By Tyler Roebuck
COLUMBIA CITY — Goodwill filled the air Thursday night as the Community Foundation of Whitley County recognized and awarded the 59 recipients of this year’s Heart of Gold award.
Among the recipients were Churubusco residents Kelly Gross, Joan Shanabarger-Keller, Jana Leitch, Chris Paul and Miles and Tarah Wilson.
Heart of Gold is an award program established by the foundation 20 years ago to bring attention and recognition to people throughout the community who do good for the sake of doing what’s right.
As the foundation website says, recipients are, “those people who give themselves unselfishly to serve others, collectively or individually, with volunteer acts of service and/or kindness beyond the call of duty.”
At the end of the ceremony, the foundation typically chooses three overall winners for the year, who donate $1,000 from the foundation to a charity of their choosing.
“Some years this is really difficult,” said September McConnell, CEO of the Community Foundation. “Some years, it’s impossible. This was one of those years.”
Instead of choosing winners, all 59 of this year’s nominees received $100 to donate to their choice charity.
Nominees included 14-year-old Landon Reimer and retired resident Dal Hartman, even including the area Korean War Honor Guard.
‘Busco resident Chris Paul felt humbled about his nomination.
“Well, when I got it in the mail, I didn’t know exactly what it was but if somebody took the time to nominate me, I felt like I needed to be here,” he said. “I am very humbled once again because it shows that there are a lot of people out there that appreciate what we’re doing and that means a lot. It’s not just about wins and losses – it’s about a community coming together and embracing the school and the spirit we have and what we’re trying to accomplish.”
The energy, he feels, comes at a great time with the upcoming winter sports season.
“It’s a great time to get it because it gives you some renewed enthusiasm as the season starts Tuesday and now you want to have success and not let them down,” he said.
Brad Millikan nominated Gross for her work with the New Era show choir, among other things.
“Whether it is by helping sew outfits for our New Era show choir or donating to a scholarship to help send a student on a trip, Kelly has touched numerous hearts,” he wrote in her nomination letter. “There are no words to describe what she means to myself and our Campus Life team.”
Joan Shanabarger-Keller was recognized for her contributions to the Churubusco United Methodist Church.
“She is organized, helpful and hard working,” Harold Norman wrote in his nomination letter. “A few weeks ago she fell and broke her arm while moving chairs, but she was still there the next day to help.”
While Shanabarger-Keller lost both her husband and son to cancer in recent years, she always bounces back to help others and enthusiastically cheer on the football team, Norman wrote.
Miles and Tarah Wilson were recognized for their work creating the Youth Foundation.
“Active in numerous community and religious groups, they are the epitome of servant leaders,” Madalyn Sade-Bartl said in her letter. “After seeing a deficiency in youth centered organizations in Churubusco, they created the Churubusco Youth Foundation and have since raised enough funds to construct a new playground in town. They continue to make ’Busco a better place.”
At the meeting
The Heart of Gold awards also doubles as the foundation’s annual meeting, during which they deliver an update on what they have been up to over the year.
“I’ve told my board that if there’s been a single mantra that has echoed through the halls of the foundation this past year, it is change is good,” McConnell said. “Throughout the community there has been wonderful change going on.”
She pointed out the new Columbia City High School, Fahl Aquatics Center, and commended the good work being done in Churubusco despite missing Stellar designation.
“Our downtowns are reawakening,” she said.
The Foundation received several large donations this year, one of which went to the new home for TROY Center, and successfully restructured after the retirement and passing of some of the board members and volunteers.
Also at the annual meeting, the foundation highlights one of their partner organizations, this year spotlighting The Lighthouse and parent company Interfaith Mission.
“Nearly one year ago, Interfaith Mission faced the heartbreaking reality that we had four months until we would close our doors, and the organization would no longer serve the homeless of Whitley County,” Executive Director of Interfaith Mission Shawn Ellis said. “After 17 years, it would no longer serve the littles and the middles and single moms and men. There were many days and weeks and months full of tears.”
The nonprofit went through an austere restructuring and some soul searching, but turned itself around with the help of the foundation and other volunteers.
“Throughout the past year, the CF took a journey with us through the darkest times of the organization’s history,” she said. “In November last year, we only had three part-time employees because we were in that time of crisis. Over the past year, we have increased our staff to six full-time employees, and have worked hard at developing a team of leaders who work daily to address the barriers of those we serve.”