2021 Heart of Gold

For 25 years, the Community Foundation of Whitley County has celebrated the people who make a difference in the lives of local residents. Since 1994, the Foundation’s Annual Heart of Gold Awards has sought to honor the individuals who make our community great through various acts of kindness. Through the years, hundreds of our friends, neighbors and family have been acknowledged for their admirable character and caring hearts.

While the past two years have been anything but ‘normal’, volunteerism, kindness and caring are still at the heart of our community.

While we are unable to gather together to recognize this year’s Heart of Gold recipients, we are happy to condensed excerpts taken from original nominations. Each nominee will be awarded the traditional gold heart medallion and three overall winners will be able to award a $1000 grant to the Whitley County charities of their choosing.

Nominee: Christina Sipe
Nominator: Tanalee Scott, Easterseals Passages

Christina loves her Easterseals Passages clients unconditionally day in and day out no matter the type of day the consumers are having. Christina will go above and beyond to make sure the clients are living a meaningful life. She is always willing to work extra shifts when needed, assist the clients with appointments, dropping off and picking up consumers at community jobs and many more activities that assist the consumer in a very respectful and kind manner. When asking the consumers what they think of Christina I often get the response “I like her a lot, she helps me”. It’s not very often in the profession we work in to find a staff that will invest in the clients like Christina has. She treats all consumers fairly and equally while also doing the job that needs be done.

Nominee: Christine Scroggs
Nominator: Heather Brown
Christine is the Community Ministries specialist for the Whitley County Salvation Army. She has such a passion for helping each and every client that walks through her door. She prays with people and goes above and beyond to try and make sure people’s needs are met. If she cannot help them she has resources to direct them to someone who can help them. She volunteers nights, weekends and holidays if needed.

Nominee: Chuck Jones
Nominator: Cindy Zollinger

Some people just can’t stop with one charitable act, but keep giving and giving and giving of themselves. Chuck Jones is one of those people. Chuck has been the auction chair for the Churubusco Rotary auction for several years. That position requires careful thought and actions and consumes hours of personal time. He also directs the Churubusco History Center. He opens the museum three days a week for drop ins and is constantly looking for ways to add value to the Center. His warm welcome and contagious enthusiasm for Churubusco’s history draws visitors and volunteers into the Center. He is a woodworker and made tables and benches for family weddings this past summer. Chuck also made furniture for the Rotary auction and the Humane Shelter’s annual auction.

Nominee: Cori Ziliak
Nominator: Shannon Townsend

My oldest son’s entire outlook with school was changed by having Mrs. Ziliak to encourage him in elementary school. I could list 50 examples of the extra things she does. One that comes to mind is her “Handle with Care” policy. At the beginning of the school year, she sends a message to each parent that she understands we all have bad days, kids, adults and life sometimes throws curve balls and we can’t always discuss them. By sending her a message with the child’s name and “Handle with Care” she will know that the child may need extra time or patience that day, and no further questions will be asked. My son missed the last part of football and basketball season. Mrs. Ziliak, on her own time, made a card signed by his classmates and delivered it to our home with an ice cream cake. She uses her own time to support and encourage the kids during their extra-curricular activities and encourages the kids to cheer and support their peers. She provides a positive atmosphere inspiring the kids to be kind and care for each other.

Nominee: Marie & Ken Wood, George & Connie Lutz, Sandy & Keith Kohut
Nominator: Mr. and Mrs. Marshall Dadisman

We are so grateful for our community volunteers. They do so many things for us. Take our trash and recycle cans down to the curb and bring them back. They bring in our mail, pick up sticks for us and have mowed our yard when our grandson is not able. They will get us things from the store too. We are so blessed to have such wonderful, thoughtful people in our neighborhood. They all have hearts of gold.

Nominee: Glade Barnett
Nominator: Kelly Maloy

For 14 plus years Gladie Barnett has volunteered every single Sunday, to help those in need. Every Sunday she travels from Columbia City to Freimann Square in Fort Wayne and sets up a table that is always in her trunk of her car and offers coffee, milk and donuts to those in need, but the most important thing she has given all these years is her heart, compassion and prayers to those who so desperately need to feel loved and know that someone cares. She helps organize lunches also to be handed out every Sunday. Most of the people that gather at Freimann Square are homeless, some are drug addicts, some are children of the addicts, some are veterans, some are young, some are old, but to Gladie they don’t carry the stigma of any of those things, they are her friends. One young man said “she is a angel on earth“.

Nominee: Jessica Burkett
Nominator: Tiffany Herron

Educational Director for the non-for-profit organization Giving Gardens of Indiana she empowers individuals to produce sustainable gardens, from forest to table. She educates others through the development and teachings at the local Farm & Forest School program. Taking care of the natural world and educating others is one of her top priorities. She gives children opportunities for exploration, growth, patience, and many chances to be creative. She engages at risk/underserved children/youth with opportunities to observe, discover, and experiment. Jessica is the “Green Team” co-founder for the Ignite Group. An ultra-trail running series, with a mission to help “green” up the races so that there is less waste generated by the sporting events. Jessica also serves on the Columbia City Tree Board.

Nominee: Kelsie Castle
Nominator: Tanalee Scott, Easterseals Passages

Kelsie loves her Easterseals Passages clients unconditionally day in and day out. She will go above and beyond to make sure the clients are living a meaningful life. She works on daily cooking skills, daily living skills, assisting them in learning about budgets and how to save money. She provides guidance for on the job training and many more activities that assist the consumer in a very respectful and kind manner. For her it’s not about the pay it’s about helping our clients succeed in life! She will take each client aside and interact with them on a level that provides the consumer with an excellent and meaningful day. When asking the consumers what they think of Kelsie I often get the response “I love her, she understands me”. On holiday weekends Kelsie will invite clients to spend the day at her home so they are not stuck at home by themselves. Kelsie is willing to work extra shifts when needed.

Nominee: Leslie Blakley
Nominator: Abbi Carroll, Humane Society of Whitley County

When Leslie Blakley joined the Humane Society of Whitley County board of directors she started when “the 66” dogs were confiscated. Leslie helped with office work, cleaning, laundry, dishes, and she bathed, walked and socialized dogs. She even arranged lunches and massages for the overworked staff. Leslie came in daily to help with any task needed. Leslie has also coordinated the selection and installation of a new commercial dishwasher. Working with 3 companies and shelter staff, she coordinated both the complete demolition of the current kitchen, upgrades to electric and plumbing and installation. She also takes animals out in the community for adoption events, and volunteered inside the shelter each week, plus walked dogs every Monday! She was also instrumental in selecting new donor management software for the shelter.

Nominee: Lynn Myers

Nominator: Vicki Builta on behalf of South Whitley Community Public LibraryN
Lynn Myers’ life is one of volunteerism. She spends time every day helping out at the Whitley County Humane Society, the South Whitley Emergency Food Bank, the South Whitley Community Public Library, or the Oak Grove United Methodist Church. She serves the SWCPL as Vice President of the Friends of the Library group. In this role, she offers valuable connection and insight into the community, and is often in attendance at programs and events, pitching in with whatever needs to be done. At the Humane Society she walks dogs, helps plan and carry out events, makes fundraising calls and picks up needed items. At the Food Bank she serves on the board of directors and as a volunteer. At her church she participates in the choir, Christmas programs, teaches Sunday School and Bible School classes and helps at ice cream socials and other events. She mows the yards of older residents, lends a hand with yard work or other chores, walks dogs and shares fresh food from the Community Harvest food truck with others. She mentor students’ reading progress in a friend’s school classroom, and serves as a driver for the Amish.

Nominee: Nancy Wait
Nominator: Lou Ann Jackson and Diane Dadisman

Nancy volunteers her time and talents to keep the Collinwood housing addition entrance neat and tidy by pulling weeds and planting flowers she has purchased. She had a nice wooden sign made to hang in the area as well. She has worked hard and often at this project, stopping to chat or wave at people as they pass by as well. Nancy also volunteers weekly at the local animal shelter, working on many projects to help at this wonderful facility. Whitley County is blessed by Nancy and her heart of gold and volunteer spirit.

Nominee: Rodney Tripcony
Nominator: Jessica Burkett

I want to nominate Rodney Tripcony, the cart collector at Kroger for the Heart of Gold Award.
He takes time out in his day to say hello to everyone, offering a genuine smile, kind words and even a song! I have shopped at Kroger for years and he makes a point to say hello to me every time, and on my birthday, he sang me Happy Birthday! I overhear him being kind to everyone he meets and I think his genuine care and sincerity is refreshing to see in the world today.
Everyone is in need of that kind of warmth. I feel he deserves to be recognized for his heart of gold!

Nominee: Sally Hull
Nominator: Cindy Zollinger

A friend fighting kidney cancer recently posted the following:
“Friends. Even the little gifts and talents you possess. . .as silly as you think they are, use them and bless others with them! That’s why God gave them to you.”
Sally Hull is a classic example of this. At least twice a month my mom receives a handmade card, intricate and time consuming, from Sally. It may be a little thing to Sally, however, to my mom and me it’s huge. It’s a reminder to her of friends outside the facility where she resides and mail to fill some time during the day, too often spent in isolation in her room due to the pandemic. Sally’s act brings comfort to me and encourages me to find small acts to bless others. Thank you, Sally, for sharing your talents.

Nominee: Tania Eviston
Nominator: Sandi Morse

During the months of June, July and August my husband was at Miller’s Rehab due to a severe cellulitis infection. That left me alone at our home which is in the county between Columbia City and South Whitley. I was not equipped to handle things alone due to being handicapped with poor balance, bad back pain and weakness! Little did I know, I was not alone. Tania and her husband, Bruce (but mostly Tania), who live nearby, let me know they would be available to run errands, bring in my mail from our mailbox at the bottom of the hill, and anything I needed physically or to just be a “listening ear” through our phone texts. That last part was almost as important as the physical help I got. Tania helped me sort out what needed to be done right away and what could wait, helped me figure out who I needed to talk to about my husband’s care, and more things than I can list, and all the while staying masked and socially distanced!


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