By Sonia Duggan
The 2018 In & Around Champions are a varied bunch. They include a charismatic mechanic, a teddy bear maker, the local retired teachers association, a search and rescue group and many more. They all have made an impact in some way in their communities or for a cause. While most are nonprofits, a few individuals were recognized for simply going above and beyond. Whatever the case may be, the common thread of passion for others is carried throughout the stories. If you missed an issue and want to read any of the stories in its entirety, go at inaroundmag.com and scroll down to “For previous issues” and click the “here” icon.
Let’s walk back through the past year. Who knows? Maybe it’ll inspire you.
Connecting students with technology mentors
Beginning from a desire to help others, Wylie native Robyn Brown founded the nonprofit Bold Idea three years ago to mentor students in computer coding, preparing them for an increasing technological workforce as well as nurturing their creativity and life skills.
The nonprofit is located in Dallas and utilizes mentors from technology fields who work with students from grades three through 12. About 120 students and 60 mentors are currently involved in coding projects.
Coding is pervasive in the 21st Century, providing the operating systems for computers, cellular telephones, cameras, automobiles, household appliances, industrial machines and more.
Since the founding of Bold Idea with Ben Davis, who has worked in web development for several Fortune 500 companies and public institutions, the nonprofit has expanded from its base at 2904 Floyd Street on the UT Dallas campus to include class offerings at two software companies, a coffee shop near Southern Methodist University, a church, and a community center in West Dallas.
Learn more by contacting [email protected] or call 214-442-1675.
Committed to Serve
When Elizabeth “Liz” Garrett started student teaching at Northeast ISD in San Antonio 48 years ago, little did she know she would culminate her career making a difference for the underserved students at Wylie ISD.
As the Special Programs and Special Services Coordinator for the district, Garrett managed Federal Programs and Special Services until her retirement in Spring 2018. The federal programs include Title I, II, III and IV students, and the Special Services aspect deals with homeless, migrant, foster care and pre-K students. Over $1 million in funding is managed by the department and Garrett’s responsibilities included applying for grants and finding funding opportunities for the programs.
While some individuals think Wylie has no homeless, that is simply not the case. Over the years, and with growth, the numbers have changed but the school year average is around 67-72 students per year.
While working at Wylie ISD, and in her retirement, Garrett continues to support the local effort to communicate the needs of the homeless in Collin County by participating in Collin County Homeless Alliance meetings, and, along with others, has investigated opportunities available in Wylie to help the homeless as well. “Part of the goals of this team are to explore, listen to and find opportunities to assist,” she said.
A Legacy of Love
Comforting others at a time of need is something former pediatric nurse Toni Reese knows how to do very well.
So well, in fact, that after leaving the nursing profession years ago, today she has clients instead of patients, but she is still caring for people by crafting handmade teddy bears for them.
Her clients are individuals who want a memento of an occasion or a person that is truly unique. Since 2006, the Wylie mother of five has constructed over 300 Legacy Bears out of her sewing room in her home.
“It’s pretty much nonstop. When I’m done, I’ve got more,’” she said.
A Legacy Bear is a custom teddy bear that is built using the client’s fabric of his or her choosing. It may be a baby onesie, a favorite item of clothing, blanket, or any other fabric that has a special memory or a loved one.
The process of designing the bears is what hooked Reese on the business years ago. Clients often reminisce in conversation, and she listens as she helps plan their one-of-a-kind bear.
Bridal gowns, military uniforms, police uniforms. There’s not much that the “Bear Lady” can’t handle. Specially designed bears for fallen first responders highlight her many skills. Sadly, she has made 11 bears in memory of fallen officers. The creations are complete with a badge and personal embroidered touches.
Reese’s neighbor Gloria purchased a bear for Debbie Dahl, widow of Irving Police Officer Mark Dahl, after he was killed aiding a motorist at an intersection in August 2016.
After Richardson Police Officer David Sherrard, 37, of Wylie was killed February 7, it was Debbie who called Reese a few days later wanting to purchase bears for his widow who resides in Wylie with her two children.
Learn more about her creations at teafortwoboutique.com.
Mechanic on a Mission
Enter the door of Affordable Auto Services on Parker Road in Wylie on any given day and you’ll get much more than you bargained for. You’ll not only get your car repaired at a reasonable price by owner/mechanic Joshua Chikumbindi, but stick around long enough and you’ll find his spiritual tools can lift you up more than you imagined.
While some mechanics often bring fear of extensive repairs and price gouging, Joshua is quite different. He is known in the community for being fair and having a heart for those in need. As a mechanic he said he often gets frustrated when some shops give people a huge bill. “If he didn’t need to pay bills he’d never charge for it,” said St. Paul resident and customer, Cary Betts.
His one-man shop on Parker Road has been open since 2011. He can fix just about anything and his customers often have more faith in his ability to fix things than he does.
When he’s not fixing cars, Joshua helps souls on the street or stranded in cars because that’s where his heart is. “I don’t think I’ll ever stop evangelizing,” he said. “My ministry is the homeless. It is cheaper to take someone off the streets than to leave them to sleep in the streets,” he said. “It’s so easy for them to fail. Give them a place, they can find work, then they have courage. I see that all the time.”
Need repairs or some encouragement? Visit Joshua at his shop at 3935 Parker Rd. and be prepared to stay awhile.
5 Loaves Food Pantry
On any given Tuesday morning there’s already a line forming behind the 5 Loaves Food Pantry in Sachse. Although the pantry doesn’t open until 10 a.m., those in need of its services are eager to begin choosing the week’s groceries.
“When they come to get food from the pantry, it doesn’t matter what zip code they’re in,” Director Audrey Wallace said. “We will take anybody that needs assistance.”
Unlike many food pantries, which hand out bags or boxes of food, 5 Loaves Food Pantry offers a “shopping experience,” says Wallace. The 501C nonprofit, which serves about 80 to 90 families each week, has a room lined with shelves of canned goods, bakery items, produce and a meat freezer. Visitors get a shopping cart and a box when they first walk in and they can choose which food items to take home that week.
Because only a couple of families are allowed in the shopping area at a time, Wallace created a lobby that was comfortable for visitors while they waited their turn. There is a couch plus free cookies and coffee.
The homeless and others in need can use the pantry once a week. The pantry is open Tuesday mornings from 10 a.m. to noon, Thursdays from 10 a.m. to noon and 5 to 7 p.m. and from 10 a.m. to noon every first and third Saturday of the month. The food pantry also offers diapers and wipes to families who need them.
Those who wish to donate can contact Wallace at 469-767-8071 or email [email protected]
Lake Lavon Clean-up
A passion for fishing turned a local man into an activist last year when trash, not fish, caught his eye. David Grote, an avid fisherman and freelance photographer, used to find secret, clean fishing spots around Lake Lavon to spend his recreation time.
During his senior year at Texas A&M University-Commerce, where he earned a bachelor’s degree in photography in 2013, he completed a project in which he shot pictures of Lake Lavon, showing the beauty and trash.
Those images remained clear especially after Grote moved back to the area from West Texas in June 2017. Still toting a fishing pole and a camera, he quickly became frustrated with the mess around his favorite fishing spots.
Grote knew if he didn’t start something the trash problem wouldn’t improve.
“We, as a community around Lake Lavon, have had it with the litter left by disrespectful people,” he said in an email last July.
He created a Facebook group called Lake Lavon Clean-Up that same month to help promote and preserve the lake. The intention was to stage community meetups to mobilize volunteers to pick up trash along shorelines, parks and in picnic/camping areas around Lake Lavon.
The first organized cleanup effort was at Tickey Creek Park campground near Princeton. A half dozen volunteers filled eight trash bags in about half an hour. The volunteers picked up only trash that could be bagged, but there were bulkier items such as couches, tires, roofing materials and fence pickets that had been dumped around the lake. “It is unbelievable the things that people do,” Grote said. “Somebody actually hung a beer bottle in a tree.”
Lake Lavon Cleanups are held the third Sunday of the month. To find out specifics, contact them through Facebook at Lake Lavon Clean-Up Crew.
Honor Flight DFW
Honor Flight DFW is a nonprofit organization created to honor America’s veterans living in the North Texas area for their service and sacrifices. The all-volunteer group takes veterans to Washington, D.C. for a once in-a-lifetime, all-expenses paid trip to reflect at their memorials and to share that moment with the only people who could possibly understand – other veterans. President Melaine “Tudy” Giordano, a nurse and gerontologist, calls these veterans “the quietest generation who did the most for the world.” She works tirelessly, along with Secretary Judy Heaps, to promote the organization and fundraise so that these veteran “heroes” can take a trip well deserve.
Trip costs on average run approximately $1,200 per veteran and cover everything from plane fare, meals, buses and much more. “Each trip costs $45,000. We fly commercially as chartered flights are cost prohibitive,” Tudy said. Anyone can “adopt” a veteran to send them on this trip of a lifetime. Individuals, groups or companies who choose to adopt a veteran receive a veteran’s profile and the opportunity to help send off and welcome home veterans on their next HFDFW trip.
With over 200 on the waiting list, most of them Vietnam, and 40 veterans per trip, Heaps said they will continue travel into 2019.
Since they first began flying veterans in September 2009, over 1700 veterans have made the journey to Washington thanks to the nonprofit. As long as Honor Flight continues to receive donations, they will continue flying veterans.
Learn more at Honorflightdfw.org
Championing the way for retired public school employees
For six years the educated minds and many talents of the Wylie Retired School Employees Association have been making a difference in Wylie and area communities.
The nonprofit not only serves its members by offering monthly luncheons with informational speakers, up-to-date information on benefits, and the opportunity to socialize; it supports retirees as they turn out in force volunteering in schools, nursing homes and community organizations throughout the school year.
Wylie Retired School Employees (WRSE) is a service and action organization for all public school and higher education retirees. Affiliated with the Texas Retired Teachers Association (TRTA), the group works with TRTA to improve and protect the retirement benefits of all Texas public school employees.
The group was officially established in 2012 as a local unit of Texas Retired Teachers Association by a group of 13 Wylie ISD retired employees and two TRTA board members. The first meeting, attended by 37 charter members of the WRSE, established a board, bylaws, meeting dates, dues and a plan for the future.
Membership in WRSE not only helps retirees maintain a social connection, it adds value to their lives.
“We don’t feel like just because we are retired our lives are at an end,” Jones said. “We are well educated. We are committed to children, we understand parents and their needs, we just can’t close the doors on those careers and walk away.”
The meetings are held the second Wednesday of each month at 951 S. Ballard, Wylie. Interested in joining, contact Judy Brewster at [email protected]
A journey of self-discovery and faith empowered a Rockwall mom of four to educate the public and raise awareness about the second largest and fasting growing criminal industry in the world: human trafficking. The Poiema Foundation, founded by Rebecca Jowers, works to shed light on this modern form of slavery that ensnares over 100,000 children in the sex trade in the U.S. each year.
Human trafficking is defined as controlling a person through force, fraud, or coercion to exploit the victim for forced labor, sexual exploitation or both. Texas is ranked second behind California in reported cases of trafficking. Domestic minor sex trafficking occurs when children, under the age of 18, are commercially sexually exploited through prostitution, pornography, and/or erotic entertainment.
The key to bringing awareness to a problem as big as human trafficking is prevention education. Jowers and her staff are passionate about educating the public about this subject, a necessity to ending this form of modern-day slavery. They welcome opportunities to speak at schools, churches, and any interested organizations, often presenting their Human Trafficking 101 classes. Attendees are taught how to report suspicious activity, how perpetrators recruit children, how to identify human trafficking victims, sexual abuse prevention and education and how to talk to children about sex and human trafficking.
Adding fuel to the fire is the accessibility of porn on cellphones. “Porn is the portal into human trafficking,” says Jowers. “The average age a kid is introduced to porn is 8 years old. It’s so easy on a smartphone.”
Jowers revealed porn addicts are men and women. The book “Your Brain on Porn” reveals it’s as addicting as heroin or cocaine. “It begins as a moral choice then becomes an addiction, then people don’t ask for help due to the shame. It’s not a group that people are inclined to reach out to,” she said.
The internet is a wealth of information, but it is also a place where danger is just one click away. It is the biggest tool perpetrators use to recruit a girl, but it can also be a way Poiema’s volunteers find missing girls and their perpetrators.
January is Human Trafficking Awareness Month. Learn more about Poiema at poiemafoundation.org or email Jowers at [email protected]
Lone Star Search and Rescue
Lone Star Search and Rescue (LSSAR) is an all-volunteer, Christ-centered K-9 Search and Rescue team that provides free assistance to law enforcement, fire departments and other agencies to help search for missing persons.
The rescue team is a ministry of First Baptist Church in Wylie started in August 2013 by Michele and her husband Terry Benjamin, the Team Director and Texas State Guard Lone Star SAR and Battalion Commander.
The group trains to follow NASAR standards (National Association for Search and Rescue), Federal Emergency Management Association (FEMA) and National Incident Management System (NIMS).
There are different certifications for different types of searches, and the certifications and trainings are rigorous. “We have classroom instruction and we have field work,” Michele said. They are certified to search in wilderness, urban, HRD (human remains detection) and water and disaster incidents.
Grid search is not taught because they have dogs. Volunteers and their dogs go through other types of searches that include buildings, scent specific and HRD.
“Most of our searches are wilderness so we go ahead and certify members for those types of searches, then we go ahead and certify them on HRD etc.,” Michele said.
They train the volunteers at different levels and there are different steps within each level. Once they have completed each level, they are tested, and once they have completed all the levels, they are certified to be mission ready.
The group trains every Saturday and only take one weekend off every month. Sometimes they partner with other teams in DFW and the Texas State Guard search unit to train.
Outdoor trainings often occur at Brown Street Park and at the Benjamins’ ranch in Campbell. Indoor search training is conducted at the First Baptist Church Event Center or Smith Elementary in Wylie.
Learn more at lonestarsar.org or call 972-740-6499
North Texas Veterans Center
Navigating the waters of veteran benefits can be confusing for many individuals, but for the staff at the Veterans Center of North Texas in Plano, it’s all just in a day’s work. For four years, the founders, Paul Hendricks, Dave Schafer and Pete Young, along with dedicated volunteers, have been helping veterans and their families in Collin, Grayson, Cooke, Fannin, Hunt and Rockwall Counties get the benefits they are entitled to and the services they need.
There are an estimated 58,000 veterans just in Collin County and 386,000 in the DFW area. The Center serves as an information referral center, and over the years, the men have talked to and vetted service providers accumulating a data base of over 150 partners including veteran and community organizations, local, county and state agencies, and Texas 2-1-1 information referral system.
As veterans themselves, all three men have experience earned through their respective twenty-year military careers, two Air Force and one Army, and lengthy careers in the private sector. Prior to launching the Veterans Center in 2014, the men visited other veteran agencies and the Bush Institute to find what was needed. They learned that two thirds of most veterans don’t know where to go to get services. “We knew there was help out there for veterans,” Young said. “We were thinking mainly of the Afghani and Iraqi veterans – and we know what they’re going to do – they’re going to get on the internet and look for a federal website – VA help. It didn’t exist. Texas had a website, but it wasn’t really efficient at the time.”
An estimated 3,000 people have benefitted from this service since its inception. Almost 100 veterans walk through the doors each month to receive help for a variety of issues. Over 1,000 veterans and families were served in 2017, and they are on track to serve over 1,000 in 2018. “We have the perfect storm,” Shafer added. “We have dedicated volunteers. We have the right business model and we have an application that allows us to implement our business model.”
Operated and managed 100 percent by volunteers, they focus on providing service rather than fundraising to pay a staff. Hendricks prefers to keep the focus on serving the veterans saying, “My motto is ‘if you do a good job, the money will follow.’”
Learn more VCONT.org or email [email protected]
Christmas comes just once a year, but for the students at Coventry Reserve their workshop is a Creative Skills Center where they have been busy creating one-of-a-kind pieces for months in anticipation of the season. These individuals, all adults with disabilities, are as unique as the pieces they create.
Through creative teamwork, beautiful pottery is created at the facility located at 2004 Parker Rd. in St. Paul. Adults with physical and cognitive needs who can no longer attend school programs learn creative skills, and as a result, sensory input is aided by doing the pottery. Today, Coventry’s pottery is now recognized all over Texas thanks to the efforts, and vision, of Executive Director, President and Co-founder Darlene Blakey.
Coventry students can begin the program as early as 18 though many begin after they leave high school at age 22. The average age of a Coventry participant is 35. There is a tuition charge for the participants to ensure the families are invested in the program. The full cost of the program is subsidized through individual and community donations, tuition and pottery sales. Much like any other school, Coventry has a curriculum. They offer two 5-month sessions per year. “We operate on a schedule that is reminiscent of college,” Blakey said. “We have semesters and spring and fall break.”
The students work in different stations throughout the day to keep monotony to a minimum and keep attention and participation high. The program has activities in the Creative Skills and Brain-Building Stations, art and horticulture and light physical exercise. In addition, they experience a 45-minute F.O.C.U.S. Time daily designed to foster opportunities to connect, understand and support.
Learn more about this nonprofit that promotes creativity, skills and friendship for adults with disabilities.
Call 972-638-8498 or visit coventryreserve.org. Check out the gift shop Tuesdays and Thursdays from 9 a.m. to 3:00 p.m. at 2004 Parker Road in St. Paul.
Do you have a great story about a person or a group who goes above and beyond to serve others? Send an email to [email protected] with a brief description and contact information.