The Difference Makers for Wichita awards banquet was held Feb. 22, 2020 in the Dugan-Gorges Conference Center on the Newman University campus.
The banquet honors local individuals and organizations that are transforming society, which directly relates to Newman University’s mission statement.
Newman, along with The Wichita Eagle, is a title sponsor of the annual event, which is in its fourth year.
Ten Wichita community members were recognized for their outstanding service and dedication at the banquet, five Difference Makers and five Everyday Heroes.
The Everyday Hero awards are presented by Spirit Aerosystems and are presented to individuals who are committed and inspired to serve others daily in order to make a positive difference.
The 2020 Everyday Hero recipients are listed below:
Ben Grisamore has been a member of First United Methodist Church in downtown Wichita for more than 60 years. In addition to worshipping there, he has had a firsthand view of the growth of homelessness in our city. A decade ago, Grisamore and a group of men and women founded Advocates to End Chronic Homelessness (AECH) and works with various agencies and government entities to advocate for services to improve the homeless condition in Wichita.
Each year on Dec. 22, AECH honors the homeless with a memorial service for those who have died.
A local collaboration called Impact ICT now does so much to tackle the homeless issue that AECH has stepped back from its advocacy efforts.
Still, Grisamore is busy volunteering — his main focus now is working with inmates and parolees. As part of a Christian ministry to offenders, he visits inmates at the Hutchinson Corrections Facility and Sedgwick County Jail. He is also involved in Mentoring 4 Success statewide, a community-based program that pairs those transitioning from incarceration with community mentors.
Grisamore believes mentoring is a key tool that society can use to help parolees to resist the hazards of drugs, promote family relationships and assist community agencies to provide solutions for many of life’s obstacles.
Paxton’s Blessing Box
Paxton Burns and his mother, Maggie, started Paxton’s Blessing Box when 9-year-old Paxton was only 6. Paxton was inspired to help those in need by placing a box of food in their front yard.
Today, 61 Paxton’s Blessing Boxes are located in Wichita, other parts of Kansas and outside the state of Kansas to provide food for the underserved.
The boxes are red, Paxton’s favorite color, and are stocked by community members. Maggie said since their initial $38 grocery haul, they haven’t had to stock any of the boxes themselves. Quarterly food drives help with donations.
Most of the traffic to the boxes takes place in the middle of the night and that’s what Paxton and Maggie like about it most because that provides a little anonymity. No paperwork, no judgment, no questions asked — just take what you need and leave what you can when you can.
Initially, the thought was the boxes would help the homeless, but Maggie said the main use is by the working poor who are living paycheck to paycheck.
While Paxton’s Blessing Boxes are helping in the local fight of food insecurity, he just thinks it’s pretty cool that he can help people “who sometimes don’t have the stuff that we have”.
People who are willing to host a box can make a request and receive a kit to assemble a box.
Benita Chaplin and Sarah Demby, T.O.U.C.H. Closet
Touching Others Until Change Happens (T.O.U.C.H.) partners with USD 259 schools to provide clothing to children in need.
After retirement, Benita Chaplin wanted to find something meaningful to do. With desire and inspiration to help children, motivated by her experiences while volunteering with her church’s homeless outreach, Chaplin connected with her good friend Sarah Demby. The pair co-founded T.O.U.C.H. Closet in 2018 to help children with the most basic of clothing necessities, such as coats, shoes and underwear.
Chaplin said crisis has no respect for people. She knows that loss of employment, divorce, death of a parent or fleeing an abusive situation can place a child in a crisis situation.
In the first year, T.O.U.C.H. Closet partnered with two Title I schools, which have large populations of economically disadvantaged kids. They’re now up to four schools. The goal is to serve all Title I schools in USD 259.
Demby recently retired after working three decades in the Wesley Medical Center lab and she said children are the passion behind their work. She knows many can’t help their situations and just need a boost.
Carol Gorges serves as a mentor for juvenile offenders and foster care youth through two organizations; Youth for Christ and Mentoring for Success. She dedicates her time to young people and shows them unconditional love.
Gorges said her life changed the first time she visited the Juvenile Detention Facility (JDF) for a chapel service in 2014. She said she felt the experience in her very soul.
At the time, her main volunteer work was spent in youth ministry and the parish school at her church, St Elizabeth Ann Seton. She became a volunteer Bible study leader through Youth for Christ and St. Dismas Ministry to the Incarcerated programs through the Wichita Diocese. She visited teenagers in JDF and Sedgwick County jail. In 2016 she became active with Mentoring 4 Success, working with youth in the criminal justice system.
Gorges is attracted to this work because she sees a great need in the kids she meets. Many are victims of sexual assault, human trafficking and other traumatic experiences, and they need healing.
Gorges has witnessed several young women return to school and graduate, attend college and even attain honor roll status. She said one of the most rewarding parts of this ministry is being able to celebrate these milestones and accomplishments with them, especially knowing how hard they had to work to get there.
Gorges believes it’s an honor to serve and build relationships with young people and walk with them through the ups and downs. She is constantly in awe and inspired by the strong young women she has met at JDF but who now have become friends, confidants and “unofficially adopted daughters.” One of the greatest compliments Gorges receives is being called “mom” because she knows that means she and the other volunteers have a trust, a bond, a familial relationship that is graced by God’s hand and not by birth.
Juanita Ridge has volunteered more than 30,000 hours over the years and has been involved in various grassroots projects in Wichita.
Currently, two issues are the recipients of most of her attention — how to positively correct children’s classroom behavior and criminal justice reform in Kansas.
Ridge has been in the classroom as a para-educator for nearly 25 years. Recently, she began implementing something she calls “Award-Winning Classrooms” in middle schools where she works. The goal is to help students correct negative behavior and reward good behavior. It’s all about focusing on the positive rather than worrying about creating a paper trail of punishment.
Ridge’s resumé is full of volunteerism. She has served on Wichita’s Racial Profiling Citizen Advisory Board and she organized kids to pick up trash and help clean up the neighborhood along 21st street. She was recognized as one of America’s “Thousand Points of Light” for those efforts.
She is engaged in the ACLU’s Campaign for Smart Justice, which works to reduce jail and prison populations in the U.S. by 50% and addresses racial disparities in the justice system. She is particularly interested in improving services for reentry into society and keeping offenders from returning to prison.
Recently, Ridge met withKansas Gov. Laura Kelly to address solitary confinement in state prisons and reducing mass incarceration.
Though she has many plans and goals for the future, none of them include slowing down.
The Difference Makers for Wichita banquet also honored five individuals with various Difference Makers awards.
Find more information on the Difference Makers event here.