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2 Sunday, November 18, 2018 The Topeka Capital-Journal

Evergy conservationist passionate about protecting water resources By Morgan Chilson morgan.chilson@cjonline.com

A a young boy and into adulthood, Heath Horyna followed his dad around, learning about the outdoors and developing an appreciation for the environment and how important it is to protect natural resources. “I did everything with Dad, from going to work to going hunting, fishing,” Horyna said. “He inspired me to do everything. Through him, through his leadership and tutelage, I kept leaning towards water. It clicked, and I got to understand what water requirements were, what water conservation meant. I got to understand the value of water.” Water conservation became a passion for Horyna, who not only does conservation and environmental work for Evergy but spends a significant amount of his off time volunteering for clean water projects and other green initiatives. “My background is water treatment,” he said. “I am a third-generation public servant. My grandfather was in public works, my father was in public works, so I naturally went that direction.” With a degree in water treatment technology from Fort Scott Community College, Horyna moved into the industry. “It really snowballed from there. My drive for moving forward really became a passion for wanting to understand how can we take water from the environment and return it in a condition that is the same or better than when we received it,” he said. “That was really a passion driver.” He returned to school, earning a biology degree but becoming interested also in chemistry. In his first fulltime job out of school, Horyna worked as a lab technician for

Every year, the Heath Horyna family participates in a water relay for as part of the Evergy Green Team. Meant to teach children about the importance of water, the teams get buckets of water to run the course. But it’s not the fastest runner who wins. Instead, it’s the person who is best at conserving the water. [SUBMITTED]

Heath Horyna, right, is pictured here with his father, Clarence Horyna, who inspired Heath Horyna to care about the environment and to do what he could to make it better. [SUBMITTED]

the city of Haysville. It was there he began to volunteer, finding numerous programs that offered him the opportunity to make a difference in the environment. “Most of the projects that I’ve done have been at an

Heath Horyna does conservation and environmental work for Evergy. In his off time, he often can be found volunteering for clean water projects and other green initiatives. [THAD ALLTON/ THE CAPITAL-JOURNAL]

administrative level — a lot of it does just circle round to education. I provide quite a bit of education and outreach to the majority of the projects,” he said.  Those projects vary, including offering education on

storage tanks and maintenance, which — while not obvious — a water initiative can have a big impact on water and the environment if they leak, Horyna said. He’s headed soon to Scottsdale, Ariz., to present information on water

conservation measures and methods and how they impact surrounding communities. After Haysville, Horyna worked for the Kansas Department of Health and Environment, where he focused on learning the regulatory requirements surrounding the protection of water resources. Joining the Westar Energy, now Evergy, team was the next step in his career evolution, Horyna said. “Westar is know for their involvement in the environment,” he said. “They’re known for getting out with the Green Team, pioneering technology like the wetland treatment system at Jeffrey Energy Center.” As he learned well from his father, Horyna drags his kids along to make sure they understand the importance of taking care of the environment. He will continue to focus on educating more people about the issues. “I want to always give back to the community,” he said. I want to continue giving back in whatever way the good Lord lets me.” Helping people understand the importance of water is clearly Horyna’s passion, and that is evident whenever he talks about the subject. He struggled to pin his message about water to one single idea. “There’s always a downstream user. We are downstream users,” he said. “Always be aware of the amount of water that you use. When it comes to water conservation, I’ll hear every once in a while ‘it’s the little things.’ I don’t think there are little things. I think everything – fixing a faucet that’s dripping. That really is not a little thing. That is a significant impact. Walking out on a hiking biking trail, and picking up trash that could end up in the water ways. There are no little things when it comes to the environment.”


The Topeka Capital-Journal Sunday, November 18, 2018 3

Software developer finds satisfaction working on trails By Tim Hrenchir tim.hrenchir@cjonline.com

As a software developer, Westar Energy’s Kasey Clark works on abstract problems all day. While some of those efforts produce something palpable, like the MyWestar cellphone application he helped develop, such achievements often take months or years to accomplish, Clark said in a recent interview. Consequently, Clark said he has found it “immensely rewarding” to work outdoors with his hands during his free time — carrying out such tasks as moving rocks — to create and maintain trails on southwest Topeka’s Burnett’s Mound. “Seeing an immediate tangible outcome to decisions that you’re making is something that keeps me sane,” he said. Clark lives in Topeka with his wife, Jessica Clark, and their 6-year-old daughter, Melissa. He grew up on a farm at Silver Lake. Clark’s LinkedIn profile says he worked two years as a systems engineer for Topeka’s Mize Houser & Co. PA before taking a job in 2011 as a systems analyst for Westar, where he became a solutions architect in 2015. As the company’s “mobile architect,” Clark said he has written or built many of the computer applications Westar’s employees in the field use on a daily basis. Clark expressed particular pride in what he described as “my baby” — the map Westar maintains on its website sharing information about where power outages are occurring, as well as how many homes and businesses are affected. He said that as the company was developing its MyWestar application, he set some direction on where that app should go from an architectural standpoint. Clark said he voiced a sense of satisfaction that Westar was among the first energy

Kasey Clark, a solutions analyst for Westar Energy, says he gets satisfaction from working outdoors with his hands. [THAD ALLTON/THE CAPITAL-JOURNAL]

companies to market a mobile application for its customers. “Providing that much information for customers at their fingertips is not easily done,” he said. Meanwhile, Clark said he has been involved since about 2011 with creating and maintaining trails used by people hiking and riding mountain bikes on Burnett’s Mound, which includes the highest point in the city. Clark became part of that effort through his involvement with Westar’s Green Team. He recalled how he and

resident Mike Goodwin worked with Shawnee County Parks and Recreation, the Kansas Trails Council and various volunteers to boost the mound’s trail offerings from less than two miles to more than six. Clark said he and Goodwin designed the additional trails. “We just kind of walked through the woods and started flagging trees,” he said. Clark said he feels a special connection with Burnett’s Mound because — after he became involved with the trails there — he learned from a relative that some of the trees he was

cutting down had come from his family farm at Silver Lake. The trees had been replanted on the mound at roughly the same time a water tower was built in his north side, about 1960. “The fact that I have that kind of tie to a peace of land that I’d already started building mountain bike trails on, that’s special,” he said. Clark still carries out maintenance on the Burnett’s Mound trails at least once a month, often walking their entire length carrying a pair of tree trimmers.

He is also former president of the board for the Topeka Community Cycle Project, a nonprofit bicycle shop that operates from the Oakland Community Center at 801 N.E. Poplar. The project provides resources that include tools, education about bicycle safety and help with repairs. Clark said his work with the project has been similar to his work with the trails in that he has drawn a lot of satisfaction from carrying out simple tasks, such as fixing a flat tire. “Solving a tangible problem is so rewarding,” he said.


4 Sunday, November 18, 2018 The Topeka Capital-Journal

Washburn students praise associate director of LinC Kristine Hart ‘has a magic way, student says By Katie Bernard kjbernard11@gmail.com

Travon Graves didn’t think he would live past his high school graduation. Growing up impoverished in Louisiana, Graves knew very few young men who lived long after that. “When I finally graduated, I was ready to go and nothing happened,” Graves said. “I didn’t die, and it was just another day. I didn’t know what to do afterwards — if I knew I wasn’t going to die, I would have had my life planned out.” In 2016, he started at Washburn University and walked into Kristine Hart’s office looking for a job. Hart is the associate director of LinC — the Center for Community Service & Civic Engagement. What followed has defined the past two years of his life. When he told Hart this story, she told him to count the number of people who looked up to him and imagine how they would feel if he left. “‘You have to remain here for the time being and show them how to be great, and after you’re done, pass the knowledge you have on to the next person and the next person,’” Graves said she told him. Graves joined the Bonner Scholars program and began working at the campus food pantry. Bonner Scholars is a program that requires students to log 1,000 hours of service with nonprofits focused on social justice over the course of their time in college. Students are paired with a nonprofit in Topeka and work with it throughout their time at Washburn. By the end of their tenure, Bonner students are expected to contribute at a high level to the organization.

Travon Graves, a student in the Bonner Scholars program at Washburn University, volunteers at the campus food pantry. Below, Kristine Hart, the associate director of LinC — the Center for Community Service & Civic Engagement — has been at Washburn for 16 years. She coordinates the Bonner Scholars program, as well as two other volunteering programs at the school. [PHOTOS BY CHRIS NEAL/THE CAPITAL-JOURNAL]

“You have to remain here for the time being and show them how to be great, and after you’re done, pass the knowledge you have on to the next person and the next person.” Kristine Hart to Travon Graves


The Topeka Capital-Journal Sunday, November 18, 2018 5

Hart, who has been at Washburn for 16 years, coordinates the Bonner Scholars program, as well as two other volunteering programs at the school. She regularly meets with students to discuss interests and match them to nonprofits. She works with roughly 50 community organizations through her students. “I always feel like I’m supplemental and a support system for the amazing things the students do in the community,” Hart said. She said students are running programs at nonprofits by the time they are in their third and fourth year in the program. She teaches her students that giving back is simply part of being an Ichabod. “When I was in college what these students are doing makes me feel like I did nothing,” Hart said. “They’re my role models.” Hart’s students, however, insist that she has been instrumental in their success. “She has a magic way of saying … I believe in you … She’ll make you want to better yourself,” Graves said. “She wants you to really be able to look in the mirror and say ‘I can do it.’” Laura Burton, director of marketing and development at the Kansas Children’s Discovery Center, said Hart and the Bonner program shaped her life as it is today. She said she would not be working in nonprofits or in Topeka if it weren’t for Hart. “It changed things for me quite a bit, and a lot of it was because of Kris and how important it was for her that I found what I was passionate about,” Burton said. “She was a really important mentor for me.” As a college freshman, Burton planned to go into politics. When she graduated from Washburn, however, a position opened at the YWCA, where she had

volunteered for the Bonner program. Now, she has been in nonprofits for 15 years. “Before I had a lot of experience with those organizations I thought the main way to make a difference was running for office,” Burton said. “But there’s a lot of other pieces to that too, there’s a lot of advocacy needed in the community, and that’s what the Bonner program helps students get really good at.” Burton has continued to work with Hart in her professional life. She said not only is Hart skilled at matching students with the right opportunity, but she also always makes time to support her students. “She’s the first one there to be a cheerleader and say ‘Wow, this is great,’ and she’s the first one there to hold you accountable when you need help,” Burton said. Like Burton, Graves said his life has changed because of Hart. He said he is a more outgoing person than he used to be, and he has found his passion in helping his community and working at the campus food pantry. Not only does Graves keep the pantry open extra hours, he gives out his phone number and will open the pantry by request. Balancing this with schoolwork isn’t a problem, Graves said, because it’s his stress relief. “I know what it feels like to go without food; I know what it feels like to be homeless,” Graves said. “I know I can go without eating, but when I think of others I don’t know if they can go without ... I want to make other people smile because I know what it feels like to be sad. I know what it feels like to be depressed, and I don’t want no one else to feel that.” Katie Bernard is a freelance writer in northeast Kansas. She can be reached at kjbernard11@gmail.com.

Laura Burton, director of marketing and development at the Kansas Children’s Discovery Center, says Kristine Hart and the Bonner Scholars program shaped her life as it is today. Burton said she would not be working in nonprofits or in Topeka if it weren’t for Hart. [THAD ALLTON/THE CAPITAL-JOURNAL]


6 Sunday, November 18, 2018 The Topeka Capital-Journal

Meals on Wheels provides homebound with food, interaction Program to begin serving residents in Douglas County By Josh Rouse jrouse@cjonline.com

For many homebound Kansas residents, something as simple as getting a hot meal can be a substantial challenge. One area program, with the help of some volunteers, looks to make that challenge a little easier to manage — and put a few smiles on people’s faces in the process. Meals on Wheels has been a part of the Topeka community since 1972, according to Heidi Pickerell, president and CEO of Meals on Wheels and the vice president of senior services at Midland Care. She said the program serves free meals to around 1,300 unduplicated individuals annually. The meals are served at noon from Monday through Friday. Pickerell, who first got involved with Meals on Wheels in 2011, has seen quite a few changes in that time. “We have added some different meals,” Pickerell said. “We can provide weekend and holiday meals, but we do have to charge for those — there is no funding available. We also serve rural individuals, which was a change.” Another change since that time is that Meals on Wheels is now under Midland Care’s umbrella of support, she said, a move made to help cover costs and give residents the best service possible. “We are seeking volunteers very actively right now,” Pickerell said. “And probably the biggest change that has impacted us recently is we were contacted by our area agency on aging to begin providing services in Douglas County.” One of the constants for the program has been Westar Energy, based in downtown Topeka. The company has been a corporate sponsor of the Meals on Wheels program for the past 25 years, with about 50 employees throughout the month delivering on routes every day of the work week. Typically, two employees will go

Westar Energy employees Laurie Cape and Steven Bouzianis pick up meals at the East Topeka Senior Center before delivering food on their route as volunteers for Meals on Wheels. [THAD ALLTON/THE CAPITAL-JOURNAL]

on the route each day, said Cynthia McCarvel, Westar’s community relations manager. “You know, with Meals on Wheels, of course it’s really kind of tailored to the elderly or folks that are homebound,” McCarvel said. “So it’s always nice to take a quick break from work. It only takes about an hour’s worth of time to go out and help someone who maybe can’t feed themselves or can’t make the meals, and it’s just a nice break from work and knowing that you

can help somebody. “That very first year, I remember when we started it, it was like ‘Well, I don’t know if we can get enough volunteers, I don’t know if we can keep this going.’ But it’s just so rewarding that I never have a problem filling volunteer spots, and that’s how we’ve been able to keep it going for so long.” Having that social interaction with the volunteers does wonders for the residents who benefit from the program, who may not see anybody

else throughout the day. Pickerell said isolation is one of the biggest issues that Midland Care and Meals on Wheels looks to address, as it can lead to depression and other chronic issues. It does some good for the volunteers, as well. “I think going and seeing the smile on someone’s face that may not have anybody else to talk to for the whole day, you’re kind of helping brighten their day each time. I think that’s the best thing,” McCarvel said. “Yeah, you’re feeding them, but you’re also giving them a warm, friendly face and a little bit of conversation that they might not otherwise have.” Aside from feeding the residents and interacting with them, there is also the added benefit of having volunteers check on the residents on a regular basis. “We’re kind of eyes and ears for them, too, because if we get there and they’re not answering or we find they’ve fallen or something like that, we can contact Meals on Wheels and get help for them,” McCarvel said. While Westar merged earlier this year with Kansas City Power & Light, McCarvel said she didn’t expect that to change much when it came to the company’s volunteer efforts with Meals on Wheels. She said they might have a little different focus on their outreach goals, but she said she thinks Meals on Wheels will continue to be part of the plan because of how popular it is with the employees. “It’s a very worthwhile program,” McCarvel said. “Everybody experiences maybe going hungry or maybe not wanting to cook, even if they’re elderly parents — because my parents are elderly and my dad’s actually in a nursing home and it’s like, you know, he can’t take care of himself. So this is one way that really helps those seniors to still be able to be independent and stay in their home, and it’s just a nice way to help someone that we may not be able to help otherwise.” Those looking to get involved with volunteering at Meals on Wheels can contact the Midland Care office at (785) 295-3995 or visit the Meals on Wheels website at http://www. mowks.org/.


The Topeka Capital-Journal Sunday, November 18, 2018 7

Retired physician seeks to help health of Topeka’s young By Carolyn Kaberline carolyn.kaberline@gmail.com

With a belief that one of the most important assets for any community is its youth, Ximena Garcia has been the driving force behind two significant projects aimed at improving the health of Topeka’s youngsters. Those projects are focused on removing childhood hunger and providing access to free physical and mental health services. “My passion is working to create an equitable community for our youth so that they can reach their fullest potential,” said Garcia, a retired physician. “If our children become engaged citizens, our community will thrive. Selecting a family and community to be born into is not a choice — it occurs by happenstance. Pure luck meant I was born with reasonable intelligence into a family that made it possible for my success. However, there are things I can control. I actively use my own privilege to improve systems and positively impact the most vulnerable population in Topeka.” Garcia’s interest in the state of Topeka’s young people began with a conversation she had with a friend who taught at Landon Middle School. “She asked me about socks, and told me how several kids in her class would not take part in a class project because it meant taking their shoes off, and they didn’t want anyone to see the condition of their socks,” Garcia said. “She went on to tell of students in her class whose water had been turned off. I felt badly for those kids. How could they succeed at

Ximena Garcia is a retired physician who seeks to help improve the health of Topeka’s young people. [THAD ALLTON/THE CAPITAL-JOURNAL]

school or worry about their health without enough food or other resources?” Because of her concern for others, Garcia, a graduate of the University of Kansas Medical School, chose to do her residency at Boston City Hospital, where care was exclusively provided to the homeless and under-resourced. In Topeka she worked as a volunteer physician at the Marian Clinic in the area of women’s health, an area where she felt she would have the greatest impact — especially in caring for women who spoke only Spanish. “Many patients told me it was the first time they had ever been able to communicate with their doctor,” Garcia said. When it comes to her first

love — working for and on behalf of children — Garcia has founded Raise Kansas, a nonprofit organization with more than 100 women as members. This group has partnered with Hy-Vee and the Kansas Children’s Discovery Center to bring Serious Fun Mondays, a free program that provides lunch along with STEAM-based, hands-on learning activities and books to the Chesney Park community all summer long. “Our goal is to impact both summer hunger and summer learning loss in children who are at risk,” she said. Garcia also has collaborated with Topeka Unified School District 501 to put a primary care clinic in Topeka High School. Knowing that students

cannot succeed in school if they are facing health issues that cause absences or keep them from doing their best, she believes that providing health care at the school will improve graduation rates and better grades. It also will give students the opportunity to see those in different health care careers, which may someday lead them to pursue those same careers. “They will also learn how to advocate for their own health, as well as the benefits of having a relationship over time with a doctor and nurse,” Garcia explained, adding that this understanding of how to utilize health care to stay healthy will hopefully “spill over into their extended families and help them and their families become more

knowledgeable consumers of health care. The students will grow into healthy adults and will be able to be active participants in the Topeka community.” Through the years, Garcia has served on a variety of boards, including the Kansas Action for Children (2011 to present), the Topeka High Site Council (2007 to present), Topeka Collegiate School Board (2008 to 2014) and the League of Women Voters (2014-2015), acting as a chairperson for many of these. In addition, she is in her second year of serving as the board chair of the Kansas Discovery Children’s Discovery Center, whose current focus is developing programs and services so all children — even the medically fragile, those who are at risk, refugee children and those whose mothers are incarcerated — can participate. One of those programs, called Puzzle Pieces, serves children on the autism spectrum. “I’ve also trained my dog as a therapy dog,” Garcia said. “We volunteer at Puzzle Pieces, a free program for children and their families to attend the Kansas Children’s Discovery Center while the center is closed to the general public.” Married with four children ranging in age from 16 to 25, Garcia noted that all are supportive of her work. “My children help out, but they are also making the world a better place in their own way.” Carolyn Kaberline is a freelance writer in Topeka. She can be reached at carolyn. kaberline@gmail.com.


8 Sunday, November 18, 2018 The Topeka Capital-Journal

Cycling is hottest ride in Topeka Bike Fest organizers, volunteers aim for greater cycling access, safety By Josh Rouse joshua.rouse@cjonline.com

Ten years ago, cyclists rode the streets of Topeka at their own risk. Nowadays, said Karl Fundenberger, Topeka Metro director of bike operations, the community is a much safer place to pedal. “The city has made a ton of progress,” Fundenberger said. “To go from no recognition at all to now being a bronze-level Bicycle Friendly Community really represents amazing strides for Topeka.” Fundenberger is one of several cycling enthusiasts who have helped steer the city in the right direction regarding bike safety and accessibility, beginning with his college years at Washburn University when he participated in Critical Mass — a riding group that advocated for safety and recognition of cyclists on the roads. “I always enjoyed riding as a kid. As soon as I could ride a bike, it seemed like I was racing at Heartland BMX, and that’s a thrill and a great way to learn bike-handling skills and learn how to race and learn good sportsmanship,” Fundenberger said. “So I kept up with that. Of course, in high school I got excited about buying a car and driving, so my bike got dusty for a while. “But then at Washburn, I lived like a mile from campus, and realized it was a whole lot more convenient to ride a bike, because I could park right out in front of the building I was going into, rather than in the back lot or

From left, Sara O’Keefe, Andy Fry (with his daughter, Ava) and Karl Fundenberger are members of the Topeka cycling community who have volunteered their time and efforts to improving accessibility and safety for cyclists in the capital city. [CHRIS NEAL/THE CAPITAL-JOURNAL]

by the Village. It was really convenient, so I started riding more and then I found out about Critical Mass in other cities and then somebody else started Critical Mass here, so I joined up really quick and started riding with that group and it turns out we all wanted more bike access in Topeka and kind of worked with the Heartland Visioning process, which also discovered a lot of community demand for better bicycling routes.” During that time in his life, Fundenberger met several other like-minded cyclists, such as his present-day co-worker at the Topeka Metro, Andy Fry, and a strong community of cycling advocates was formed. That community later helped pave the way for Cyclovia — a bicycle-centric festival in

downtown Topeka that was renamed the Great Topeka Bike Fest for this year’s festivities, which took place Sept. 29-30. “It’s been going for a few years now, and I’ve been involved since the start, Andy’s been involved since the start, a few others have,” Fundenberger said. “It’s really been a kickoff from when Visit Topeka hosted this contest online called the My Top Festival, and they said what kind of new festivals do you want to see in Topeka and they let folks vote and the top vote was for a bicycle festival, so that’s really kind of where the idea came from. People voted, and Visit Topeka responded.” He said Visit Topeka Inc.’s next move was to get the cycling community

involved. “Like three years ago, Visit Topeka kind of called the first committee meeting to get a bunch of bike people all in the room and all on the same page about hosting a festival and asking what that should look like and how it should work, and most of us have been involved ever since,” Fundenberger said. Sarah O’Keeffe, one of the Bike Fest organizers, was among those who volunteered to help run the Glow Ride during the weekend of the event. “We’ve been planning this since January,” O’Keeffe said before the event. “We’ve ironed everything out from what events we want to feature, which led to a discussion of bringing back the Great Topeka Kids Bike Race. We’re a team of about

15 actively involved volunteers who are enthusiastic about cycling and making sure TopCity is a BikeCity, by advocating for safer infrastructure for people who ride bikes and walk.” She says having easy accessibility to cycling is more important to a city than many people realize. “The health of our city is important to me, and after visiting Utrecht, Amsterdam and Copenhagen on a bicycle tour, it was more common to see retirees riding e-bikes, young people commuting by bicycle to work and to hang out with friends,” O’Keeffe said. “I know biking isn’t for everyone, but I believe more people will be willing to give it a try if we start making it normal. Connecting in person is a vital part of our sense of belonging, and riding bikes in a social group is a great way to meet new friends.” CHANGING LANES Besides promoting awareness of bicyclists on the road to motorists, the cycling community is working on making tangible changes to the streets themselves that not only will make roads more accessible to recreational bikers, but also safer. Volunteers from the Better Blocks Demonstration Project came in during the Great Topeka Bike Fest to kickstart a reinvisioning process on S.W. 8th street from Harrison to Jackson. The road along that stretch is four lanes, but the traffic counts for that area show it could be knocked down to two lanes, according to Fry. “With that, we’ve worked with the city and the different partners we have — Topeka Landscape, as well as Blue Cross Blue Shield — to


The Topeka Capital-Journal Sunday, November 18, 2018 9

put in some temporary street markings, and it’ll kind of be a demonstration to folks of how we can reutilize our large streets by adding bike lanes,” Fry said of the demonstration. Fry said they would also look to enhance the crosswalk to help pedestrians. He said the radius of the two north corners of S.W. 8th and Van Buren would be brought out slightly to help encourage motorists to slow down. The group also added trees and different plantings on the median islands to help calm traffic naturally and a temporary mini park on the west side of Van Buren to help show what the project would become. Fry, who volunteers with the Topeka Community Cycle Project, is a special projects engineer with Topeka Metro. He said his work occasionally crosses paths with what Fundenberger does for the bicycle operations division, which is a relatively new department and a sign of the increased attention the city is paying to cyclists. “That was sort of coincidence, but also really good timing,” Fundenberger said. “About five years ago, the board of directors for Topeka Metro got interested in bikes. They saw bike share in some other cities, kind of peer cities, and though, ‘Well, why can’t we do that?’ “They looked into it and found out it was pretty affordable in terms of a transportation network, so in 2014 they decided to start bike share and then brought me on to help manage it.” Fundenberger and Fry coordinate on several aspects of the bike share program, which Fundenberger says is now up to 300 bikes across Topeka that residents can rent to use and then return at either the station they accessed it from or another station or bike rack in a different part of the city. Fry said the goal is to create a

metaphoric spiderweb of public transit options, so pedestrians can use public transit to get anywhere they need within the city and, eventually, the county. “We coordinate on things related to where they’re going to put bike share stations, so one of my primary duties is to help with the development of bus stops,” Fry said. “Because in the past, you were able to just hail down a bus as long as it was on the route. Now we have 600 or so bus stops, and we have to become 100 percent ADA (accessible) by 2020, so with that we’re trying to improve all of our stops to at least have an ADA concrete path so that folks can get on a ramp onto the bus. “But with that, we’re also enhancing other elements with shelters and trash cans and benches based on ridership data to show how many folks are riding at different spots. In that process, we also put bike access at the bus stops to create what we call a first-mile, last-mile solution, so that folks can ride the bus and then at the bus stop there would be a bike share bike, theoretically, or they could also leave their own bike there and then ride home or ride on to their final destination from the bus stop. So we’re trying to create a full transportation solution for somebody, rather than just having them have to walk some distance to the bus stop, then get on the bus, then walk to the end.” In that sense, Fundenberger says he has seen some progress already, but the city can always find room for improvement. “The goal is really safety for bicyclists, as well as drivers, and minimizing any conflict areas,” Fundenberger said. “A few years ago, it seems like that’s all we had were conflict areas. It’s getting a lot more clear where it’s safer and easier to ride and where it makes more sense to drive, so there’s room for everyone.”

Myrick Fienhage participates in the Glow Ride during the Great Topeka Bike Fest in downtown Topeka. [SEPTEMBER 2018 FILE PHOTOGRAPH/THE CAPITAL-JOURNAL]

Cycling options abound for Topeka residents By Josh Rouse joshua.rouse@cjonline.com

During the Great Topeka Bike Fest in late September, organizers Karl Fundenberger and Andy Fry looked to help get people young and old alike involved in the cycling community in any way they could. And there are many ways to get involved. “Topeka has a strong bicycling community with pretty deep roots, and any type of riding that you’re interested in, we pretty much have,” Fundenberger said. “There are several different groups that get together for mountain biking. “There’s a really strong cycling club, the Kaw Valley Bicycle Club, with a few decades of history of bicycling and statewide advocacy. They put on a ride every day of the week during the season, as well as the big regional rides. They’re a great way to get started if you want to do road biking. Heartland BMX is a really fun spot, and there’s a really strong community of families all built around BMX racing. Those are just a few.” Part of the way they hope to get people involved in cycling is by making it an accessible, affordable method of public transit for those looking to

get around town. Topeka Metro, where Fry and Fundenberger work, provides more than 300 bikes for residents to rent and use to get around town through its bike share program. The ultimate goal is to make biking to your destination just as common as walking or driving. “More bicycle connectivity throughout the city, within the city, as well as working with the county to complete their trails plan,” Fry said. “Having a more connected network.” One program that Fry in particular touts as a way to get younger people involved in cycling during an era when kids are often hard-wired to their phones or gaming devices is called BLAST, or Bike Lessons and Safety Training. It is a program through Topeka Unified School District 501 that help teaches kids the fundamentals of riding. “That’s a way that we’re trying to reach out and help,” Fry said. “There’s been a shift in how many kids ride bikes and know how to ride bikes, so trying to help keep that as a skill and as an opportunity for kids to get outdoors and explore their community and be active and do it safely on the road. So kind of teach them functional ways to ride.”


10 Sunday, November 18, 2018 The Topeka Capital-Journal

Activity center’s Amigos proud of heritage, participation Organization’s mission is to raise funds for Marlo Cuevas-Balandran Activity Center By Shanna Sloyer ssloyer@yahoo.com

A family’s heartbreak more than two decades ago has become a beacon of light for the Oakland community in Topeka. When Marlo Cuevas-Balandran and her husband, Thomas Balandran, were killed in the ValuJet crash in the Florida Everglades in 1996, their parents found a way to honor their memory by donating funds to build an activity center in the Our Lady of Guadalupe parish. At that time, an organization called Project Pride was working toward raising money for a future community building to support the mission of Our Lady of Guadalupe Church and to act as a gathering place for the parish community. The building, located at 216 N.E. Branner, was completed in late 2005 and dedicated as the Marlo Cuevas-Balandran Activity Center early the next year. “We are very proud of this facility,” said Mary Lou Escobar, president of the Amigos of the Marlo Cuevas-Balandran Activity Center Inc. “Our parish needs to continue to grow, and this is one of the features that can help us grow.” The activity center is used for weddings, quinceañeras, baptisms and funeral receptions, as well as other community events. It includes a gym, which hosts youth athletic events; a library; a community meeting room; and two extra kitchens. “One of the main concerns was a new kitchen upstairs for Fiesta,” said Escobar, who remembers when the little kitchen under Our

From left, Mary Salazar, Arthur Balandran, Lonnies Valdivia and Jean Gonzalez finish a round of bunco during the Amigos of the Marlo CuevasBalandran Activity Center’s October get-together. The bunco fundraiser raises money to support the center and protect things like the mural behind them. [EMILY DESHAZER/SPECIAL TO THE CAPITAL-JOURNAL]

Lady of Guadalupe Church was the only prep kitchen for preparing all of the food for Fiesta Mexicana. “The 8 o’clock crew had to physically cook beans and potatoes, and we only had two sinks and two stoves. We are spoiled now!” Escobar is one of approximately 50 members of the Amigos, a nonprofit organization whose mission is to raise funds to maintain the activity center and to provide educational events for the youths of the parish. For the past three years, the Amigos have hosted a college fair for Hispanic high school students in the community. They invite six

or seven local colleges to participate, and speakers provide information about college life, financial aid and scholarship opportunities. This year, Topeka Mayor Michelle De La Isla was a keynote speaker, and Kansas State University brought in a panel of current students to answer questions. Paula Valdivia-Droge and her daughter BreAnna Droge, a high school junior, attended this year’s fair to better understand what Droge can expect as she prepares for college. “The speakers were great, and they did an excellent job. We learned about different resources for

Mary Lou Escobar laughs during a recent round of bunco at the Marlo Cuevas-Balandran Activity Center. [EMILY DESHAZER/SPECIAL TO THE CAPITAL-JOURNAL]


The Topeka Capital-Journal Sunday, November 18, 2018 11

scholarships and grants,” Valdivia-Droge said. “It means a lot to have opportunities for Hispanic students. I definitely encourage people within the community to attend these types of events. It’s amazing what you come away with. It was very beneficial to my daughter and I.” In addition to educating youths in the parish, the Amigos are committed to keeping up the activity center to ensure future generations can enjoy having a place to gather. The building is self-sustaining through the efforts of the Amigos’ fundraising, which includes Bunco Nights, selling concessions at Hummer Sports Park, silent auctions and the donations of generous private donors. “We have some very good volunteers and have never had a problem getting volunteers,” Escobar said. But according to Escobar, most current volunteers are retired individuals who give of their time to support the Amigos and the parish of Our Lady of Guadalupe. The Amigos are working on recruiting the next generation of volunteers in the youths of the community. The organization is always in need of people to help with concession sales and in the downtown car show it participates in each year. “We continue to progress because of the heritage of our parents and grandparents who started the parish,” Escobar said. “We need to continue to participate in the Topeka community and be proud to represent what our ancestors have given to us. I’m glad I can represent our parish in this capacity.” For more information on how to volunteer with the Amigos of the Marlo Cuevas-Balandran Activity Center, please call Escobar at (785) 266-6765. Shanna Sloyer is a freelance writer in Topeka. She can be reached at ssloyer@yahoo.com.

From left, Judy Soza, Mary Lou Escobar and Cyndi Perez react during a recent game of bunco. [EMILY DESHAZER/SPECIAL TO THE CAPITAL-JOURNAL] Cyndi Perez rolls a bunco during a first round of the game on Oct. 23 at the Marlo CuevasBalandran Activity Center. [EMILY DESHAZER/ SPECIAL TO THE CAPITALJOURNAL]


12 Sunday, November 18, 2018 The Topeka Capital-Journal


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14 Sunday, November 18, 2018 The Topeka Capital-Journal

Internship programs benefit city, companies, students By Phil Anderson phil.anderson@cjonline.com

If you think intern programs help young people receive valuable job experience, you’d be right. But the young people — typically college students or recent graduates — aren’t the only ones who benefit. Topeka-area businesses and corporations also reap the rewards of sponsoring internship programs, finding them to be a valuable way to attract new talent for their permanent, full-time job pool. Thanks to the coordinated efforts of local human resources and recruiting professionals through the Top City Interns program, Topeka-based businesses are seeing a success in attracting, then keeping, young talent. Among local corporations with thriving internship programs is KCP&L and Westar Energy companies, with an office at 818 S. Kansas Ave. in downtown Topeka. Kim Konecny, supervisor of talent acquisition for KCP&L and Westar Energy, helps land interns for her company. “Our intern program is our most direct pipeline to fulltime, entry level positions,” said Kim Konecny, supervisor of talent acquisition for KCP&L and Westar Energy. “The purpose is for interns to get exposure to Westar and to the different types of opportunities we offer. “While they’re evaluating us as a company to determine if we’re a good fit for them, we’re also evaluating our interns to see if they’re a good fit for us.” Konecny said Westar usually hires around 50 to 60 interns across the company’s service territory each year. “Most of our interns are here just for the summer,” Konecny said. “But there are some who continue during the school year and

In addition to her duties as supervisor of talent acquisition for KCP&L and Westar Energy, Kim Konecny has served the past two years as co-chairwoman of the Top City Interns program, which was launched in 2017. [PHIL ANDERSON/THE CAPITAL-JOURNAL]

work part-time. Because we want them to focus on their schoolwork first, we limit the number of hours they work to 20 per week.” Many of Westar Energy’s interns come from colleges and universities located in Kansas. However, students from other states also find their way to the company’s internship program. “We have some great secondary institutions in Kansas and surrounding states,” Konecny said. “So, we have great success finding really talented interns locally. But we do also recruit interns

from across the country. In the last couple years, we’ve had interns from New Mexico, Texas, Wisconsin, California.” As is the case with many internship programs, Westar has a variety of jobs for the students to tackle. Some of the jobs are in the office, while others are out in the field. “The cool thing about Westar is that we have several opportunities for different types of majors,” Konecny said. “We hire a lot of engineering interns, of course. But, we also have interns working in corporate communications,

HR, supply chain, accounting and finance, project controls, design, etc. We also hire a great group of lineman interns each summer.” Most of are at Westar for roughly three months over the summer, Konecny said. However, she added, “some do stay on to work part-time during the school year and can stay for a couple years as they finish their degree.” The ultimate goal, Konecny said, to hire the interns as full-time employees in cases “where there’s a mutual fit and interest between Westar and the intern.”

In addition to her work with Westar, Konecny has served the past two years as co-chairwoman of the Top City Interns program, which was launched in 2017. Among its goals, Top City Interns facilitates large-scale social gatherings and regularly scheduled education programs for interns during summer months. In helping Topeka put its best foot forward, Top City Interns seeks to help young college graduates give serious consideration to the capital city for their first jobs in their chosen professions. Konecny described Top City Interns as a “coordinated, citywide intern program that is an effort between Greater Topeka Partnership and several companies from Topeka. The idea is that together, we can show these interns what a great place Topeka is to live, work and play so that they ultimately want to put down roots and stay here after they graduate.” Konecny said last summer, nearly 160 interns participated in TopCity Interns. The goal is for young people to see that there is a place for young professionals like themselves in Topeka. “If we convince only half of those that Topeka is a great place to live and work after they graduate, then we’ve retained 80 young professionals to make Topeka their home,” Konecny said. “Multiply that by each year we do the program — adding more energetic, young talent with fresh ideas and perspective to Topeka can only benefit the city.” She added: “The interns love the opportunity to meet interns from other companies. Many have started friendships that continue after their internships. Many are also really surprised by all of the exciting things going on in Topeka right now.”


The Topeka Capital-Journal Sunday, November 18, 2018 15

Friends of the Topeka Zoo supports attractions, future By Katie Moore katie.moore@cjonline.com

From the birth of giraffes and tigers to major capital projects, the Topeka Zoo has seen a flurry of activity this year that is all supported by Friends of the Topeka Zoo. “It’s been a great year,” said Shelby Revelle, fundraising and development specialist with Friends of the Topeka Zoo. The nonprofit hosts four major fundraisers aimed at the 21-and-over crowd. The fundraisers kick off in the spring with the Roar and Pour Wine Fest followed by Brew at the Zoo, Serengeti Nights and Fright Fest. Serengeti Nights is the signature fundraiser and emphasizes behind-thescenes animal experiences and auction packages with items like an overnight at the zoo. “A lot of our primary focus is our fundraisers,” Revelle said. “All of the money that we do raise is going to support the zoo’s mission — conservation efforts, education programs and the wildlife initiative we have.” The fundraisers rely on help from FOTZ’s business partners, of which there are about 30 in the community, who donate with time and money. Eric Craver, co-owner of Happy Basset Brewing Co., said he and his wife, Marne, love visiting the zoo. As one of FOTZ’s partners, he has supplied countless cups of beer at fundraising events and private tastings. He also has worked with Revelle to coordinate food trucks and entertainment at fundraisers. “I just like to help things in Topeka,” he said. “We enjoy doing that stuff.” Craver is also in discussions with the zoo to sponsor cameras that will livestream the African painted dogs. In addition to fundraisers, FOTZ also manages zoo memberships.

Shelby Revelle, fundraising and development specialist with Friends of the Topeka Zoo, stands near Jingga, a Sumatran tiger. [CHRIS NEAL/THE CAPITAL-JOURNAL]

The zoo, in partnership with KTWU, also launched livestreams where eager viewers watched the birth of giraffes and tigers. Viewers from around the world helped keep tabs on how the babies were doing and sent support to the zoo in the form of donations, pizza and messages of appreciation. “Everyone engaging with our social media now has helped us tremendously,” Revelle said. The social media connections made while bonding over the new babies has prompted people from across the nation to visit Topeka to see the animals for themselves. “It’s just crazy the amount of support we have,” she said. FOTZ will continue its engagement efforts in the coming years with the next big project — Kay’s Garden, a Japanese garden that will feature an event space, koi pond and walking paths.

“What a lot of people don’t know is we actually see guests from every single state, so all 50 states come to the zoo every year. We’re seeing over 200,000 people a year. So it’s not just about our community, but it’s about the people that we’re bringing to our community.” Shelby Revelle fundraising and development specialist with Friends of the Topeka Zoo

“If you’re already going to come out once or twice a year, it’s definitely worth it to purchase a membership,” Revelle said. There are a variety of membership options, depending on family size. About 5,000 households have a membership, which translates to about 18,000 to 20,000 individual members. The Topeka Zoo is the No. 1 family attraction in the city, Revelle said. “What a lot of people don’t know is we actually see guests from every single state, so all 50 states come to the zoo

every year,” she said. “We’re seeing over 200,000 people a year. So it’s not just about our community, but it’s about the people that we’re bringing to our community.” The zoo’s profile has been boosted this year by a temporary sea lion exhibit earlier this summer and the completion of Camp Cowabunga, a $4.5 million project, over Labor Day weekend. “With everything we have going on this year it’s actually really helped us, it opened up the doors to a lot of people that didn’t know what we were doing,” Revelle said.

Konza was born to mom Abi in July at the Topeka Zoo. [JULY 2018 FILE PHOTOGRAPH/THE CAPITAL-JOURNAL]


16 Sunday, November 18, 2018 The Topeka Capital-Journal

iCan Bike program teaches self-esteem, confidence Volunteers teach those with special needs how to ride a two-wheeled bicycle By Shanna Sloyer ssloyer@yahoo.com

Cris Teter has been teaching Topeka residents how to ride bicycles for eight years as part of the iCan Bike program. As a physical therapist with 20 years of experience at Easterseals Capper Foundation, Teter knows it is the little things that can make a big difference for his clients. “Transportation for individuals with special needs can be an issue and limit their independence,” Teter said. “Families with special needs children have limited activities they can all participate in. Children’s siblings and friends ride bikes, and they can be left out, leading to decreased selfesteem and confidence.” Each June, Teter and a team of local volunteers teach Topekans with special needs the art of riding a two-wheeled bicycle. iCan Bike came to Topeka at the request of two families who received services at Easterseals Capper Foundation. It is an international program that provides the adapted equipment and trained staff to help participants progress to riding a traditional two-wheeled bicycle. “Parents and caregivers have tried to teach their children or young adult to ride a bike, but have been unsuccessful,” Teter said. “This program has a 75 to 80 percent success rate.” Participants must be at least 8 years old, have a disability and a minimum inseam of 20 inches. Also, they must weigh less than 220 pounds, be able to walk without an assistive

Kevin Maxwell, the volunteer coordinator for The Home Depot in Topeka, leads a team of Home Depot managers and employees who volunteer for organizations each year as part of Team Depot. Maxwell’s daughter Addison participated as a rider in the iCan Bike program. [SUBMITTED]

Keira, flanked by volunteers Jeff and Dylan, learns how to ride a two-wheeled bicycle. [PHOTO SUBMITTED BY ANN PALMER]

Craig, an iCan Bike volunteer, jogs with participant Liam as he pedals a bicycle. [PHOTO SUBMITTED BY ANN PALMER]


The Topeka Capital-Journal Sunday, November 18, 2018 17

device and to side-step to both sides, as well as be able and willing to wear a helmet, and attend one 75-minute session for all five days of the program. According to Teter, the success of iCan Bike is heavily dependent on volunteers. Each rider has at least two spotters during the week to ensure safety and to provide encouragement and motivation. “We would not be able to have the program without volunteers,” Teter said. “Our volunteers are vital to the success of the program.” Kevin Maxwell is the volunteer coordinator for The Home Depot in Topeka. Along with a team of Home Depot managers and employees, Maxwell volunteers for organizations each year as part of Team Depot. After his daughter Addison participated as a rider in the iCan Bike program, Maxwell knew it would be a perfect fit for a Team Depot event. “The leaders at the distribution center jumped at the opportunity,” Maxwell said. Team Depot volunteered for a full session this summer, which ran Monday through Friday during the first week of June. The volunteers were paired with riders – some who needed physical support until they got comfortable with the bike, and others who simply needed someone to cheer them on. “Throughout the week, the riders start at a nice, slow pace, and as the week goes on and they get more confident, their skill level goes up and we’re running. We decided next year, we’re going to start running a month or two before to make sure we’re in shape for it,” Maxwell joked. From a parent’s perspective, Maxwell said he feels the iCan Bike program has reinforced the idea that his daughter can accomplish anything she wants. He has hopes that an iCan Swim program will make its way to Topeka in the future, and he says Team Depot will participate again. “It’s such a great program, for not only the riders, but for the volunteers,” Maxwell said. “The pure joy on their faces when they do it for the first time. It’s an emotional ride and extremely rewarding.” For more information on how to volunteer for the iCan Bike program, call Terri Steinman, ESCF volunteer coordinator, at (785) 272-4060. Shanna Sloyer is a freelance writer in Topeka. She can be reached at ssloyer@yahoo.com.

The iCan Bike program aims to teach individuals with special needs how to ride a two-wheeled bicycle. A full session ran this summer at the beginning of June. [SUBMITTED]

A volunteer helps a children with special needs master riding a two-wheeled bicycle through the iCan Bike program. [SUBMITTED]

As the iCan Bike participants gain proficiency and confidence, the volunteers often get a workout as they jog with the bike riders. [SUBMITTED]


18 Sunday, November 18, 2018 The Topeka Capital-Journal

Forge Inspire Committee looks for volunteer opportunities By Linda Ditch lindaditch@gmail.com

One fall Saturday, members of the Forge Inspire Committee partnered with First Presbyterian Church to have an Inspiring a Healthy Community event. The free, kid-friendly morning featured presentations from the Topeka Police and Fire departments, as well as Grace Med, on the resources available for health and safety. The volunteers served breakfast and gave out food bags and other community resource information. This was the kind of community involvement the Forge committee likes to offer to their members. Kevin Burton, director of corporate development for Topeka Civic Theater, and chairman of the Forge Inspire Committee, said, “We try to partner with as many community organizations and events as possible.” The Forge mission is to attract and retain young talent in Topeka. Co-chairwoman Carolyn Zeller, senior community development manager for the American Cancer Society, said volunteer opportunities are an important part of that mission. “It’s an important aspect for young professionals to be able to give back to their communities,” Burton said. “It’s something we routinely hear when we talk with new young professionals. They are looking for ways to get involved in the community and learn more, and this is a great opportunity for them to do both of those things, whether it’s partnering with an organization to

Forge volunteer Richard Kelly passes out plates of food during the Inspiring a Healthy Community event at First Presbyterian Church where they provide breakfast, hygiene kits and food. [CHRIS NEAL/THE CAPITALJOURNAL]

learn more or giving back of their time and energy.” The Inspire Committee tries to offer one to two volunteer opportunities a month for its membership. Recently members helped with the American Cancer Society’s Relay for Life and the Works from the Heart event put on by Family Service and Guidance Center. In the next few months, they will participate in the CASA Home for the Holidays Tour and the Festival of Trees. In the spring, they will host an Easter egg hunt for the Topeka Rescue Mission, complete with the Easter bunny, crafts and two egg

Chairman Kevin Burton, right, and co-chairwoman Carolyn Zeller talk about how the Forge Inspire Committee connects young professionals with ways to give back to the community. [CHRIS NEAL/ THE CAPITAL-JOURNAL]

hunts — one for younger kids and one for older. For Halloween, Forge

volunteers helped with Trick-or-Treat on the Trail at the Pine Ridge and

Montara neighborhood Born Learning Trails. These trails are paths filled with ageappropriate activities to help parents and caregivers create school-readiness learning opportunities for young children. The Forge group handed out candy, books and other treats along the trail. This past April, the group had a Forge Young Professional Day of Service, where young professionals throughout the community partnered with organizations to volunteer for an afternoon. More than a dozen companies provided 100-plus volunteers to help work on a number of community projects. Volunteering was an important part of Zeller’s high school and college experience, and is typically a requirement for graduation. Volunteer work led to her career as the senior community development manager for the American Cancer Society. “I think it’s very important for people to continue to volunteer. I’m proud that it’s such a huge aspect of Forge and that we are all so passionate about it. Volunteering makes you a more well-rounded individual. You care more about where you live.” Burton added, “More businesses are recognizing that as well by allowing time for their employees to go and volunteer and give back on company time.” Approximately 100 Forge members volunteer each year, with around 12 per event. To learn more the group and the Inspire Committee, visit www.topekaforge.org. Linda Ditch is a freelance writer in Topeka. She can be reached at lindaaditch@gmail.com.


The Topeka Capital-Journal Sunday, November 18, 2018 19

Are you Topeka? More than a T-shirt, ‘I am Topeka’ is a call for community pride

“I love Topeka. It’s the city I chose, but sometimes I don’t like it very much. Sometimes where you live makes you mad. ‘I am Topeka’ made me feel like I have a responsibility to this community because I am a part of this community.”

By Samantha Egan samantha.egan@advisorsexcel.com

Jenny Torrence was mortified last Black Friday when a St. Louis couple, in town to visit the Evel Knievel Museum, came into Pinkadilly, Torrence’s North Topeka boutique, and told her multiple people had urged them to keep moving since “there is nothing to do Topeka.” Torrence owns two other businesses in North Topeka: Serendipity and NOTO Burrito. She sits on the board of directors for North Topeka, the Chamber of Commerce and Visit Topeka and works with the Small Business Council. When it comes to the happenings about town, Torrence not only knows about them, she take pride in them. That’s why, days after she directed the St. Louis couple to Topeka spots that suited their interests, Torrence was still bothered. Not at the couple but at the pessimism toward the city where Torrence has spent most of her life. “I take it personally,” she said. “I think about some of my close friends who haven’t lived in Topeka for 20 years but perpetuate a negativity about Topeka. And I’m like: ‘You’re talking trash on me. I am Topeka.’” And that is when Torrence got an idea. “I started thinking, ‘We have to own this,’” she said. “If we were just to embrace who we are and be proud of it, it would be a whole different ballpark.” Soon after inspiration hit,

Tara Dimick, owner and publisher of TK Magazine

Jenny Torrence shows her “I am Topeka” T-shirts that she sells at Pinkadilly, her store in North Topeka. [CHRIS NEAL/THE CAPITAL-JOURNAL]

Torrence told her friend, Tara Dimick, owner and publisher of TK Magazine and senior vice president of business development of Envista Credit Union, that she wanted to create T-shirts with the phrase “I am Topeka” and sell them at Pinkadilly. The message immediately resonated with Dimick. “I love Topeka. It’s the city I chose, but sometimes I don’t like it very much,” she said. “Sometimes where you live makes you mad. ‘I am Topeka’ made me feel like I have a responsibility to this community because I am a part of this community.” The original shirt design is simple: gray with a white uppercase font, which Torrence said is meant to represent the labels people give themselves and each

other. Since the shirts hit shelves at the beginning of the year, Torrence estimates she has sold 1,500 shirts, 500 of which went to Envista Credit Union, who purchased the shirts for employees to wear during community outreach efforts around the city. “We really want our staff to love this community,” Dimick said. As part of efforts to keep employees engaged, Envista also publishes a newsletter about Topeka events and activities. “I know we’re Envista, but, first, we’re Topeka,” Dimick said. “We don’t want our employees to leave. We want them to stay here.” Dimick also started an “I am Topeka” series in TK Business Magazine that

profiles local entrepreneurs. While these business owners have made a commitment to the city by setting up shop here, Dimick acknowledges that it isn’t always a love fest. “We’ve featured people who have felt both pain and love for Topeka. You need to feel both to be ‘I am Topeka,’” Dimick said. “It’s kinda like family. It doesn’t always work out perfectly, but we don’t stop showing up. Even if we don’t always like the outcome, we find another way to participate or engage.” Beyond T-shirts, Torrence spreads the "I am Topeka” message through social media using the hashtag #IAMTOPEKA to highlight fun things happening around the city and encourage

others to do the same. Searching the hashtag on Facebook and Instagram brings up a slew of results, from foodies relishing a great doughnut to a local art gallery showcasing new pottery from a local artist. “We have some pretty spectacular things here,” Torrence said. “If we would hashtag #IAMTOPEKA and really put a spotlight on this killer community, I think we can move past the negativity.” Looking ahead, Torrence said she hopes “I am Topeka” continues to gain traction and empower Topekans to change the conversation when faced with negativity. “We are this fun town,” Torrence said. “However people want to represent what Topeka is up to them, they just need to embrace it and rock it.” Samantha Egan is a freelance writer in northeast Kansas. She can be reached at samantha. egan@advisorsexcel.com.


20 Sunday, November 18, 2018 The Topeka Capital-Journal

An increasing number of events are being held along the Kansas River as part of an Activate the River effort. [SUBMITTED/THE CAPITAL-JOURNAL]

Duo’s volunteer efforts aimed at activating Kansas River By Chris Marshall marshallartist09@gmail.com

The backgrounds Eric Purcell and Robby Sachs bring to Heartland Visioning’s Activate the River subcommittee couldn’t be more different. Purcell, like many lifelong Topekans, believed until recently that a relaxing day on the river required a drive to another town or state. On the other hand, Sachs is the owner of Kaw River Adventures and knows from experience the Kansas River can be enjoyed by even the most casual of paddlers. Together, the Activate the River co-chairmen hope to make the river a recreational and commercial destination that attracts a steady stream of visitors in Topeka. “What we’d like to see, long-term, is a river district area surrounded by NOTO on the north and a thriving downtown on the south,” Purcell said, “with a continuous flow of activity throughout the region.” Purcell also serves as

Robby Sachs, owner of Kaw River Adventures and co-chairman of Heartland Visioning’s Activate the River subcommittee, hope that he, along with co-chairman Eric Purcell, can turn the Kansas River into a recreational and commercial destination for Topekans and visitors. [CHRIS NEAL/THE CAPITAL-JOURNAL]

treasurer of the Topeka/ Shawnee County Riverfront Authority, which encourages investment in the river district for the development of

retail, entertainment, recreation and housing. With the help of Kansas Riverkeeper Dawn Buehler and fellow volunteers, Purcell and Sachs took

steps to make that growth a reality with a pair of new events in 2018. “The Friends of the Kaw have been a huge help,” Sachs said of the 501(c)(3)

nonprofit organization, “and Dawn has a plethora of volunteers who have been absolutely amazing helping us with events.” Capital Paddle attracted about 60 people to travel 2.5 to 3 miles along the Kansas River on May 26, and a Paddling on the Kaw pop-up park drew a crowd of about 200 on June 30. The latter was along the river basin between Topeka Boulevard and Kansas Avenue and in addition to kayaking and canoeing, included disc golf, music, and horseshoe and volleyball courts set up on sand dunes in the middle of the river. “We had to limit attendance to keep it manageable,” Purcell said. “My goal is to open it up to the public, where everyone who wants to come can bring their own kayak. I’m looking forward to that the most in 2019. This was the inaugural year, so doing it each and every year would be terrific.” Sachs expects as events like this grow in size and


The Topeka Capital-Journal Sunday, November 18, 2018 21

People travel the Kansas River in kayaks as part of the Activate the River efforts. [SUBMITTED/THE CAPITAL-JOURNAL]

number, misconceptions about the river’s dangers will wash away. “Our vision is to educate people about all the recreation opportunities the river can provide, as well as safety effects,” Sachs said. “Most Topekans are scared to death of the river, due to bad press and people doing unfortunate things that are unsafe. The goal is to promote and educate the fact that it can be navigated safely.” One way to achieve that

goal is reaching potential river-goers at an early age. Purcell said possibilities for additional events in 2019 include a partnership with the Topeka Science Tech Fest in October. Competitions tying into the science theme could include crafting rafts to see how long they float, a duck race and educational river activities. “We’d like to get different age group competitions, from 6 to 8 on up,” Purcell said. “And if we

get that age, why not get older siblings and maybe extend it to parents?” Sachs has witnessed the river’s widespread appeal by operating Kaw River Adventures, which started offering trips down the Kansas River in 2017, and since has expanded to include camping, fishing, hiking and even cabin rental in Silver Lake. But part of why Purcell wants to reach younger Topekans is because it wasn’t until his 30s that

he finally recognized the fun the river could offer. A presentation by Buehler and the Friends of the Kaw at a September 2017 Heartland Visioning meeting opened his eyes to the river’s possibilities, leading him to dive headfirst into efforts to spread the word. “On a normal Saturday afternoon, you might see 15 paddlers going down the river,” he said. “You probably didn’t see that 10 years ago. Not stereotypical

river rats, just active people who have active lifestyles. You’d like to see people be able to kayak on the river, park their boats between the Topeka Boulevard and Kansas Avenue bridges, and enjoy an afternoon at local businesses. The river presents that type of opportunity.” Chris Marshall is a freelance writer in Topeka. He can be reached at marshallartist09@ gmail.com.


22 Sunday, November 18, 2018 The Topeka Capital-Journal

TCT volunteers do so much more than punch tickets By Max Wirestone maxcrowe@gmail.com

If you think volunteering for the Topeka Civic Theatre means punching tickets and ushering people to their seats, Chelle Decker, the theater’s director of resource development, is ready to disabuse you of the notion. “There are so many things behind the scenes that keep the train moving,” Decker said. Not just the obvious theater tasks, but also mundane but yet crucial tasks, such as laundry. “If you have a show with 50 actors — with costume changes — imagine how much laundry that is to do on the nights that there isn’t a show,” Decker said. And there is often a show. The Topeka Civic Theatre, at 3028 S.W. 8th, also manages the Helen Hocker Theater in Gage Park with the county. Between the two locations, more than 20 productions are put on each year. That doesn’t include, Decker is quick to point out, extras the theater does, such as Project Terror — the annual Haunted Experience — or any of the theater’s four performing companies. But all of it, shows and extras, is managed by volunteers. More than 550 of them. “We have a massive army of volunteers that we use to make all of that possible,” Decker said. That includes actors, stage crew, costume designers, strike crews and more. Decker noted that volunteers don’t just work in the theater, but also in day-to-day tasks that audiences often don’t think about, such as answering the phone, running the box office or doing administrative work. Decker credits having such a high number of volunteers to the diversity of tasks — and to the positive environment of the theater. Janet Radziejeski, who volunteers at the front of house and the box office, feels exactly the same way. “It’s a couple of hours at a time, and it’s a nice shot of good feelings,” Radziejeski said. “Everybody comes in already a good mood, ready to have a good time. And it’s very positive to be surrounded by happy people.” Radziejeski started volunteering at the theater several years ago, when her daughter was employed there.

From left, Max Vinyard, Rachel Meyer, Jean Ryan and Isi Castaneda are volunteer performers at Topeka Civic Theatre, performing “Click, Clack, Boo!” [THAD ALLTON/THE CAPITAL-JOURNAL]

“It’s a couple of hours at a time, and it’s a nice shot of good feelings. Everybody comes in already a good mood, ready to have a good time. And it’s very positive to be surrounded by happy people.” Janet Radziejeski volunteer From left, Tom Heere, Doug Exline and Rollie Marolf are helping build sets at the Topeka Civic Theatre. [THAD ALLTON/THE CAPITAL-JOURNAL]


The Topeka Capital-Journal Sunday, November 18, 2018 23

Her daughter since has taken a different position, but Radziejeski kept volunteering because she enjoyed the work. “They do make their volunteers feel appreciated,” Radziejeski said. Decker said Radziejeski’s experience wasn’t unusual in that TCT has many volunteers who have stayed for 30, even 40 years. “We’re very lucky,” Decker said. “People like being here.” For Grace Morrison, a retired OB-GYN physician who loved in theater in high school, volunteering has given her a chance to reconnect with the arts. “I knew that when my last kid got out of the house,” Morrison said, “I wanted to get back into theater.” Morrison has acted in “10 or 11 shows” now, most of them musicals, which she said were her favorite. “It’s so expressive,” Morrison said. “It can express a feeling that you can’t have just on the written page.” Since then, Morrison has helped with fundraising, organizing and even serving on the committee that helps select the plays to be performed for the next season, which Morrison called “time-consuming but very enjoyable.” Like Radziejeski, Morrison said TCT was “a joyful place to be.” “Whether or not you feel you have talent, it’s a way to get involved in the arts and support it. And you may find you have talents that you’re not aware of, even it’s just a smile,” Radziejeski said. Max Wirestone is a freelance writer in northeast Kansas. He can be reached at maxcrowe@gmail.com.

From left, Kay Kimball and Betty King are office volunteers at Topeka Civic Theatre. [THAD ALLTON/THE CAPITAL-JOURNAL]


24 Sunday, November 18, 2018 The Topeka Capital-Journal

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Topeka Capital-Journal Special Section: Power Players 2018