VUE magazine strives to make a difference by signifying compassion and community above all else. In order to do so, the VUE makes it a mission to incite community participation in charitable and beneficent endeavors throughout the area. While fulfilling this mission through the years, the VUE has come into contact with many people who’ve exemplified what it really means to make a difference.
The VUE would like to introduce some of these extraordinary people as VUElebrities. These VUElebrities are individuals in the community who have a true servant’s heart—meaning that they are the kind of people who are always helping others and expect nothing in return, no matter the circumstance. What makes these people VUElebrities is that they can be found throughout many of the VUE’s previous issues, constantly demonstrating what it means to be dedicated to making the community a better place through charity and volunteering.
In honor of the many VUElebrities who volunteer their time to this community, these next three stories are the first of a VUElebrity series that represent remarkable acts of charity that the VUE is blessed to share.
In the first story, wonderful mother Jill York charges the second story with a motivating narrative about how she jumps into freezing water every single winter for her son at the Wester Kentucky Polar Plunge. Get a firsthand account at how her act of bravery goes to fundraise her son’s endeavors as a Special Olympics athlete.
The second story takes a look at the astounding ventures of Chris Henderson. Hear about how this passionate worker not only works a full-time job and exercises 12-15 hours a week, but also makes time to volunteer for organizations like Business Network International and compete in many races benefiting charity.
Meet angelic servicer Stacy Thomas in the fourth story. Read about her testament to academic enhancement as she describes what it’s like to help children succeed in high school through her role as the McCracken County High School Youth Services Center Coordinator.
Although the people in these stories are just a few of the many VUElebrities who have dedicated so much time to making a difference, these stories offer inspiring insight into the beauty of being selfless.
Dedicated mother Jill York has been involved with the Western Kentucky Polar Plunge for many years, but it wasn’t until 2013 that she started taking the extraordinary plunge herself. Now, each year at the Kentucky Dam Village State Resort Park, York joins many other able bodies and plunges into icy water for Jacob, her son and “reason for freezing.”
The Western Kentucky Polar Plunge is a fundraiser event held each year in February to benefit Kentucky’s Special Olympics, an inclusive sports organization for people with intellectual and physical disabilities that offers year-round sports and health programming. To raise money, participants can plunge into freezing water, run a 5K, spectate, donate or volunteer.
York became involved with the Western Kentucky Polar Plunge because of its direct benefit to her son Jacob. Jacob is special needs and has been a Special Olympics athlete since he was eight years old. The money raised from the plunge allows Jacob and other special needs kids to travel and compete in various sporting events without paying anything. The money raised also goes to cover expenses such as transportation, food and hotel costs.
“A lot of families can’t afford to travel out of town for a weekend and stay in a nice hotel for multiple nights. But with the fundraising from the Polar Plunge, everything from meals to activities gets paid for. It just helps so many families and children of special needs feel included,” said York.
York’s first experiences with the Western Kentucky Polar Plunge were through spectating and watching the event. However, when she began to realize how many people with no personal connection to Special Olympics were participating, she knew that she was ready to take the plunge.
“I just started noticing all the people plunging that didn’t have any connection to Special Olympics or have a special needs child. To see what they were doing to raise money for kids like mine was amazing,” said York. “I thought that if they could jump in the cold water and not even have a child with special needs then there’s no reason that I couldn’t.”
For York, the most rewarding part of taking the plunge is to share the experience with Jacob. Although Jacob can’t participate himself, he is always on the sidelines cheering on his mom. York even had a poster of Jacob made that she takes to the plunge each year to show extra support for her son and the incredible opportunities he is given through Special Olympics.
“Jacob is so easy-going. He is always happy and fun to be around. He loves to hug people and make their day,” said York. “He is always in a good mood and I can tell how excited he gets for me when I take the plunge. Being able to share that with him and contribute to an organization that helps him just makes me feel really blessed.”
As the event continues, York makes it her mission to keep taking the plunge each year. She hopes to not only help her son and countless other children with special needs continue to be athletic and make friends through Special Olympics, but to also help the parents see their kids happy and healthy.
Paducah-native Chris Henderson spends most of his days managing and operating Jason’s Collision Center. However, under the professional exterior of an auto body shop manager, Henderson is a fitness junkie that trains himself between 12-15 hours a week through biking and running. In an attempt to combine his love of working with his dedication to staying active, Henderson services the community in many unique and valuable ways.
When Henderson isn’t biking and running, he is involving himself in some of the community’s most impactful organizations and charitable events.
Henderson is involved in the Business Network International (BNI) Impact Chapter of Paducah. The group meets once a week and consists of members of the community concerned with professionalism and business. While BNI mainly networks and gives referrals, Henderson’s role involves helping to get new members and educating visitors about the chapter.
As well as being a member of BNI, Henderson will be joining the Merryman House Domestic Crisis Center board in 2020 to help serve and make executive decisions for the emergency shelter that they operate.
In addition to the aforementioned organizations Henderson dedicates his extra time to, he also participates in various events that coincide with his love of fitness. Henderson participates in the charitable Beethoven 5K that raises money for the Paducah Symphony Orchestra, as well as volunteering for Paducah’s annual Moonlight Bikeride for Bike World, running the Iron Mom half-marathon, BBQ on the River 5K and participating in the Big Brown Truck Pull.
The charitable and welcoming members of the community serve as the initial driving force that helps to get Henderson involved in so many beneficial things. From there, he has been able to seek out events and organizations unique to his interests and strengths that help him to make a real difference.
“I love to combine my love of biking and running with my love of charity,” said Henderson. “But above all, I like giving my time back to the community and others in need. I love meeting new people and seeing what brings interest to others in our area.”
Henderson also credits his involvement in the community as one of his biggest passions.
“I love bringing a smile to people’s faces. I love getting people out of the house and involved in the community whether it be through outdoor activities or business ventures,” said Henderson. “Just seeing everybody have a good time and bringing the community together is one of the most wonderful things.”
Along with being such a dedicated member of the community, Henderson finds even more time to be the head coach of the St. Mary’s cross country team.
“Working with kids grades K-12 to coach and teach the youth about the fundamental values of running and strategies to improve their fitness has been so rewarding,” said Henderson. “I love working with young people in the community and helping them achieve success through fitness.”
Henderson strives to grow and stay involved in the small but inspiring community that he lives in. Though he lives an extremely active lifestyle, he never stops taking the time and going the extra mile for those around him. It’s because of his hard work and dedication that Paducah is able to maintain so many events and organizations.
Throughout the trials and tribulations of growing up, those who have gone through high school know that there are many barriers to overcome to achieve success. For students at Mccracken County High School, Stacy Thomas is their guardian angel working tirelessly to help students of all backgrounds achieve that success in many different ways.
Thomas serves as the Youth Service Center Coordinator at McCracken County High School. The Youth Service Center, a proponent of Family Resource, maintains a goal to help eliminate any barriers that might hinder a student on their path of academic enhancement. These barriers include but are not limited to, college and career readiness and job development. The center also provides prevention programs, assists in helping to connect families and students to mental health and connects them with resources in the community servicing basic needs.
Before shifting her focus to education, Thomas worked for the Paducah Chamber of Commerce for 10 years. This work helped Thomas to get involved in the community by directing the Leadership Paducah and Youth LEAD programs.
“A lot of my work was to build relationships in the community with businesses and agencies, as well as connecting businesses and education together,” said Thomas. “That really helped my role in the community as far as making connections and serving on different boards. My heart has been to train and professionally develop people, whether or not they’re a student or an individual in the community.”
Due to her compassionate attitude and selfless work, Thomas finds her lifelong passion to be helping people get connected to resources and making sure that they have the best life possible. So when the opportunity to be the Youth Service Center Coordinator at McCracken County High School presented itself, Thomas knew that it was time to offer her experience to the young people of the community seeking out extra help.
“I had two very hardworking parents growing up, but we didn’t have a lot financially. The work that I get to do now offers services that I would’ve utilized when I was growing up,” said Thomas. “So a lot of the work that I do is a testament to where I come from and how people helped me along the way. They saw something of value in me that was worth investing in. So I felt like the Youth Services Center was a good fit despite the big transition from business to education.”
Thomas’s years in business lend a helping hand to her work in education. The connections that she has made through her business and community endeavors benefit her work with the Youth Services Center when helping students with activities involving community service by allowing her to connect them with non-profit agencies. This gives students a firsthand look at what it takes to get a job and make themselves involved. Through this kind of support, the Youth Services Center also helps students get jobs and prepare for life after high school.
All while maintaining a busy and tiring job, Thomas remains passionate and dedicated to helping as many kids as she can succeed and make a positive life for themselves. She also makes time to thank the people who have helped her to help others.
“When I didn’t think that I had enough value to be successful in life, there were people that rallied around me that saw something in me that I didn’t see in myself,” said Thomas. “And I’m so glad that God put me on this path and chose me to put myself into the community and help those in need. It is truly an honor.”
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