Walls honored with ‘Heart Of Gold’ at Community Foundation’s luncheon

Becky Walls was honored as the 2023 Heart of Gold recipient during the Kosciusko County Community Foundation Annual Celebration Luncheon Wednesday. Pictured (L to R) are Jane Wear, KCCF Board of Directors 2024 secretary; Walls; and Stephanie Overbey, KCCF CEO. Photo by David Slone, Times-Union
By David Slone

WINONA LAKE — Impacts can be of varying size and time, and the 2023 Heart of Gold recipient has made an impact to the Kosciusko County community for at least the past quarter century.

During the Kosciusko County Community Foundation Annual Celebration Luncheon on Wednesday at the Winona Heritage Room, the foundation’s milestones were highlighted and Becky Walls was honored as the Heart of Gold recipient.

Presenting the Heart of Gold to Walls was Community Foundation Board of Directors member Jane Wear. Wear explained that the community was encouraged to nominate a Kosciusko County resident who went above and beyond to make a positive impact in the lives of others this year.

As the Heart of Gold recipient, Walls received a Heart of Gold certificate, a pin and a $3,000 grant to recommend to the charity of her choice.

After Wear announced Walls was the recipient this year, Wear shared what Walls’ nominators said about her.

“Becky has served the Special Olympics for nearly 25 years in our community. These years do not include the years she helped her mother, Maxine,” Wear said. “Most do not see the long nights, the miles of driving, the amount of money she spends out of her own pocket, the number of meals she picks up for events, the endless phone calls and washing, loading, unloading uniforms after practices and games. The list is endless.”

Wear continued, “The amount of dedication Becky shows is tremendous. Becky has survived cancer twice and never given up. She coordinates over 80 Kosciusko County Special Olympics athletes. Her volunteer efforts take her all over the state of Indiana and include many roles – the role of a driver, coach, time-keeper and managing fundraising efforts. As retirement nears for Becky, we have no idea how she will ever be replaced.

Becky is truly a beautiful person inside and out.”

Walls then received a standing ovation for her impact to the community for over two decades.

Foundation Board Vice President Steve Yeager then shared some highlights from the KCCF’s 2022-23 fiscal year. The fiscal year was July 1, 2022, to June 30, 2023.

“I would say about five years ago is when I started working with the Community Foundation. When I would see a list like this, I don’t think I appreciated all the work that goes into it from the staff, the board, the volunteers. A lot of them are big numbers, a lot of them are really impressive. But now I really see that a lot of hands go into this,” Yeager said.

He said 14 new funds were established and funded by donors during the fiscal year. Gifts to the Community Foundation totaled $8.6 million, and grantmaking from all funds totaled over $4.7 million.

“Nearly $797,000 in scholarships were awarded to 209 individuals … to help them pursue an education beyond high school, whether that was a vocational or trade school, a four-year degree or a graduate degree program,” Yeager stated.

The Community Foundation awarded $100,000 in grants to small towns to help them accomplish projects that aligned with the comprehensive plans they just completed as part of the KCCF’s Go Forward grant initiative. The towns receiving Go Forward grants included Claypool, Etna Green, Leesburg, Mentone, Milford, North Webster and Pierceton.

There were 303 volunteers who helped the foundation accomplish its mission last year, “which is incredible. Absolutely amazing,” Yeager said.

“Last, but not least, this year the Community Foundation surpassed a major milestone when it comes to grantmaking – (the Foundation) exceeded $55 million in grants since our inception,” he stated.
Amy Cannon, Community Foundation senior program officer, talked about KEYS (Kosciusko Endowment Youth Services) and introduced members of the youth philanthropy program.

“The mission of KEYS is to work together to positively impact and improve education in our community by providing aid now and for future generations,” Cannon said.

Recently, WNIT featured the KEYS program in a short segment and that video was shown at the luncheon, followed by comments by KEYS Co-Facilitator Evelyn Duncan and KEYS Treasurer Titus Taylor.

Duncan recognized the KEYS guides – the adult leaders who volunteer their time to transport KEYS members to meetings each month as well as their talent to mentor the KEYS members.

Taylor explained more about KEYS, saying, “We are made up of 20 students who attend the four high schools located in Kosciusko County. We were each selected by our middle school principal to join KEYS in eighth grade and make a five-year commitment.”

Duncan said they meet once a month during the school year to practice philanthropy and to build leadership skills. “That includes grantmaking and learning about the power of our endowment fund, which we all contribute toward annually. We also get to connect with community leaders to learn about the needs in Kosciusko County and how we can serve our communities now and in our future.”

Taylor then shared some highlights from the KEYS 2022-23 school year. He said they awarded 38 grants to different schools and nonprofit organizations for a total of $21,702. Duncan said they gave a total of 497 community service hours.

KEYS also visited the local Head Start programs during the holiday season to provide new books, presented Read Across Kosciusko County, volunteered at Magical Meadows and brought author and illustrator Troy Cummings to the county for a second time to create stories with first-, second- and third-graders across the county.

Community Foundation CEO Stephanie Overbey followed that presentation with a video featuring Elizabeth Frantz.

“Each year we like to focus in on maybe one grant opportunity to show you the impact … that the work of the Community Foundation and its nonprofit partners are having,” Overbey said.

She said Frantz was a true inspiration to her and a reminder of the many great resources available in Kosciusko County to help those in need.

“As you’ll see in the video, Elizabeth is an example of a life that was changed because of you,” Overbey told the luncheon crowd. “Because while you may have never met Elizabeth, your dollars help support the programs that she needed during a difficult time in her life.”
Overbey stated that Frantz’ story illustrates that “some of the most impactful work we do as a community does not happen overnight. Sometimes the biggest changes take time to make.”

After the approximately nine-minute video, and Frantz stood up to be recognized, Community Foundation Vice President of Programs Alex Hall shared what’s next for the KCCF.

In part of his comments, he said, “We will continue to work toward the goals our board set in our strategic plan, including a focus on helping our community meet needs in the areas of childcare, housing, job training and support for people with disabilities, and helping attract and retain the labor talent we need in our community.

“We will be doing new work at the beginning of the year in the area of affordable housing in partnership with Habitat for Humanity and others with a goal of helping ensure Kosciusko County residents have a safe and quality place to live.”

Hall said the foundation also will be reaching out to the community to ask for help in growing the Community Funds endowment. Those are funds the KCCF uses to meet emerging needs in the community.

“Lilly Endowment has offered a special gift match where they will match every gift given to the Community Funds. So for every dollar you give, Lilly Endowment will match it with $2. We hope to raise $750,000 over the next couple years to take full advantage of that $1.5 million match,” Hall stated.

The luncheon began with a welcome by Josh Gordon, KCCF Board of Directors president, and the invocation by Board member Greg Demopoulos.

In her opening remarks, Overbey said, “Our mission at the Community Foundation is to bring caring people like you together with charitable endeavors to inspire generosity and strengthen communities.”

That mission is accomplished in three key ways, she said, including serving as the vehicle for donors’ charitable dreams, awarding grants to charitable projects and organizations and serving as a catalyst and convener to community needs.

Overbey recognized the current board of directors: Stephanie Bibler, Demopoulos, Lisa Frazzetta-Manning, Gordon, Jefferson Hankins, Cheryl Hastings, Dr. Anita Kishan, Brent Lamb, Katie Lechlitner, Scott Reust, Barb Ridley, Paula Slick, Dan Stichter, Jane Wear, Steve Yeager and Kay Young. New board members recognized were Mike Bergen, Kelsi Griffith, Kevin Hohman and Lauren Klusman.

Also recognized were past board members and those who have served on a scholarship, finance, grant, governance or special event committee. Overbey then had her team members stand to be recognized.

Cheryl Hastings, chair of the Foundation’s governance committee, took to the stage to introduce the recently elected board officers for 2024. Gordon will serve as president; Yeager, vice president; Wear, secretary; and Hankins, treasurer.

Recognitions concluded with Overbey reading resolutions for each of the five retiring board members. They were Kevin Deardorff, Ron Baumgartner, Jennifer Hollar, Jon Roberts and Christine Sands.