A Year of Champions

A Year of Champions

The 2019 In & Around Champions are an amazing group of North Texans with a heart for serving and bringing awareness to a cause. Children, veterans, the homeless, disaster victims…whatever the nonprofit may be, they have all made, and continue to make, an impact in their communities. 

If you missed an issue of In & Around and want to read any of the stories in its entirety, visit inaroundmag.com and scroll down to “For previous issues” and click the “here” icon.

February: Girl Scouts of Northeast Texas

Learn more at gsnetex.com

A future generation of female entrepreneurs officially hit the streets throughout Northeast Texas January 11 to sell a product that will help fund educational activities, community projects, leadership programs and travel opportunities.

Sales of Girl Scout cookies – Samoas, Thin Mints, Tagalongs, Do-Si-Dos, Trefoils, Savannah Smiles, Toffee-Tastic and S’mores – have the power to change lives for girls today.

As one of the largest girl-led entrepreneurial endeavors, the sales of Girl Scout cookies go far beyond the eager young girls who set up shop each week outside local retailers, hopeful to make their sales goals by the February 24 deadline. In the process, the girls get an important taste of what it takes to be successful by encouraging teamwork and planning. Plus, 100 percent of net revenue raised from cookie sales stays with the local councils and troops.  

Girl Scouts in Collin County are affiliated with Girl Scouts of Northeast Texas (GSNETX), which serves more than 25,000 girls and 12,500 adults in 32 northeast Texas counties. GSNETX has been recognized nationally as a leader in the Girl Scout movement.

According to GSNETX, local troops receive a portion of funds from every box of cookies sold to use for programs, service projects, camping and other activities; another portion covers the cost of the product and girl incentives; and the remaining funds are used to help provide program training and camp facilities for Girl Scouts of Northeast Texas’ members.  By Sonia Duggan 

March: COPE

Host a COPE, Call 972-424-0681, www.unitethechurch.org

For 2 ½ hours on a cold, blustery February day I experienced poverty. I was a 65-year old woman married to a 67-year-old man living on a very restricted income. We lived in an apartment on income from my husband’s part-time minimum wage job and $300 a month in Social Security. We had rent to pay, loan payments, food expenses, two “unreliable” cars and family who always wanted to borrow money. We were anxious about our lack of adequate funds and had only 15 minutes to formulate and execute a game plan as to how we would survive. In the first week, additional stressors were added. My husband got injured so he was out of work for two weeks. I applied for a job at his place of employment but had to wait a week to hear back. We bought gas, went to the food bank, and tried to get assistance with our electric bill. On top of it all, we were in danger of being evicted. 

Thankfully for me, it wasn’t reality. It was a simulation called The Cost of Poverty experience.

My partner in the simulation that day was an Allen ISD employee who I had never met before. We were part of a group of about 40 that included school district employees, pastors, church outreach coordinators and individuals such as me affiliated with local nonprofits.

The Cost of Poverty experience, or COPE, offers individuals an opportunity to gain a glimpse into the lives of families in our communities that face poverty every day. It is hosted by Unite, a nonprofit that started in Dallas nine years ago with a conviction that churches need to know each other. By Sonia Duggan

April: Bed Start

Learn more at bedstart.org

It’s 7:30 a.m. on a Saturday morning in a parking lot across the street from Custer Road United Methodist Church in Plano. Cars and trucks file in, many carrying sleepy teenagers needing last minute service hours. Multiple work trailers sit packed, ready to hitch to volunteers’ trucks as groups gather awaiting their instructions.

For Doug Nickols, director of the nonprofit ministry Bed Start, it’s just another Saturday. He’s been working since 6:30 a.m. unlocking storage sheds and making last minute adjustments to trailers preloaded two days prior.

Slowly everyone assembles in the parking lot waiting for orders. Clipboard in hand, Nickols walks intently around, unfazed by the pressure. He speaks to the groups, matching up names on volunteer lists, then hands out directions and assignments. Without fanfare, they depart just as quickly as they arrived, ready to deliver a load of furniture to a family in need or pick up furniture from a donor that will be repurposed for a family.

“Plano does not have enough social services to meet the growing needs of those that can’t support themselves,” Nickols said. “It is the goal of Bed Start to provide beds, dressers, tables, living room furniture, and other home essentials to all our neighbors in need.”

On this particular Saturday, despite the threat of rain, Bed Start volunteers had 22 donation pickups, which is typical, says Nickols, with nine of those pickups going directly to households in need. “Some items come back to storage and will be delivered with other items either Wednesday night on the Custer Road UMC route(s), or next Saturday,” he said. “Yesterday, we had 15 invitations into households that we provided beds and furnishings to. On a normal Saturday, we deliver to between 10 and 13.” By Sonia Duggan

May: Streetside Showers

Learn more at streetsideshowers.com

In the morning, in the evening, or post workout, who doesn’t love a good, hot shower? Water running down your face, lathering up with your favorite soap and shampoo before wrapping yourself in a clean, fluffy towel all in the privacy of your own home. Now imagine you’re homeless and trying to clean up and get ready for work every day in a gas station bathroom. Faucets won’t stay on as you’re trying to wash your face, hair, or any other body part, before attempting to dry off with paper towels or an air dryer.

This scenario is happening to men and women experiencing homelessness every day in the Metroplex. 

It’s that vision that prompted McKinney resident Lance Olinski to take notice and take action after witnessing a man doing this simple daily routine we all take for granted in a restroom one day. 

“Homelessness is growing,” said Olinski. “Fifty-four percent of the people coming for showers have jobs. So, one of the problems we ran into is people trying to stay clean.” 

With a heart for helping others and solving problems, this father of five children looked for a solution.

The answer was simply one click away on the internet where he found Lava Mae, a nonprofit providing shower services. The company, located in San Francisco, had been cleaning up clients since 2013. 

After contacting Lava Mae, Olinski flew to California for four days to help and learn by serving. 

“I tell people I really didn’t invent the wheel I just brought the wheel to Texas,” he said.

After his trip, Olinski raised enough money to buy two shower trailers. He purchased only one to start, a two-stall trailer for $25,000 in 2017. 

The trailers are built by RV companies and require about a 2-3 month lead time to build. “They are actually very popular,” he said. “Construction companies often use them on job sites. I’m just the only one who decided to take it on community service.” 

Olinski resigned from his job as an assistant pastor and returned to his other vocation, accounting, to finance his family’s modest lifestyle so he could start serving the community in June 2017. He soon realized he was not going to be able to accomplish all he wanted to by just offering shower services on Saturdays in McKinney, so he pursued Streetside Showers fulltime.  By Sonia Duggan

June: Military museum a hidden treasure 

Learn more at  fubarmotorpool.com

Visitors to the Military Heritage Collection of North Texas will come away pleasantly surprised and planning their next visit when they see the scope of artifacts displayed in four nondescript buildings, or if they take the opportunity to drive an armored vehicle.

The oldest artifact dates back to 1796 and the U.S.S. Constitution, “Old Ironsides,” and continues through today.

Museum curator Mark Witham reported that the museum has more than 2,800 pieces of art, more than 1,200 uniforms, about 20 military vehicles and hundreds of small arms.

A unique aspect of the museum is that guests often get the opportunity to fire some of the weapons and can drive an armored vehicle such as the Abbot, a British self-propelled gun on tracks, equipped with a 105-millimeter cannon.

“We restore all our artifacts and vehicles,” Witham said. “If it comes through the door, we find a way to fix it.”

The mobile collection contains jeeps, Humvees, heavy trucks, tracked vehicles and aircraft. The vehicles help the museum fund its operations through rentals for movies and documentaries.

One of the first items visitors view is a mural of Europe painted in 1951 by artist Eugene Savage as a guide to crafting a mosaic for the American Cemetery in Epinol, France. Savage designed the murals in the Hall of State at Fair Park in Dallas.

Witham pointed out that the mural depicts the entire allied invasion of southern France during World War II.

Near the mural is a display recognizing Medal of Honor recipients along with a flight suit and uniform worn by Col. Leo Thorsness who was awarded the MOH for his actions as a U.S. Air Force fighter pilot in Vietnam.

From the outside, the museum is a collection of metal buildings of no particular importance if you disregard the pieces of military armament and transportation. Inside is another story as visitors negotiate room after room, upstairs and downstairs. By Joe Reavis

July: Friends for life

Learn more at patriotpaws.org

A disabled veteran suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder is unable to go to his son’s ball games. He can’t leave the house and endure the crowds and the noise. 

He wakes in the middle of the night and calls Patriot Paws, a Rockwall nonprofit organization, and asks what he has to do to get some relief.

With the help of a trained service dog, that veteran – who previously hadn’t left his house in four months – now spends weekends traveling out of state, going on 100-mile hikes and speaking on behalf of Patriot Paws.

An inmate confined to the Texas prison system wants to learn responsibility and how to help others. Patriot Paws, in cooperation with the prison warden, provides a puppy in need of a trainer. The service dog in training ends up transforming not only the life of the inmate who asked to become a trainer, but the lives of all the inmates in the unit. The added responsibility also provides the inmates with career opportunities upon their release from prison. 

Statistics show that of the 300 Texas inmates who have trained Patriot Paws service dogs over the years, more than 100 have been released and just two of those have reoffended.  By April Towery

August: Profit for a purpose

Learn more at hopesgate.org

Hope’s Gate opens new doors for orphans, at-risk youth

Away from the hustle and bustle of downtown Wylie on the “other” side of Ballard Avenue is a store where profits earned are used to give hope to orphans and break the cycle of exploitation for victims of human trafficking across the world. 

Hope’s Gate is that store. Inside a small brick building at 700 S. Ballard Ave. in Wylie, customers will find unique jewelry, accessories, and some home items, crafted and shipped from around the world. All merchandise offered is intentionally designed and made from quality materials, the result of a combined effort by Hope’s Gate staff. 

Wylie resident Patty Bauman started Hope’s Gate as a ministry in 2011 after moving to Wylie. In her travels as a missionary, Bauman witnessed scenes of poverty and decided on a proactive path of aid. She enlisted the aid of friends with jewelry making experience to learn simple designs to teach at-risk women and youth in India, Uganda, and the Middle East. The following year Bauman and her husband Bruce started Youth With A Mission (YWAM) in Wylie, a discipleship training school which is part of an interdenominational missions’ group with 1,000 locations throughout the world.  By Sonia Duggan

September: Responders for Christ

Learn more at tbmtx.org

From Alto, Texas, to Mozambique, the Texas Baptist Men group is staying true to the scripture, “By this everyone will know that you are My disciples, if you love one another.”

The group formed in 1967 to respond to disasters such as wildfires, explosions, tornadoes and floods, but their services go well beyond that – meeting needs many haven’t considered until faced with a crisis. The agency has teams to handle damage assessment, childcare, food delivery and incident management. They also have a box ministry that provides packing supplies and messages of hope to families who have to pack up their remaining possessions after a disaster. Chainsaw teams help remove debris. Heavy equipment, portable laundry units and portable showers are provided. TBM offers chaplains, international ministry and leadership development courses. And just recently volunteers provided 3,200 bottles of water to the Farmersville Police Department just days before they deployed to assist in the aftermath of Hurricane Barry.

The organization has tens of thousands of volunteers who serve out of the kindness of their hearts simply because God calls them to do so. 

“All of TBM’s disaster relief ministries operate out of the love that Christ has for each and every person,” states the organization’s website. “Our purpose is to share Christ’s love through meeting needs.” By April Towery

October: Paws for Friendship

Learn more at pawsforfriendship.org

Imogene “Gene” Bush and her furry 4-legged companion named Besa are like a ray of sunshine on a cloudy day.

The duo enters Founders Plaza Nursing and Rehab in Wylie on a weekday morning ready to get to work spreading love and affection, and perhaps a little dog hair, around the facility. Bush and Besa are easily identifiable in their turquoise vests embroidered with their names and the name of the national nonprofit they are representing – Paws for Friendship. 

For almost two years Bush, 76, and Besa have been making weekly visits to the nursing home. “She loves it when we’re going to the nursing home,” Bush said of Besa.

They are accompanied by Bush’s younger sister, Irene Darrow, who acts as the chief treat handler and assistant.

It’s clear that many of the patients enjoy the visitors, and staff knows which ones are dog-friendly. 

Founders Executive Director Karla Langston assigns her daughter Zaydee Vetter, a summer college intern, to supervise the visit. After checking in at the front desk, Bush and Besa greet residents Elwanda Brown and Janet Philley as they sit in the lobby area. Treats are handed to the women to give to Besa and she is quick to accept. The big, and well-fed, German Shepherd seems content sitting at their feet listening to conversation and perhaps getting a few extra kisses.

The next stop is the room of Herman Ward, a Korean War veteran with 42 years of Army and Air Force service, and his roommate Bill Rumenapp, a former Michigan dairy farmer. Both men welcome the opportunity to have visitors. Besa gives each man a sniff, lets them pet her, then places herself in front of Ward. 

Bush goes out of her way to listen to the resident’s stories and ask how each person is feeling. Ward professes to feel better and perks up when asked about dogs he had in his youth. He reminisces about his family’s three hunting dogs, all Greyhounds, growing up in Oklahoma. Rumenapp’s dogs, he said, were of the Heinz 57 variety and his eyes light up as he recalls a story of a 3-legged beagle that rode shotgun on his tractor around the farm.

Soon another resident, Johnye Gray, wheels into the room on a mission to see Besa. Her joy at seeing the dog is evident. “She is beautiful,” Gray said of Besa. “I’m not afraid of the dogs because we had them when my children were growing up.” 

The last stop that morning is the room of Coralee Hester, the director’s mother and Zaydee’s grandmother, who is rehabilitating at the facility. Hester greets the sisters like long lost friends and animated conversation ensues. 

The visits are not timed, and although Besa is the star, residents like Hester soon become trusted friends and look forward to their visits. By Sonia Duggan

November: Stitch by Stitch

Learn more at farmersvillequiltguild.blogspot.com

A breast cancer survivor, a military mom and a retired teacher walk into the O.E. Carlisle Civic Center in Farmersville. 

There’s no punchline; that’s just what the members of the Farmersville Quilt Guild do 7 p.m. on the second Tuesday of each month. 

They also get together occasionally on Thursdays for five-hour “sew days” and for special events on Saturdays. They like each other’s company, and they really like quilting. 

The Farmersville Quilt Guild is about 35 members strong, and more than 20 show up for those Tuesday-evening gatherings at the civic center. Eight years ago, there were fewer than 10 members, so the women figure they must be doing something right. While most of the membership consists of Farmersville residents, people also drive in from Blue Ridge, Lavon, Nevada, Sachse, Garland, Wylie, Lewisville, McKinney, Caddo Mills, Princeton and Royse City.  By April Towery

December: Hugs Café

Learn more at hugscafe.org

Hugs Café in McKinney is a great place to have a salad or sandwich, but there’s something else that makes the restaurant unique: its employees.

For Ashton, Becky, Blaine, Chris, Cierra, Marcus, Kathy, Manni, Jerry and the rest of the team, it’s not just a job, it’s a community. In fact, more than 20 “teammates” are employed at the café, and they are all adults with disabilities. 

This unique café, formed in 2013, is the result of a dream that has turned into reality for Ruth Thompson. 

Although she never had a child with special needs, Thompson has a passion and love for the population. That passion was cultivated after working with adults with special needs in Parker, Colo., in the early 2000s and served as the foundation for Hugs Café.  By Sonia Duggan & April Towery

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *