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Posted by dwellingplacegr on January 19, 2021

On November 6, 2013, the Dwelling Place Board established an annual award named for former longtime Board member, Larry Bratschie. For more than 25 years Larry quietly contributed to the mission of Dwelling Place, for many of those years as a Board member, including several years as the Board Chairperson. Larry passed away on April 2, 2018 at 90 years of age. Larry was a community activist who raised public awareness of Dwelling Place wherever he went. As a fundraiser, Larry engaged his friends, family, professional colleagues and many of his acquaintances to support our organization. As a volunteer, he went out of his way to support Dwelling Place and many other community organizations in Grand Rapids.

This award was created to honor Larry’s selfless leadership to the community by creating a $500 annual scholarship award to a Dwelling Place resident who best exemplifies extraordinary characteristics of a community builder; who by their actions, contributes substantially to improvements in their community, the neighborhood where they live and/or the apartment community that they call home. Each year, residents are nominated by staff, community members, and fellow residents for the leadership role in their community.

2023 Larry Bratschie Award Process


Each year we ask our staff, board members, volunteers, residents, neighbors, and community partners to help us identify Dwelling Place residents who should be honored for the work they do in our communities by nominating them for the Larry Bratschie Award.  

We are now accepting nominations for this year’s award. Now through Friday, February 24th you can use the button below to nominate a resident, friend, or neighbor! All nominations will be reviewed and voted on by the Larry Bratschie Award Committee in this spring, so please take a moment to honor someone who builds up community! 

Erika Townsley
2022 Award Winner

“What I’m really passionate about is giving people the tools and the agency to understand, ‘Hey, if this is affecting my quality of life, of myself or my neighbors, I’m not helpless in feeling that way.’” Erika didn’t always consider herself a leader. Her calm presence and quiet affect make her a naturally good neighbor, but “leader” wasn’t a role she saw herself playing. “A lot of times people think that leadership is being the loudest voice in the room, being the one with the megaphone. I’m not that person.” But after years of observing the leaders around her and learning about the different shapes that leadership can take, she sees it differently. “One of my biggest takeaways has been identifying the different types of leadership that there are. And for me, that’s been really empowering.” 

Leadership can be as simple as recognizing one’s existing strengths and building on them. “I’ve always been very empathetic, but I’ve learned how to be even more deeply empathetic for people, and understanding people’s needs.” And not only has Erika built on her empathic abilities, she’s put them into action all over the neighborhood. “I’m involved in the Heartside Downtown Neighborhood Association, and I serve on the board as the secretary, or historian as we call it, I’ve been involved with the Heartside Historic Mural Series, sitting on steering committees. And honestly, I really love having one-on-one conversations with neighbors.” 

When asked where her passion for this work comes from, Erika says, “I think I’m passionate because I’ve seen that change happen. When I first moved here, in 2016, that was when the neighborhood association was really starting to happen. And just seeing the people before me, like Mallory and Allysha, who really took on that project. And just seeing firsthand how an idea can turn into something that has a lasting impact, even though it might feel small in the moment. That’s why. I think just realizing the power that people have in your own community.” 

Daniel Richards
2022 Award Finalist

“Work keeps me going. Keeps me moving.” Daniel Richards is the active type. He moves fast, bouncing from one neighborhood spot to the next, picking up trash and singing a tune as he goes. He keeps his apartment building, Commerce Courtyard Apartments, in Heartside, looking clean and tidy, and can be found once a week volunteering at Dwelling Place’s Community Building & Engagement offices. But when asked, Daniel shrugs off his dozens of hours of volunteer work. “I’m a hard worker. I love to work. I come from Chicago; I’ve been volunteering and working since moving to Grand Rapids. I love doing this!” 

Daniel’s been in Grand Rapids for about three years and has found outlets for his tenacious energy; his job involves heavy lifting, cleaning, and other hard labor. Although it might sound tough, this work is exactly his cup of tea. Not only does he reap the benefits of an active lifestyle (“I like moving around, keeps my body from being stiff”), he finds meaning in activity, especially when it’s for the benefit of the community. “There’s nothing like doing things like that, helping people with my work.”  

His service at the Community Building & Engagement Department of Dwelling Place expands his knowledge about the neighborhood that he can pass along to others. Next time you’re in Heartside, keep an eye out for his do-anything spirit, which can be found in all the people he comes in touch with. “I love a lot of things about volunteering,” says Daniel. “I learn a lot of things I didn’t know about before I got involved.”  

Gari Bekker
2022 Award Finalist

Gari Bekker, a longtime resident of Midtown Village Apartments in Holland, has been a part of the Midtown community garden since its inception in 2011. The garden there has humble beginnings, which is hard to believe given its resplendent presence. The way she tells it, “it was me and another gal, and she planted a couple of tomatoes over by the generator, and that’s how it all started.” More than decade later, the garden is a sprawling centerpiece, welcoming residents, guests, and passersby into the neighborhood with dozens of varieties of flowers, several fruits, and oodles of vegetables and herbs. Gari, 92, reflects on her achievements stoically, but with her signature wit. “It’s a lot of work, but it’s fun too. Especially to see what happened over time. I used to work the fields, doing this and that. Gardening has just come natural. Keeps me out of trouble, she says with a wink. 

Although she talks a modest game, Gari’s contributions to the Midtown community garden are hard to overstate. As one Dwelling Place staffer puts it, “Gari is instrumental in organizing the community garden. She attends to the garden with a spirit of selflessness and consideration that I’ve rarely seen.”  

“I still like to learn, whether I can remember it or not is another thing, but I still like to learn. There’s still a little bit of room there,” Gari remarks playfully of the high skill-ceiling of gardening and her approach to the craft. She says having knowledgeable people around helps, nodding to Dwelling Place Community Garden Coordinator Jonathan and to her neighbors who have been involved with the garden over the years.“I think I grew more after moving here, being that we are one big family, really, we’ve learned to help each other out and we’ve learned to do other things and be sociable.” She gives this advice: “I think through life, listen, for one thing. And keep your hands busy, be not afraid of hard work.” 

Emmanuel Ibarra
2022 Award Finalist

“A key thing that community can do for you is make it all easier. Having people around you who are willing to lend a hand or willing to advocate for you or support you in some way – and Heartside could be – and is – that place for that love. It can be a thriving community,” shares Emmanuel Ibarra, small business owner and Heartside resident.  Over the past few years, the pandemic disrupted a lot of sources for community for him and a lot of people. So, he says, “I was thinking about, ‘how can I create that again? How can I be a part of it? How can I meet the other people of Grand Rapids?’” Enter Otono, the curated consignment shop that Emmanuel co-owns with his partner 

Emmanuel has always been in the business of, well, small business; his professional work with People First Economy has put him in the sector for years, but business ownership is new to him. “I’ve worked with all these businesses and have helped them be better members of their community, better stewards of the environment, better stewards of their workforce. I very much wanted to apply all the things that I was learning and put it into practice.”  In other words, he has a keen interest in walking the walk, not just talking the talk. “Otono is kind of an exercise of something that I’ve been wanting to do for a while. It’s a little bit surreal to me that I’m able to do this right now in this way.” 

But not only is his business rooted in principles of ethics and sustainability, it’s rooted in that thing he’s been lacking since the pandemic. “I’ve been looking for an excuse to be involved in the community, and that’s another reason why I started this business. I’ve been involved with the HBA, the Heartside Business Association. That’s been really cool just going into that group, into that community, and being involved with other business leaders on my street, on Division.” And although his reflection on the practical benefits of community ring true, it serves a higher purpose, too. “I think of the problems that we have in society – if we want them to change, we have to be the ones to change them. It’s not like someone else is going to change things for you. And essentially, I want to continue learning how to live a better life and how to make that more useful to other people.”  

Denise Wade
2022 Award Finalist

“Opportunity doesn’t come and knock on that safe place where you are, behind those closed doors. You still have to go out and face the day shares Denise Wade, a downtown resident of Ferguson Apartments and Degage donor, whose insightful wisdom comes from putting herself out there. Indeed, the advice comes paired with a history and mission of compassionate action. Braced by an experience of homelessness, she’s committed to being there for other women in need. “I want to be able to be, if this makes any sense, like a friend to women. I want to be the friend that I didn’t have when I was in a shelter right before I moved [into Ferguson]. I want to be that support.”  

As a resident at Ferguson, Denise has been involved in the on-site programming there, going out to meet neighbors to look for points of connection and support. “I love meeting people where they are, no matter where that is, you can always have a conversation, low or high.” She has also worked to collect gift bags for women of the shelter, knowing that small gestures can make a big difference.  

In partnership with Dwelling Place’s Welcome Home Basket program, Denise collects both useful and inspirational items, assembles them into gift bags, and donates them to Degage for women facing homelessness. Despite this giving, Denise says that reaching people isn’t about physical blessings. “Every energy, every life has a reason to be, and a person like myself, I can give love. I can give encouragement. I can let someone know that they’re not invisible.” 

“I just feel like there’s so much that can be better in the world, and my time on this earth should be directed into making a difference. The career path I chose, the things that I do, a lot of that is geared towards uplifting others.” Mallory Patterson is the type of person who actively seeks out a brighter future for all. Her tireless neighborhood leadership earned her the 2021 Larry Bratschie Award. My goal is to shift the trajectory enough that, down the line, things will be better for more people.” 

Although Mallory had long been working with her neighbors as part of the Heartside-Downtown Neighborhood Association leadership team, the challenges that the COVID-19 pandemic brought ignited a fire in her. “At the beginning of the pandemic, we saw that our unhoused neighbors had less access to information. They had less access to safe shelter. They had less ability to social distance and self-isolate. We also found that people didn’t have access to drinking water, ability to wash their hands, and ability to shelter and not congregate.” Mallory is no stranger to the lack of political interest in addressing issues related to homelessness. So, she took it upon herself to bring these issues to the powers that be. “Early pandemic, I really inserted myself into conversations that helped advocate on behalf of some of the more vulnerable people in our community.” Because of her efforts, five Porta-Johns and hand-washing stations were made available in the Heartside neighborhood. When there was still a gap in drinking water access, she helped work on a water bottle drive in partnership with First United Methodist Church. 

Where does passion play a role in your community work? 

“I think you have to be passionate to sustain this type of work because it’s a lot, it wears on you emotionally. It wears on you physically. For me, I’ve volunteered all my life. It was something that I did in the church when I grew up, it was something that I continued to do in high school, as well as college. It was kind of a natural progression for me to always be involved in something and to always give back.” 

What have you learned? 

“When you have to try to make change on a systems level, there’s a lot of bureaucracy. I learned a lot about patience. I learned about understanding different perspectives and trying to work within existing structures. I learned a lot about how to connect to community, that there’s no one-size-fits-all. 

I think I really learned that it’s okay to ask for help. I’m someone who often sees something that needs to get done and I do it, and I’ve really learned to be better at partnering and delegating and teaming up on things.  

I think one of the biggest things that I’ve learned working with community is sometimes all it takes is for you to lift the veil of possibilities to people and you will be amazed the way that people bloom.”

Pat Sheridan
2021 Award Finalist

“One thing I’ve learned is being a good listener, listening to other people, whether it be on the Resident Leadership Council, Neighbor Gatherings, or Garden Meetings. Everybody has a different point of view.” Pat Sheridan’s presence in the Herkimer Apartments community is one of helping and sharingSince he has been a resident, he is very active in leadership meetings; Patrick’s desire to help is a part of his character, that making him well deserving of the Larry Bratschie Finalist recognition. From setting up chairs to cleaning up after an event, volunteering and stepping up when others will not, doing what needs to be done is Pat’s M.O.  

Pat has been living in the Herkimer community for nine years. As a member of the Resident Leadership Council, in collaboration with staff, Pat shares some of the ways he creates positive change within the Herkimer. “One project we had just recently was a door decorating contest for the 4th of July. We had pretty good participation for that.” Pat is also constantly sharing and inviting neighbors into the community garden at the Herkimer. “I’m passionate about gardening; I’m a member of the garden club. This is my fourth year doing that. I’m love growing my own vegetables. For other residents here [who] are not involved in the garden, me and other gardeners have a box and each of us contributes an item, maybe cucumbers or tomatoes. We’ll put that box by our mailboxes in the lobby. Anybody who wants to help themselves to some free fruits or veggies can do so. That’s how we get other residents involved in the garden.” 

But organizing within his apartment community is just one aspect of Pat’s involvement. Pat has also been part of neighborhood-wide efforts to improve quality of life in Heartside. “I was a volunteer for the Foot Spa, which I love doing. The Foot Spa met once a month, and they help homeless by giving haircuts, getting toenails trimmed.” 

Patrick stays actively involved because of the intrinsic value of surrounding oneself with others. “Being around other people… I like being around other people. I hope to continue living at the Herkimer and making new friends daily.” 

Paula Abagela
2021 Award Finalist

I learned that I can do the job! Being involved has helped me to gain confidence. Paula Abagela, a finalist for the 2021 Larry Bratschie Award, is a member of the Verne Barry Place Resident Leadership Council and a dedicated volunteer in her communityPaula’s contributions have given her an understanding of leadership and the ability to plan, facilitate and host events. “I believe that we can draw people together and maybe help them in some area of their life, whether it be personal, relationship-building, or building skills that would improve people’s lives.” 

Paula consistently looks for ways to be involved. As a resident, she has become an active member of the Resident Leadership Council (RLC), where, as a special project, she worked with staff over several weeks to eventually instruct a Dwelling Place Art Club Session on Zoom. Paula explained, “this was really fun and exciting because I had never put together something like that and then presented it to other people. I think the different leadership trainings that I’ve done have given me confidence to move forward in my life!”  

Paula is also particularly involved through her church, which gives her a guiding force for continued leadership. “My passion is to help people to know about God.  I’m a part of a ministry at our church with youth that usually starts up in the school year. I help to facilitate it in a sense of I get to be a teacher to them, do groups and do different activities together to encourage them.” 

Paula understands the importance of staying connected. “I would like to see people being ‘fed’ in the sense of growth in their own lives, in my life, and through workshops and events. I’d like to be doing more projects to help grow people together, to help people learn life skills, so that they can have a better quality of life.” Paula is excited that this could turn into larger opportunities to help businesses in her neighborhood; she wants to see the whole community thrive. “Those are some of the things that I hope for, to be more confident to learn how to use my gifts and my talents. To be not just confident but motivated to use my gifts.” 

Richard Venema
2021 Award Winner

I’m trying to be more outward, to talk to people and open them up to different possibilities for our community.” Richard is a welcoming force at the Herkimer Apartments community garden in the Heartside neighborhood.  He consistently seeks to engage and draw in new residents and gardeners. If somebody wants to get a garden plot, we have a couple of them. I ask everybody if they want a garden, and they usually say yes!” As an avid volunteer, Rick works with both his church and a local charity to align his passions and bring people closer together. “I’m trying to be more Christian-like, more God-like than anything else.” 

Gardening might be his main focus at the Herkimer, but for Rick, being a good neighbor also means helping others through times of need. “My neighbor is going through a lot of distress right now, because in the past year he’s lost three people of significance in his life. I make sure I call him at least two or three times a week.” These small gestures can make a massive difference in others’ lives, as Rick knows firsthand. “I had my stepfather die some time ago, probably over ten years ago. He was my best buddy, my fishing buddy. I’m still mourning for him.”  

Despite the hard times, Rick stays busy and positive. “When the weather is decent and mother nature isn’t spilling her lovely water on the ground, we have watering to do at both the garden and the church, and we have to weed, trim dead branches, even patch potholes.” Rick wants to build on his handiness, and start to craft furniture for himself. “I haven’t done any woodworking in a very long time. But I want to start re-learning, find a place with equipment to use. I want to build a video cabinet to hold all my movies. I also want to build a CD cabinet to hold my CDs. Then I’m going to be building a bookshelf to hold all my books!” 

Aside from his personal goals, Rick wants to keep improving life for his neighbors; growing in community is a clear priority for Rick. “There are few things I wouldn’t mind adding to our little community here in the Herkimer. If I can get more people that want gardens, we can put in some more gardens, I think we’d have room for four more, maybe even six!”  

William Wade
2021 Award Winner

By talking with other people and hanging out with them, I realized my problems weren’t as bad as what I made them out to be. I’ve made a lot of cool friends out here, and I just hope to make it better for them.” Bill Wade, a Dwelling Place resident of Ferguson Apartments, is a force for camaraderie and togetherness. Through his subtle leadership, his neighbors have benefitted, and so has he. “Just through talking to other people, I learned to listen to myself. It’s so important to talk, and it’s so important to listen.” 

Bill cultivates neighbors with generosity – he gives rides to appointments, shares ingredients with fellow residents, and tends to the community garden. “I was born and raised on a farm, and they’ve got a couple of plots out here at Ferguson, so I work in the garden. That helps me out a lot. And I meet a lot of other people while I’m working in the garden, just people passing by.” To Bill, these small moments in the garden or around the building are jumping-off points for a greater good. “Talking with people and working with people… they turn from neighbors to family.”  

Although Bill is adamant that the favors he lends are no big deal, he also understands their power. “It’s not anything special. I just help people out because they need it. A lot of people here, myself including, have got crapped on and they need somebody that they can trust. When they come up and ask me, when I’m available, I can do it for them.”  

Before moving into Ferguson, Bill was living at the VA, struggling with depression. His care team knew that something had to change. “I was going in a bad direction. In order for them to help me out of it, they brought me here and they told me, a part of my healing was to get to talk with people. I started talking to the people in my community, talking about our problems and working things out.” The treatment worked. “My VA counselor kept on telling me, ‘you got to talk to other people, you can’t stay in here and you can’t be by yourself. You got to go out.’ I finally started doing it and she was right! When we talk about our problems, we have fun with it. We can be terrible together.”  

Daniel Drent
2020 Award Winner

“I want to be part of that voice of positive change in the neighborhood. I want it to improve for everybody.” Daniel Drent’s passion for his community is one of his defining qualities. Focused on food justice and other neighborhood issues, he serves as a board member for four different Heartside community organizations. “I love this community, this neighborhood. We are a little quirky…we have [amenities] for whatever income level you are, so we can figure it out and co-mingle together.”

Drent lives in Heartside, where he serves as a board member to the Heartside Downtown Neighborhood Association, is on the Advisory Board for the Downtown Neighbor Network, is a board member of the Heartside Gleaning Initiative, and is a chair of the Fresh Food Access Committee with the City of Grand Rapids. Although he’s been involved with these groups for years, most recently, he’s helped inform the triage care during COVID-19.  “I’ve been vocal in speaking about food drives…[since COVID-19 started] a lot of them have moved out of Heartside or have switched to drive-thru only, and as we know, a lot of our residents don’t have vehicles so it made it almost impossible to access them. I’ve been making sure there’s a walk-up service available.” Although the COVID era has brought service provision and basic needs to the forefront,  Drent is in it for the long-haul. “We are working to promote quality of life and all the great things that downtown has to offer.

What do you hope to continue to do as a community leader?

“I want there to be a place in the neighborhood for someone to go to get a gallon of milk, bread… t a reasonable cost. I don’t want someone to have to get on a bus to go and get those things. That’s been my passion. We get tired of making dinner and realize we don’t have [an ingredient], and that means an hour to go to Bridge Street market and get back. It’s a benefit for everybody in the community, not just low income folks, just the ability to be able to [grab something quick for dinner].” Additionally, Drent knows that homelessness is a pressing issue in the neighborhood. “I would love to be able to see better resources and opportunities for the homeless. I would love to see our neighbors to not be so judgemental to the homeless folks. I want the information to get out that Heartside is a cool place to be, that it’s unique, different, and interesting.” 

What have you learned, and how have you grown from your neighborhood leadership?

“I’ve grown because I get exposed to more things. I get a better understanding and knowledge of where people stand, what their ideas are, and what motivates them, and hopefully, when I have a better understanding, I can share that knowledge and have those discussions with the people who are on the two opposite sides and be able to meld that together. It’s given me the opportunity to have a better knowledge of what’s going on in the community and to not be so quick to prejudge.”

Rosa Anderson
2020 Award Nominee

“I feel like it’s my job to do what I can to help everyone that I possibly can, I want to try to ease the pain for other people; that’s my mission.” Rosa Anderson is a fierce advocate for her neighbor, and she is extremely passionate about food sovereignty and the provision of homes for all in her community. Anderson is also an active presence and connection amongst residents at her apartment community. “I do what I do so we can come closer together and put a smile on someone’s face.”

Anderson deeply desires to see her community uplifted in all ways. She plays an integral part in her apartment community in Muskegon Heights, MI through her involvement in caring for the garden space and property landscaping, serving on the Community Leadership Institute (CLI) Team and Block Beautification Committee, and connecting and supporting other residents. “I try to put into action programs for the kids, like little races on the track and balloon fights; I try to do things with the kids because otherwise they are left out here to their devices.” Rosa knows that keeping active and staying in touch is integral to a healthy community. “I try to keep in contact with as many of my residents in this building because I feel as though we are one big family and this is our house, so we should try to work together. What I try to do is call them and talk to them when I see them and see if I can help them out with anything, like giving rides to doctor’s appointments and getting them food.” In addition to her involvement at Roosevelt, Anderson is working towards changing her local community through writing a grant for tiny houses for the homeless. 

Anderson also has a special passion for gardening, which came from her upbringing. “My dad who was raised on a hundred plus acres in Mississippi so he’s always been into gardening and growing things and my mom was raised here and she loved plants as well.” She loves teaching her neighbors the merit of cultivating crops, and finds beauty in the process of growing. “I see those seeds grow, and I get so excited.”

What are you passionate about/why are you passionate?

“I’ve been disabled all my life, I’ve been dealing with this pain and doing what I could. Throughout my life I’ve been homeless, me and my child, and it’s not a good feeling, so I know what it’s like to not know where you’re going to lay your head or feel like people don’t even care about you. I just want to do my part to touch that one person and show them that I love them just for them being them and they don’t have to do anything special or be anything special, just that they are here. I feel like it’s my job to do what I can to help everyone that I possibly can, I want to try to ease the pain for other people; that’s my mission.” 

What do you hope to continue to do?

Anderson has high passions and goals around community-led gardening! “I want to get into creating food forces around the city. I want to get lots [of land] around the city and grow things (edible or medicine) and teach the kids or adults how to harvest. We are hungry for no reason when there’s so much that’s free. I’m going to do everything I can to squash those hunger pains, to be as self-sufficient as possible! I hope that I can get at least three lots by a year and a half to two years and have them established and growing and people being involved in them and we can all work together to make this thing just blow up!”  

What have you learned/how have you grown?

“Everyday I want to learn, that’s why I enjoy being around the kids [in the neighborhood]. They teach me much. A lot of people blow them off like they don’t know anything, but they are everything and we need to focus more on them than ourselves. I’ve learned how to be a little more patient, to try to not just see things my way, but see them their way. They inspire me to want to play more games and do more things. They don’t see my disability. They just see me as an adult that wants to spend time with them and is interested in what they have to say or what they are going through in the moment. They give me good ideas for what we can do at the moment.”

SaRah Eley
2020 Award Nominee

“I figure I could help someone else by helping myself.” Resident finalist SaRah Eley’s  dogged motivation for neighborhood involvement stems from her own life experience.  “I struggle with depression, anxiety, PTSD, and things of that nature, but I try not to let it stop me from doing things.” Eley’s persistent work towards community change is apparent from her years of leadership and perspective.

Eley knows that community change doesn’t happen overnight. Several years ago, she organized neighbors to advocate for better transit options for residents of her apartment community in Muskegon Heights, MI.  “We were trying to get a bus stop over here, and I helped with writing a petition and getting people to sign it. [Unfortunately,] it didn’t go over too well… we hit a roadblock.” Despite the outcome, Eley feels she owes it to herself to stay involved. “I just want to keep myself motivated to do things; it’s hard sometimes when you’re disabled and you just want to sit around and do nothing. So I try to keep myself from doing that when I can by participating in different events.” After her bus route advocacy hit a dead-end, Eley joined a Dwelling Place leadership team known as the Community Leadership Institute (CLI) as a way to stay involved in accomplishing community work. The group completed public improvement projects in the Muskegon Heights neighborhood where Roosevelt Apartments is located. “I helped name the park that we have, it’s called ‘ A Little Slice of Heaven,’ and I participated in a community organizational event where we mailed out park-related surveys and went to people’s houses.”

Besides the CLI team and their projects, Eley stretches outside of just her apartment community. “I’m a member of the Consumer Advisory Panel of the Lakeshore Regional Entity, a group that helps with decisions for mental health and different services that are available; we meet every other month to discuss what’s going on in the community. We’ve been meeting over the phone and still get work done. We tell our story and give our feedback with what’s going on in the community; we talk about different bills that are being passed in the community.” 

What are you passionate about/why are you passionate?

“I have mental health issues. I struggle with depression, anxiety, PTSD, and things of that nature, but I try not to let it stop me from doing things. I figure I could help someone else by helping myself.”

What have you learned/how have you grown?

“I’ve learned to try to work well with others and have these groups, where we vote on things and things of that nature. I’ve learned to give my opinion but not be overbearing and respect others opinions when they have a great idea.”

Thelma Jones
2020 Award Nominee

Being a good neighbor is Thelma Jones’ pride – she talks about neighbors as if they were family. “I call them, check in with them, and a few of them call me for help.” Her care-taking attitude is inspired by her cousin. “When I was growing up, my cousin could never go to school. She stuttered real bad; she couldn’t relate to anybody. We were made to take care of her, to make sure that nobody bullied her.” Having someone to care for is part of Jones’ identity, which she embodies in her apartment community.

Jones is very active in her senior living community, Reflections, helping her neighbors stay independent. “Some [residents] need help filling things out. I help people learn how to print their name, show them how to do certain things, and cook for them. I do everything for myself still, and I cook for other residents too.” She infuses her traditions into life at Reflections. “I cook everything like it was when I was growing up, like my momma used to fix when I grew up in the south in Arkansas!”

The global pandemic has affected the way Jones can reach her neighbors, but she still makes a point to lend a helping hand. “During COVID I haven’t done much, but I still check in on people. I call them, check in with them, and a few of them call me for help.” During COVID-free times, Jones helps residents stay informed about community events and resources. Her larger-than-life presence in the apartment community keeps everyone connected and involved. 

What are you passionate about/why are you passionate?

“When I was growing up, my cousin could never go to school. She stuttered real bad; she couldn’t relate to anybody. We were made to take care of her, to make sure that nobody bullied her. Everytime we came home from school she was standing there on the step with books, and me and my sister taught her how to write, you know, print her name until she could say it. When I saw [another resident at Reflections struggling to print their name], I told the Good Lord, ‘you kept leaving me here for a reason that I’m trying to fulfill.’ Every time I get sick I say, ‘Lord thank you for letting me get over it because I see you got works for me to do, I’m willing to work, here I am.’” 

What do you hope to continue to do?

“I want to see things that could be offered to us as old people. It’s hard for me to get from my apartment to the front door.”

What have you learned, how have you grown?

“I’ve learned to adjust to what makes [my neighbors] angry, what makes them happy, how they calm down, when to walk away from them. You have to keep a distance, arms length at all times. I’ve [also] learned to adjust myself to my surroundings. I keep my sanity that way!”

Doreen Timmers
2020 Award Nominee

“Simply knowing how to help people in little ways means so much to me; I want others to be encouraged,” says Doreen Timmers, Dwelling Place resident and co-director of Aspire Academy. “My whole thing is I want to give back to others what I’ve received, and I have received all this knowledge about mental health! I want to share these tools! In sharing these tools, I’m giving back to my community.”

Timmers is all about paying it forward. One way she does this is by regularly contributing poetry, short essays, and words of encouragement to the Dwelling Place Resident Newsletter, which is distributed biweekly to more than 500 recipients. “I use inspiration for everything around me when I write. It’s great knowing that my experience might help someone get through a rough day. Maybe my rough day [can be] an encouragement in one of those writings for someone else at another time. I like to share those things and in sharing those things I get blessed and I think I’m helping other people. And that’s what the writings are all about.” Additionally, Timmers has worked closely with Dwelling Place to bring mental health awareness into focus for residents. She is an advocate for mental health through Aspire Academy, an up-and-coming peer-to-peer mental health organization she helps co-direct. “Aspire Academy is intended to teach about mental health illness to those who have the illness and to help those, who have family or friends, understand the mental health aspects and how to help that person who has those issues. In helping others, they are ‘paying it forward’ and can give back.” 

What are you passionate about/why are you passionate?

“I’m passionate about being involved because I want others to be encouraged. I want people to be able to look at a flower and go ‘wow that’s beautiful and that makes my day special’. Simply knowing how to help people in little ways means so much to me, and I don’t always know who’s going to benefit. I’m passionate about helping others, helping them to be encouraged, helping them get through a rough day, helping them see there is a way to get through and teaching them there are things to help them get through. That’s the heart of my passion right there!” 

What do you hope to continue to do?

“My hope is to continue to be involved and continue to help people in any way I can so their life is easier. I have a passion for people. In my future, I want to be able to continue to give. I just want to encourage people to get involved where they are. If they have neighbors who may like the smell of their cookies, share your cookies. Just do the simple things. If someone comes to your door and asks for a cup of sugar, give it to them. Just do the best you can!”

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