Thursday, January 01, 2004

2003 Journal Times Awards winners - RACINE JOURNAL TIMES

Pastors Elliott

and Josette Cohen They are a team in commitment, in dedication and in life. Their outreach ministries touch the young and the old, the inspired and the imprisoned, the privileged and the poor.

In 1998, the community welcomed Pastors Elliott and Josette Cohen and Abundant Life Christian Center to Racine. (The main office and bookstore are located at 1801 Douglas Ave.) Since then, the Cohens have brought God's word to our residents through a number of programs.

With the Cohens' guidance, the Teen Images group meets weekly to study scripture and socialize together. The teens worked tirelessly to clean up an apartment complex on Jacato Drive during Make a Difference Day.

The Cohens joined with Lifestyles Beauty and Barber Salon to train the unemployed in a skilled trade. They created a transitional living facility to combat homelessness and recidivism for those recently released from prison. Their goals are lofty, yet as proven, attainable with determination.

"They are very generous, loving, unselfish people. They just want to help. They make sacrifices of their time and money, and they are humble," said Tracy Witherspoon, Abundant Life's administrative assistant, who nominated the Cohens for The Journal Times award with Donna Swift, a church member.

In addition to ministering to more than 100 church members and 40 to 60 youth each week, the Cohens spread encouragement and God's word to people they meet on the street.

"They give you hope," said Witherspoon. "They would take care of everyone if they could." The Rev.

Harvey Delery

The doors of First United Methodist Church at 745 Main St. are open continuously to help the needy. The Rev. Harvey Delery is the pastor of the church, and his commitment to the people of Racine is evident in his outreach efforts. Under Delery's direction, the church is the host site for Homeward Bound's annual empty soup bowl fund-raising event and a mother/child Breakfast with Santa, and it is the distribution outlet for the Saturday sack-lunch program.

Delery is the president of board of directors at Homeward Bound and the Volunteer Center of Racine, and he serves on the board of the Center for Community Concerns. He also is the past president of Global Ministries.

"Harvey Delery is an active, real go-getter and the most genuine person I have ever met. He has strived to bring diversity, peace and acceptance of all to Racine's downtown community," said Dawn Mendoza, a church volunteer. "He makes things happen. He does not just sit around and talk about it. He does what he says he will do. He is truly an everyday hero to many in Racine."

Marilynn Pelky, the executive director of the Volunteer Center of Racine, estimates Delery has committed thousands of hours of volunteer service to her agency. She stated: "He's a dynamic, energetic leader. He does his best to make the community a better place to live and work and play in."

Erik Guenther

It takes tremendous courage to fight City Hall. As the Racine community has learned this year, attorney Erik Guenther is no coward.

Guenther brought justice to hundreds of young people who were arrested in November 2002 because they attended a Halloween party at Tradewinds Village in Uptown. He defended the concert-goers who received tickets and $1,000 fines because he felt their civil rights had been violated.

When Racine police crashed the infamous party, it marked the first time authorities targeted concertgoers rather than promoters or organizers in order to shut down a show. The controversial crackdown brought international attention to Racine and to Guenther.

In the end, Guenther's actions led to a change in city ordinance. All fines were dropped, and all charges dismissed and expunged from the partygoers' records meaning no trace of the incident would follow them through their lives.

"Erik saw a wrong in our community, and he used his skills to help fix it with no compensation. That's very admirable," said Pete Karas, an activist with the Wisconsin Green Party who worked with Erik on this matter.

Guenther is an associate attorney for Hostak, Henzl & Bichler SC, and he focuses on corporate law, employment law and employment discrimination cases. He received an award recognizing him as the Volunteer Attorney of the Year from American Civil Liberties Union of Wisconsin for his work on the aforementioned case.

Guenther is involved in the Young Professionals of Racine, and he was a driving force behind the organization's Open for Business series.

JoAnne Labre

Downtown merchants endured the challenges of a lengthy revitalization. When the construction barricades finally were removed and the main thoroughfares were opened, they decided to throw a community celebration. JoAnne Labre eagerly pitched in to help.

JoAnne, who owns Dover Flag & Map at 323 Main St. with her husband, John, welcomed the chance to help organize the Party on the Pavement this past fall. She diligently worked behind the scenes to support the event's chairmen.

"She made sure certain storefronts were included. She kept track of all details. Dover Flag & Map created a map of happenings," said Kate Remington, who nominated Labre for this award. "Jo walked the streets, worked the telephones, bagged the meters, unbagged the meters and smiled through her enormous fatigue. She is a big, big reason Party on the Pavement was a hit."

Thousands of Racine residents and out-of-town guests attended the inaugural event, and shops were overflowing with old and new customers.

"Jo Labre is an integral part of our Downtown. In addition to working at her business every day, she works tirelessly behind the scenes to make things happen," said Jean Garbo, marketing director for Downtown Racine Corporation.

Garbo added that Labre helped with many Downtown Racine activities, such as "Jammin' with the Cool Cats," served as a member of the DRC board of directors, and is always available when volunteers are needed.

"As a committee member, her dedication to making Party on the Pavement a success was unmatched," Garbo said. "We would not have had such a tremendous event without her commitment. All of us in Downtown Racine are proud of Jo."

Bob Oertel

and Steve Smiley Ahoy! Two captains set their sights on building a nautical-themed, handicapped-accessible playground for the children on Racine. With a little determination, a lot of persistence and plenty of helpers, their dream now sits on the eastern edge of Racine County, overlooking Lake Michigan.

"Kids Cove, the new playground at North Beach, is one of the finest volunteer projects completed in Racine in recent times, and it owes its conception and growth into reality to two men, Bob Oertel and Steve Smiley. Not only did these men pioneer the idea, they also recruited and led the nucleus of chairmen and crew captains who developed the committees and led the army of volunteers in this gigantic community effort," said Jim Morrison, a volunteer.

The playground is the largest community-built park of this type in the state, and it involved thousands of volunteers during a limited period in October. Of course, the hours of preliminary work contributed by Oertel and Smiley helped the actual construction of the playground run smoothly. They continue to work on the project to add a few finishing touches.

Anyone who has experienced the Kids Cove playground understands how deserving Oertel and Smiley are of the community's thanks and praise. The two also have navigated numerous other projects on the lakefront including lobbying for, constructing and maintaining the Zoo Path, collecting debris during beach clean-ups and marking sewer drains to discourage water pollution.

Reviews of the North Beach Playground and Oertel and Smiley's project are fantastic. An 8-year-old New York boy who visited Racine sent a note to The Journal Times: "I love the big, big park you built. It is the biggest park I have ever seen. I was adopted from the Ukraine. When I grow up, I hope I will go to the Ukraine and build a park for all the wonderful children there."

Pinkie Smith

National Night Out is an event that aims to bring neighbors together for the betterment of the community. This past August, Pinkie Smith shouldered the responsibility of organizing this event for the residents of the 1800 block of Villa Street. She has lived in the immediate area for more than 30 years.

Smith handled every detail, even sweeping up the street, in anticipation of a fun neighborhood gathering. She purchased refreshments for the party. She rented cotton candy, popcorn and sno-cone machines to entertain the nearby residents. Smith even distributed a tub of school supplies to the neighborhood children.

She hopes to give the kids a positive event to attend and look forward to each year.

Her daughter Laurie Coleman-McIntosh said her mother's generosity occurs throughout the year, not exclusively on National Night Out.

"She has always been a caring and giving person, and she instilled in us to help others," Coleman-McIntosh said. "Everyone was always welcomed in our house."

Coleman-McIntosh said Smith also helps at the Red Cross and Greater Mount Eagle Baptist Church, where she occasionally caters the meals for funerals.

"She pays for it out of her own pocket if people can't afford a meal," Coleman-McIntosh said. "She's a helper in any kind of way. She loves and respects others. She taught us that we're not better than anyone, and we should never be too proud."

That selfless attitude is evident when Smith watches over the children on Villa Street and organizes the annual party to celebrate the people in her neighborhood.

Abel Torres

It seems every church has a behind-the-scenes person who does so much work and takes so little credit. The busy volunteer at Canaan Church of God, 1119 Kewaunee St., is 40-year-old Abel Torres.

Torres handles miscellaneous repairs around the church, including replacing the windows. He recently spent several weeks replacing the church's altar. He tore down the old altar and began building a new one.

"He was there early in the morning until night time for weeks," said Diane Torres-Espinoza, Abel's older sister. She said he also plays his guitar and sings at church and is the leader of the musicians' group.

"He is constantly working very hard. We all appreciate what he does. He has saved the church so much money," said Damaris Vargas, church treasurer. "rom fixing the roof, furnace, doors, lighting and painting, you name it and he's done it."

Torres transports elderly friends to doctors' appointments, and he has been called upon to provide interpretation services for Spanish-speaking people throughout the community. Torres also provides recreational outings for his nieces and nephews and helps watch over them.

Torres-Espinoza said her brother's days begin at 3 a.m. when he accompanies his son, Jonathan, on his three Journal Times paper routes.

A family man, Abel cared for his wife, Mildred, during an illness last year, and he orchestrated everything at home while she recovered.

"He was with her every moment of treatment. His family was first, but it was a lot of back and forth. He'd go from the hospital to church to home," said Torres-Espinoza. "He is there for everyone."