimates he’s impacted more than 100 women through the years. He’s developed deeper, fatherly-like relationships with about a handful of women, the ones he calls his “bonus daughters.” He was on the front row at a commencement ceremony when one earned a college degree with honors. He walked another down the aisle at her wedding. Both events moved him to tears, he said.
While he still helps tutor anyone who needs math skills, Chambers also picks up weekly food donations for WIN clients from a local church, helps as a handyman around the office and tells clients he’s ready to provide a listening ear if they need it.
“I’m of the feeling that those of us who are blessed have an obligation to help those who need our help,” said Chambers.
To find out more about WIN programs and how to volunteer, visit wichitawin.org.
By Amy Geiszler-Jones
More babies in Sedgwick County are surviving their first year of life, and Cari Schmidt with the University of Kansas School of Medicine-Wichita wants to keep that trend going.
Schmidt is the leader of Baby Talk, a local initiative in which nurses teach moms, dads and other caregivers about safe sleeping for infants to reduce the occurrence of Sudden Infant Death Syndrome or other sleep-related deaths, like suffocation when bed-sharing with adults. In 2015, the infant mortality rate in Sedgwick County was 8.1 per 1,000 live births, far worse than the state’s average of 6.1. In 2017, the latest year data is available, the county’s rate fell to 6.9, compared to the state’s rate that remained 6.1.
In public health circles, infant mortality rates are an indicator of a population’s health.
Baby Talk has been successful because the free community-wide program includes health care professionals working together to make a difference, said Schmidt. who is director of research and associate professor in the medical school’s pediatrics department. Her five-member staff and the health care professionals who coordinate and teach the classes “have really put their heart into helping these moms,” she said.
Any pregnant woman in Sedgwick County who is 32 weeks pregnant or less – plus others who will help care for the newborn – can take the six-week, 12-hour program, which covers topics such as labor and delivery, the benefits of breastfeeding and the safest ways for babies to sleep, which is alone, on their back in an uncluttered crib. The program, funded by a Kansas Department of Health and Education grant, is expanding to 10 locations in Wichita and Derby this spring.
Besides leading the Baby Talk program, Schmidt helped create a research center at KUSM-Wichita in 2017 with the purpose of connecting Kansas researchers of maternal and infant health issues with health care and other professionals.
“The idea was to connect with others who have similar interests and build projects that will have a greater impact on the infant mortality rate in Kansas,” Schmidt said when the Center for Research on Infant Birth and Survival (CRIBS) was started.
She’s also gotten her husband and two sons involved with helping her volunteer with community-wide events sponsored by the Kansas Infant Death and SIDS (KIDS) Network, which offers support to those affected by infant death and provides education, as well.
By Amy Geiszler-Jones
David and Lynn Gilkey say they would rather build strong youth than restore broken adults. That’s why the husband-wife team founded the nonprofit Rise Up For Youth in 2014 after many years of working with young girls and boys.
Through in-school mentoring at five Wichita high schools, workshops, team-building and other activities, Rise Up For Youth has worked with about 250 kids annually to help them avoid gangs,do better academically and make better life choices. Rise Up For Youth includes five other staff members.
“We have a waiting list and have been asked to extend the program to middle schools,” said David.
The Gilkeys know from firsthand experience the effort it takes to restore broken adult lives. Less than 20 years ago, they were cocaine addicts facing prison sentences, Substance-free for 18 years, they’d rather help youth get the tools to make better choices now. Rise Up for Youth’s mission is “to inspire and motivate the next generation to unlock their full potential through education, mentoring and empowerment.”
They want kids to be productive citizens, not homicide victims or inmates, they said.
All of the kids in the program who have made it to their senior year in high school have graduated and enrolled in post-secondary education. More than three-fourths have maintained a 2.0 GPA or higher. The kids come from different racial groups, and many have these things in common: a single parent with no college degree and a low-income household.
The Gilkeys say they don’t sugarcoat what their own wrong choices led to. In addition to taking students on tours to colleges in places like Chicago, Kentucky and Dallas, they also take them on prison tours – a move that one of the organization’s board members calls “from college halls to prison walls.”
They realize that despite their best efforts some may not see their full potential, but they still remain firm in their mission. In the time they’ve been mentoring youth – David since 2005 and Lynn since 2008 – they’ve lost 13 boys and one girl to violence.
“All it takes is one wrong decision to cost you your life or your freedom,” David said.
To find out more, visit riseupforyouth.org.
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