Cara Vinson, who supervises some of CCL’s most independent clients, has been chosen to receive this year’s Sharon K. Bird Humanitarian Award. Kimberly Holmes, 17, who has volunteered at CCL since she was 11 years old, won the community award.
Cara, a staff member for nine years and a team leader since 2007, frequently works with clients who are charting new territory, meaning CCL may not have policy or procedure to follow for situations she encounters. Whether developing a positive working relationship with the Arkansas City Police Department, working with individuals to develop a work ethic, budgeting, assisting an individual to enroll in college, or figuring out dating, Cara is there for them with direct feedback.
Many of the individuals she supports look to her as a mother, big sister or mentor. They respect her. She is ever present for the individuals, whether she is at work or at home, whenever one of them needs her. Cara goes above and beyond for each of them in a different manner.
When Tawsha, one of the individuals in Cara’s caseload, was asked to tell what Cara means to her, she replied, “She is like the mother I never had. She sees that I can do more than my best, so she pushes me, and pushes hard.”
Tawsha said when she first met Cara, she used to fight her, but Cara never gave up trying to work with Tawsha. Now she is grateful that Cara stuck with her.
When she was a child and someone asked, “Who do you want to be like when you grow up?” Tawsha said that she didn’t have anyone. Now that has changed. Tawsha said she wants to be like Cara, who gives people the encouragement they need to do their best and strive for more.
Jean Conkling, sister and guardian of two of the individuals in Cara’s caseload, has only good things to say about Cara.
“Working with my brothers Hank and Donnie, from the very first day they left their long-time home with Mom and Dad, Cara has become a great friend, mentor and ‘sister-figure’ to my brothers,” she said. “Cara acutely senses and anticipates Hank’s and Donnie’s needs and continually strives to work in a positive, collaborative manner with the other staff and administration at CCL to make those needs known and met.
“Cara also makes Hank and Donnie laugh and sincerely cares about their feelings at all times. Over the years, she has come to intuitively know Hank and Donnie and has become the resource to which we can all refer to best meet their needs,” Jean said. “She senses when they are not feeling well and acts accordingly, making staff aware of these needs, changing Hank and Donnie’s schedule as needed, letting them rest or be alone.”
Cara takes time out of her own personal time to participate in social events which she knows are important to Hank and Donnie, Jean continued.
“I don’t think she has missed one of their birthday parties yet in the past 10 years. Cara also takes time to answer my questions about concerns 24/7. Cara knows what Hank and Donnie love (Hank – horses, Donnie – motorcycles and The Duke Boys), and at birthdays and Christmas, Cara always knows (and helps me know) just the right gifts to make them excited.
Kimberly first volunteered at the Chicago Street residence, helping the men with various activities. One project was recycling phone books and pop cans. Kimberly helped two of the men make informational posters and boxes to hold the items collected. Later she helped the men crush and bag the cans so they could be taken to the recycling company.
Some summers, Kimberly volunteered in CCL’s day center. Volunteers there help in dozens of ways to make sure individuals can participate in their activities. One of her jobs was to push individuals in wheelchairs to various activities or to walk with those who needed assistance. On a trip to the zoo, she also helped individuals keep track of their backpacks and preferred items throughout the excursion.
At CCL’s family picnics, Kimberly has helped with face painting, making snow cones, the breaking of piñatas and in other ways.
Kimberly has also helped with several of CCL’s Casino Night fund-raisers. For example, the year a Hollywood theme was followed, she dressed up and stayed near the entrance to the party, taking photos of guests and acting as paparazzi. She later provided assistance for those playing the Plinko game.
Kimberly has volunteered at CCL’s summer camp nearly every year, sometimes staying overnight with the campers. One task was helping transfer some individuals into and out of the swimming pool on an adapted chair, and she swam to retrieve and toss beach balls to individuals who could not do it themselves. She has also helped in the camp kitchen and served meals and drinks. This year she assisted a woman in the UNO tournament by holding the cards and offering her choices of what card to play. They did not move on to the next round but enjoyed eating the popcorn.
During this past year, the goal of one of the men at the 12th Street residence was to raise enough money for muscular dystrophy to qualify to be on the Labor Day Telethon to present the money. One of many people to assist him, Kimberly helped make posters for two of his fund-raisers held at Meyer Hall. She also came up with the idea of filling coffee mugs with packets of dry hot chocolate, dry soup mix or cookies, and wrap them so they could be used as Christmas gifts.
Kimberly is involved in many typical teen-age activities but has found ways to continue her support of the individuals at CCL. Most recently, she arranged to have a day off from her summer job at Sonic so she could volunteer for 10 hours at camp.
Cara and Kimberly are being recognized this fall by CCL’s board of directors.
Seven community members from this area read the nominations for the humanitarian awards and chose the winners. The judges were Beverly Grunder, faculty member at Cowley County Community College; Bob Mathews, an Arkansas City resident who is retired from the banking business; Kris Trimmer, teacher at Winfield High School; Don Anderson, retired Southwestern College professor; Brian Gentry, chief technology officer for Citizens Bank of Kansas; Kathy Guy, acting executive director of Flinthills Services, Inc., El Dorado; and Tony Allison, vice president of El Dorado’s Bank of the West.