A Year of Champions

A Year of Champions

By Sonia Duggan

The 2021 In & Around Champions are an amazing group of North Texans with a heart for serving and bringing awareness to multiple causes: missing teens, preserving wildlife habitats, honoring veterans, genealogical research, food insecurity and so much more. Whatever the nonprofit, they all have made — and continue to make — an impact in Collin County communities. How will you make an impact in 2022?

January 4theONE

Every minute counts when you’re trying to find a missing teen. 

For the last seven years, a DFW private investigator and his team have been on mission to help families and law enforcement officials locate and recover these youth from the hands of human traffickers.

This modern form of slavery is the second largest criminal industry in the world. Sadly, most trafficking is done solely for the purpose of sexual exploitation.

Finding missing teens certainly has not been an easy task, but it’s a job Dennis Ozment feels called to do. As a private investigator, he first utilized his skills by volunteering with other nonprofits dedicated to rescuing victims of human trafficking in 2014.

The following year, Ozment founded 4theONE, a nonprofit “dedicated to finding and recovering each missing, each exploited, each trafficked teen…each one,” state 4TheONE.org.

Since then, the number of cases referred to 4theONE has climbed each year. In total, Ozment and his team have worked tirelessly to help recover 307 minors, of which almost 60 percent were victims of trafficking and exploitation.

As of December, 4theONE had recovered 93 kids in 2021 alone. The average age of recovered kids is 15, and of those recovered, 35% are Black, 31% are Hispanic, 29% are White, 2% are Asian, 63% are Native American, and 32% are Pacific Islanders.

To volunteer or donate, visit 4theone.org or find them on Facebook or Instagram. 

Prefer mail? Send checks to 4theONE, 1800 S Loop 288, Suite 396-152, Denton TX 76205. 

February Legacy of Love

She was known as a leader, a gifted athlete, a true friend and an old soul who had an unwavering faith in God.

In an instant, Ally Hooten’s short, light-filled life was taken when she died tragically in an ATV accident January 7, 2017 at the age of 16. 

In the days that followed, her heartbroken parents, Steve and Jana Hooten, planned Ally’s funeral while tending to their then 12-year-old daughter Sara who suffered critical injuries including a broken neck, broken leg and a concussion in the accident. Ally’s oldest sister Emma,18, was out of town the day she “lost her best friend,” says Jana. 

Faith, along with family and friends, is what the couple said got them through those dark times.

In the days that followed, a plan was formed to honor
Ally’s memory and build a legacy so youth would be impacted by her leadership and love of Christ for years to come.

At the time of her death, Ally was a sophomore, Emma was a senior and Sara was in the 7th grade at Wylie Prep, a private Christian school.

Ally loved sports and played basketball, volleyball, softball and ran track at the school. 

“She was an athlete through and through,” Jana said. “She was known for her pearls she loved to wear but she could tear it up on the court.”

For athletes at Wylie Prep, a home court doesn’t exist so students must travel long distances to other facilities just to practice and compete.

“We’ve never had our own home gym,” Jana said. “So, we thought ‘What a better way to honor her than to be able to raise funds for something that would benefit so many kids?’ So, when they walk through the door, they will learn about the Lord, our faith and hear Ally’s story.”

In April 2021, after years of fundraising and planning, Wylie Prep broke ground for the future site of Building 22 — a multipurpose facility that will bear the same number Ally wore when competing.

MARCH Collin County Genealogical Society

For 50 years the Collin County Genealogical Society has been committed to helping members discover their roots while raising funds to champion projects dedicated to support genealogical research.

Started by a group of six locals in October 1970, there’s no doubt that they helped lay the foundation for future generations to research
genealogy in the county.

One of the biggest benefactors of the society’s efforts has been the Plano Public Library System. CCGS was the first group to put genealogical books in the Harrington Library in 1971. The collection was later moved to the W.O. Haggard Library’s Genealogy Center which now has books and records from all over the U.S. 

Members have volunteered, and continue to volunteer, numerous hours working on various projects and assisting library patrons in their genealogy quests and conducting lookups from email and mail-sourced queries. CCGS says they also assist and mentor individuals that want to gain knowledge and experience in family history research.

The society has published historical collections including multiple volumes of Collin County marriage records, three volumes of Ancestors of Collin County Genealogical Society Members and Collin Chronicles: Records of Collin County, Texas. The chronicle is the CCGS journal that preserves the history of Collin County. Anyone interested in accessing the records can view them on the Portal to Texas History website.

To join or donate to Collin County Genealogical Society, visit collincountygenealogicalsociety.com or send a check to CCGS-Membership, P.O. Box 865052, Plano TX 75086.

APRIL Heard Natural Science Museum

Just a short drive away, every day is Earth Day at the Heard Museum and Wildlife Sanctuary in eastern McKinney where 289 acres of flora and fauna are dedicated to conservation, education, and preservation efforts. 

In the 54 years since the Heard opened, this natural oasis has served as a teaching tool for children and adults alike who visit to walk the trails, check out the museum, or participate in one of the many programs offered.

Founded by McKinney philanthropist Bessie Heard in 1967 at 80 years old, the sanctuary was envisioned by the founder as a place where future generations could visit to experience nature.

According to Executive Director Sy Shahid, the sanctuary is the number one draw in the city of McKinney, with about 90,000-100,000 people visiting each year. 

During the pandemic, Shahid says the Heard has become more of a people sanctuary rather than a wildlife sanctuary as many residents sought refuge to escape the confines of their homes.

At the Sanctuary, the seven walking trails are perfect for walkers of all ages who can handle varied terrain. The trails range from the ½ mile Hoot Owl Trail to the 1.25-mile Sycamore Trail. If you want to visit the wetlands, there is a portion of the 1-mile Wood Duck Trail, Shahid’s personal favorite, he says “because that’s the only chance you get to walk on water and see the animals that are in the water.” 

Opportunities abound for children at the Heard. The Pioneer Village, a playhouse scale replica of typical of 1800s settlements, is available to explore outdoors. In addition, there are animals to observe living in outdoor and indoor habitats, and the annual butterfly exhibit. Inside, the museum offers multiple exhibits including a fossil tortoise exhibit, Living Lab, Native Texas Snakes, Shell Room, Mosasaur Exhibit, and an extensive group of archived collections, many from Bessie’s personal collection.

Visit the Heard at 1 Nature Place in McKinney. For information or to donate, go to heardmuseum.org.

MAY LifePath Systems

The mental health crisis in America exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic prompted over 12,452 Collin County residents to call LifePath Systems crisis hotline for help in 2020. 

As the county’s MHMR center, CEO Tammy Mahan wants residents to know their goal is to build stronger communities by supporting individuals and families impacted by behavioral health as well as those with intellectual or developmental changes.

There are multiple programs offered by the organization. LifePath treated 839 residents for substance use disorders in 2020. Alcohol was the number one substance abused, followed by methamphetamines and opiates.

That same year, 8,545 individuals received mental health care from LifePath; 2,728 of those individuals served were in the IDD program which provides services to parents/caregivers of a child over three years old with any kind of intellectual or developmental delay (IDD).

The most popular program is Early Childhood Intervention (ECI) for children ages birth to three years old with disabilities or delays in their development. 

Another 3,230 children received services from LifePath, for a total of 29,191 hours of service. Aside from screenings and assessments, services include physical, occupational, speech and language therapy, assistive technology and much more.

In 2021, LifePath served approximately 13,000 individuals in its three divisions: Behavioral Health, Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities, and Early Childhood Intervention.

Although the need for help has increased substantially, the main thing Mahan said she wants people to know is that help is available right away. Anyone can call the crisis hotline – 877-422-5939 – 24 hours a day, seven days a week. 

When a call is made to the hotline, a licensed professional talks each person through whatever is going on, and if it’s just a routine case, a counselor will reach out. 

LifePath has psychiatrists, nurse practitioners and over 50 counselors on staff. 

It’s not just adults who need help. Mahan said children ages 3-17 can often have a wide range of things going on such as ADHD, attachment issues, trauma from abuse and more.

“A lot of them are really struggling and could benefit from our services,” she said.

Need help? Call the Crisis Hotline – 1-877-422-5939 or visit lifepathsystems.org

JUNE Rotary 

Whether they’re meeting at sunrise, noon or mid-day, Rotarians across the country, and throughout the world, continue to find ways to serve others while keeping true to their founder’s vision: “So professionals of diverse backgrounds could exchange ideas and form meaningful, lifelong friendships and give back to their communities.”

Having been founded 116 years ago by Paul Harris, a Chicago attorney, the largest and oldest service organization now has more than 1.2 million members in 35,000 Rotary clubs worldwide.

For anyone looking to make a connection in North Texas, District 5810 is home to approximately 2,700 Rotarians in 63 clubs. 

Rotary clubs everywhere, including Wylie, Rockwall, Farmersville and more, can participate in local and international programs. Every week, clubs meet for fellowship, while learning about opportunities in the communities which they live and work.

The future of Rotary is bright as plans are being made to increase its impact, expand its reach, enhance participant engagement and increase its ability to adapt so more new members will reap the rewards of lifelong friendships as they work to make a difference in their communities. Learn more at rotary5810.org

JULY Aviation Unmanned Vehicle Museum 

Unmanned flying vehicles, commonly referred to as drones, have been put to many uses in recent years and become popular with hobbyists. But their development comes directly from the military and is chronicled in the recently opened Aviation Unmanned Vehicle Museum at Caddo Mills Municipal Airport.

The museum — the only unmanned aerial vehicle museum in the U.S. — features a massive collection of military drones and parts collected by the late Lt. Col. Harold “Red” Smith who was on the ground floor of drone development during a 28-year career in the U.S. Air Force.

The collection includes about 75 drones, about half of which are assembled and on display in a 15,000 square foot building at the Caddo Mills Airport.

Smith planned to open the museum for years, but after his untimely death in an automobile wreck four years ago at the age of 86, his children, Doug Smith and Paula Field, picked up the project.

The brother and sister started gathering the bits and pieces of the collection from where they were stored in a barn, building and the attic of the colonel’s home in Parker.

The collection includes about 75 drones, about half of which are assembled and on display in a 15,000 square foot building at the Caddo Mills Airport.

The Aviation Unmanned Vehicle Museum, located at 4246 N, FM1565, Caddo Mills is open from 9 a.m. until 3 p.m. Monday-Friday. Visit auvm.net or call 903-200-1245.

AUGUST Hope Clinic

A medical mission has been going on for the last four years in Collin County to meet the needs of individuals who are stuck in the middle — too young to qualify for Medicare, yet just enough above the poverty line to disqualify them for Medicaid.

Hope Clinic started this mission in McKinney in 2017, referring to itself “as a place where we look to share the love of Christ by providing hope and healing for the whole person.”

What began as a one day per week clinic to provide medical services for the 12% of residents without medical insurance has since grown to a full-time clinic that now offers a variety of medical services to all Collin County residents. 

The journey for this nonprofit, Gospel-centered and based on Christian values, evolved in a holistic way, beginning with a small downtown McKinney church and a doctor. 

The primary population served at Hope Clinic are those 40-60 years old, of which half are Hispanic. To qualify for service, patients of the Hope Clinic must live in Collin County and have no health insurance. In addition, they need to meet the income guidelines — under 200% of the federal poverty level — anywhere from $25,760 for a single person up to $89,320 for a family of eight.

The clinic, located at 103 E. Lamar St., enrolls new patients Tuesdays at 2 p.m. Although no appointment is required, proof of address, income, and photo I.D. are needed to fill out the forms and get enrolled.

Medical clinics are now offered on Mondays, Tuesdays, Thursdays and two Saturdays a month. Mental health counseling is every Wednesday and Saturday, and a vision clinic happens once or twice a month.

Until recently, Hope Clinic was only serving McKinney, but now its vision includes “that all Collin County residents have access to quality, affordable medical care.” 

For help or to volunteer, contact Hopeclinicmckinney.org or call 469-712-4246

SEPTEMBER North Texas Food Bank

After almost 40 years of existence in North Texas, the vision hasn’t changed for one of the area’s largest nonprofits as it strives to meet the needs of the food insecure in a 13-county coverage area spanning 10,000 square miles.

In 2020, North Texas Food Bank surpassed a long-term goal in a year fueled by unprecedented need as it helped provide access to 96.9 million meals to kids, families, and seniors. 

NTFB relies upon food donations to make this happen; 42% from manufacturers, distributors, retailers, wholesalers, and 1,000 food drives annually; 32% is from government hunger relief programs and 26% is purchased.

By utilizing a carefully cultivated network of programs and partner agencies to gather and distribute food in the communities it serves, the goal — reached five years early — was part of NTFB’s Stop Hunger, Build Hope campaign launched in 2015 with a focus on narrowing the hunger gap by distributing 92 million meals by 2025.

Part of that plan included a new larger, more centrally located facility to better serve the 13 counties because most people think NTFB is a big food pantry. 

The food bank has come a long way since Liz Minyard, Kathryn Hall, Jo Curtis, and Lorraine Griffin Kircher were inspired to start it in 1982, distributing 400,000 pounds that year.

“We did more than that yesterday,” CEO Trisha Cunningham said. “We’re a $200 million operating nonprofit. We have to run it like a business – we have to be able to gather and distribute food into the community.”

Today, an average of 2.4 million pounds of food — 93.4% nutritious and almost 29% fruit or vegetables — are distributed each week from the 240,000 square foot Perot Family Campus facility built in Plano in 2018. 

Visit ntfb.org to see how you can help. 


Every night throughout Texas, there are foster children who will lay their heads down to sleep in a place that offers them no comfort at all, further escalating their fears and feelings of hopelessness, loss, and despair.

The children, from elementary school age up to 17 years old, are sleeping in shelters, hotels and other facilities — in beds or mats on the floor — where Child Protective Service workers monitor them in 8-hour shifts. Privacy is rare, yet so is the chance of these kids finding a soft place to land in a foster care system riddled with neglect, abuse, lack of funding and more.

Situations like this not only cause great heartache for Denise Kendrick, executive director and co-founder of Embrace, but also fuel her mission to help change the lives of these vulnerable children.

For over a decade, the McKinney nonprofit, with the aid of a small staff, volunteers and church partnerships, has made itself available to foster children and foster families by building relationships and connections that allow them to create a platform for others to serve children and families directly.

Foster parents are the ones on the front lines of meeting the daily physical, emotional, spiritual, educational, and recreational needs of children in their care, said Denise. “When we wrap around and support foster families, we help prevent burnout and allow them to focus on the abused and neglected children they’re welcoming into their homes.”

Like many nonprofits, the hope is to eliminate the need one day, but given the overwhelming statistics — 30,000 Texas kids in foster care — the journey is far from over.

For anyone thinking about foster parenting, Denise says, “Just start taking steps forward. It is impossible to dive in the deep end. Gather information, explore options, pray, and unless there is some insurmountable barrier, keep moving forward.”

Learn more ways to serve or get help at embracetexas.org or call 469-617-3174.

NOVEMBER Letters from Audie

In the summer of 1942, at the age of 17, Hunt County resident Audie Leon Murphy left to serve his country. In 1945, he returned home a hero, and the most decorated soldier of World War II, after courageously stopping a German attack near the French village of Holtzwihr. That same year, The Farmersville Times published several articles about 1st Lt. Audie Murphy, including his Congressional Medal of Honor award, among others, and the announcement and subsequent story of his “Welcome Home” ceremony on the square in Farmersville. Four of those five letters, published in the July and August 1945, were reprinted in the November issue of this magazine.  Here is fifth letter.

1st LT. Audie Murphy tells of his wounds

Farmersville, Texas AugUST 9

Three days later we had advanced only two and a half miles beyond Cleurie, France, in those Vosges mountains. We came upon our first experience with a change of tactics instituted by the Germans. A machine gun installation was dug into a ditch on the downward slope of a hill, instead of on the upward slope as they usually had been.

The machine gunners didn’t see us and we were pretty close to them when a sniper spotted us. He hit the man behind me in the chest. He screamed and dropped the ammunition he was carrying. That alerted the machine gunners and they hit six or seven of my twenty-seven men before we could drop to the ground.

It was rainy and dark, and the Krauts were camouflaged and hard to locate. So I grabbed a 536 radio and began crawling to find a spot where I could direct artillery fire at the position.

I kept so low I must have dug a ditch down the side of the hill. I was cold and wet and scared and my teeth chattered so loud I was afraid I’d give myself away. I must have crawled fifty yards before I decided I could direct the artillery O.K. I call for 4.2 mortar fire, and it came.

For an hour I lay there wishing I was a mole. Rifle and machine gun bullets hit as close as a foot from me, but the Nazis couldn’t quite get me.

Finally the opposition stopped. I didn’t count the damage personally, but official records say the artillery fire had killed 15 Germans and inflicted 35 other casualties.

“Courage, Audacity and Accuracy,” the officer said before giving me the Oak Leaf Cluster to the Silver Star I had won only three days before. As far as I was concerned, it was just that I wanted to get back to Texas as soon as possible.

A few days later I was called back to my regiment. There I was discharged from the army–a civilian for three whole hours–then commissioned a second lieutenant (but still civilian at heart). I had no time to worry about uniforms even if they had been available, for I was rushed back to my platoon.

October 26 we were advancing toward St. Die. My radio operator had been killed and I was directing my platoon by hand as we went up a hill. A sniper spotted me and shot. The bullet hit me in the right hip. I fell and rolled into a ditch. The wound didn’t hurt. It just made me mad. My helmet had fallen off before I rolled into the ditch and the sniper kept firing bullets into it. I was glad I wasn’t wearing it.

I ordered my platoon to go on under the command of a sergeant, and lay there waiting for aid. Finally Capt. Paul G. Harris commander of the company who later was killed found me and took me back to an aid station.

The bullet had torn away a lot of hip muscle. As the shock wore off, the pain became intense and I blacked out. When I came to in an evacuation hospital I was told infection had developed and it had been necessary to cut away a lot of my hip. Then I was removed to a general hospital, and given penicillin apparently fixed my hip, but I sure hated those injections.

I still walk with a slight limp from that wound, but army physicians have told me it will clear up eventually. The injury added an Oak Leaf Cluster to my Purple Heart.

If you wonder how much good the army nurses corps is doing, your worries are over. They worked harder than anyone else over there–on the job all hours of the day and night and always eager to keep the patients comfortable and happy. I still write to two nurses in Europe who were so good to me while I was wounded.

DECEMBER Wreaths across America

Veterans laid to rest in Texas cemeteries — and in cemeteries across the country — were honored for their service in a final end-of-year tribute Saturday, Dec. 18, 2021 for National Wreaths Across America Day. 

The idea for the tribute, complete with ceremonial Christmas wreaths honoring veterans, was spearheaded 30 years ago by the owner of a Maine wreath company. His vision, along with the support of a Maine senator, veteran groups, a trucking company, and other organizations, quickly developed into an annual tribute at Arlington National Cemetery. For years, the ceremonies were quietly held at Arlington National Cemetery until a photo showing the stark contrast of the white headstones, adorned with evergreen wreaths with red bows, went viral in 2005. Two years later, Wreaths Across America, a nonprofit, was formed by the Worcester family and others “with a goal to expand and continue the wreath-laying effort and support other groups who wanted to do the same.”

December 2021 marked the fourth year in a row the John F. Greer Chapter, NSDAR sponsored the Wreaths Across America Ceremony at the historic Wilson Chapel Cemetery in Lowry Crossing.

On the day of the ceremony, in Texas and across the U.S., WAA ceremonies start promptly at 11 a.m. Fresh evergreen wreaths are placed in boxes throughout the cemetery for attendees to place on graves. Following the ceremony, wreath-placing protocol was explained to attendees as family members were excused first to place wreaths on the graves of their loved ones before other attendees follow suit. 

Linda Dillard, location coordinator for WAA at the Wilson Chapel Cemetery, said 221 veteran’s graves were honored with the placement of a wreath in 2021. 

The wreaths cost $15 each. Individuals can sponsor a wreath for a veteran’s grave at participating cemeteries across the U.S. via the wreathsacrossamerica.org website, or by contacting local DAR chapters partnered with participating cemeteries such as Wilson Chapel.