Two individuals and one business were honored Monday for their contributions to the community during the Leavenworth County Human Service Council's annual “Spirit of Humanitarianism” awards luncheon.

Two individuals and one business were honored Monday for their contributions to the community during the Leavenworth County Human Service Council's annual “Spirit of Humanitarianism” awards luncheon.

The annual awards honor those in the community who stand out for their volunteer contributions to the Leavenworth County. The guest speaker for the ceremony, Leavenworth County Development Corporation Economic Development Coordinator Cecilia Harry, said in reading the nominations she realized all of the honorees shared some common traits. Foremost among them, she said, is the mix of “formal” titles and work with less official deeds ― things as simple as offering a ride home to someone who needs it or going the extra mile to ensure that someone is getting the help they need from all available sources.

“Volunteering and truly growing a community is not about a job description,” she said. “If you're just looking at a list of things to check off, what you need to do to fulfill your role or fulfill your mission, you're missing the point. As I look around the room, not only do I see agencies and individuals that do that, I really notice that in the nominees today.”

Harry said for the nominees, it appears that volunteering is a part of their lives.

“If you don't do it, something is off ― like going to work in your pajamas,” she said.

The most recent class of nominees and awardees in three categories ― individual, student and business or group ― represent both experienced adults and the youngest-ever nominee, Lawson Elementary School fourth-grade student Willow Cash. They included the relatively new group, Transforming Tonganoxie Together, which works to combat substance abuse and prevent suicide, and the Cushing Memorial Hospital Auxiliary, which has been working to support that facility since the early 1900s.

Ron Coaxum, representing the Leavenworth Community Service Organization that works with the Human Service Council, said the individual awardee, Tonganoxie elementary school counselor Connie Weltha, has gone above and beyond in her duties, taking therapy dogs to local assisted living and nursing centers and helping with the Tonganoxie School District's Food 4 Friends program, which provides backpacks of food to local students over the weekends.

“She has been involved in sponsoring food drives for local food pantries,” wrote TES Principal Tammie George in her nomination letter. “I don't know of any less selfless individual.”

Coaxum recognized student honoree Renissa Arnold, a mid-year graduate from Leavenworth High School, for her work in helping establish and maintain the Leavenworth Mission Community Store and Food Pantry.

“Under Renissa's influence several food drives have helped to stock the pantry shelves. She also participated in fundraisers which brought awareness to a campaign she helped create called 'Say No to Hunger,'” wrote nominator Tracy Colston. “Renissa has an exceptional ability to rise above the challenge.”
The actions of the rest of the Mission store's staff did not go unnoticed as they were awarded the Spirit of Humanitarianism award in the business or group category. The store was found in 2010, with a hair salon on site to provide free hair services for veterans and others, a store with affordably-priced clothes and other goods and a food pantry that is open to the public twice a week and prepares more than 350 food boxes a month with a pool of volunteers.

Colston, who works as the coordinator of the food pantry at the store with its co-founder, Iris Arnold, and had nominated Renissa, said she did not expect the recognition.

“I was very, very surprised,” she said.

Coaxum said in his comments that all of those recognized are helping to inspire the community as a whole to help each other. He said the biggest threat to the community comes not from some outside force.

“It is that our apathy will cause us to come apart at the seems,” he said. “And the best way to combat that is simply to share a word or deed with someone in need and that thing will beget itself over and over again.”