Hometown Agency Heroes

December 15, 2014

Geoff Sterner, owner of Genesis Insurance Group Inc. based in Fort Worth, Texas, part of Goosehead Insurance (formerly TWG Insurance), witnessed a woman choking and no one was doing anything about it.

“It was a situation that required immediate action, and for some reason others were just watching instead of jumping in,” Sterner said.

Sterner was attending a fundraising event for the local association of REALTORS at the Fort Worth Stock Show and Rodeo when Leigh York, a broker with CENTURY 21, began choking.

Someone in the crowd screamed Sterner’s name.

“That is what initially got my attention. Why they thought of me as the person that could remedy this I will never know,” Sterner said. “I am just thankful I could be in the position to help at a time of need.”

“Lots of people were staring at me and pointing but no one was helping,” York said. “It was very surreal. I was at the point where my brain was telling me that I was losing consciousness when I felt someone reach around me and lift me up. Geoff did save my life.”

York began breathing and Sterner walked away. “I didn’t see his face until almost an hour later. I had to ask someone else who it was that saved me. I found him and now we’re friends,” York said.

Sterner attributes his knowledge of the Heimlich manuever to his third grade class. “For whatever reason it stuck.”

Heffernan’s charitable efforts start at the top. F. Michael Heffernan, president and CEO, is a firm believer in giving back. He formalized the agency’s Charitable Giving Program in 2002. The program incorporates volunteerism, funding and education.

He has been named as a Top Corporate Philanthropist every year since 2003.

“By providing employees with the chance to participate during the work week, he consistently sends a positive message. We are a fortunate group of people who are encouraged and nurtured in the workplace and have a chance to pay it forward,” wrote one employee at Heffernan.

At the suggestion of a co-worker and in light of the success of Bat-Kid SF, this year Heffernan began a new endeavor – Make-a-Wish for Children.

Heffernan serves as a board member for Vision of Hope, Collective Impact (a nonprofit he founded to serve underprivileged middle school kids living in public housing in San Francisco), as well as PreCare, Patra, the Scudder Roofing Advisory Board, and the Heffernan Foundation.

In 2006, he launched Heffernan Foundation to serve nonprofits that provide direct services in the areas of shelter, food, education and the preservation of the environment.

Annually, Heffernan employees volunteer 5,000 hours to community causes and are also offered employer-matching of charitable contributions. Heffernan gave more than 10 percent of profits to charity in 2013.

New to 2014, Heffernan sponsored a “Family Give Back Saturday,” where all offices have the opportunity to participate with their families in a park or beach cleanup.

There’s also the “Dollars for Do-ers” program (volunteer 50 or 25 hours for a nonprofit, and Heffernan will donate $500 and $250, respectively).

Joy In The Cause provides care, compassion, and joy through one personal act of kindness at a time, according to director, Lisa Bain. The nonprofit delivers care packages daily to patients with life altering illness or special needs.

“Rich & Cartmill Inc. have truly been heroes in every sense of the word to some very special kids that we work with,” Bain said.

Bain’s charity partners with a Tulsa nonprofit Tulsa called Little Lighthouse, a tuition-free Christian developmental center for children with special needs, ages birth to six years old.

Every month Joy In the Cause volunteers visit these children and bring a special therapy dog named Mavis Pearl. She is a tutu-wearing English Bulldog the kids love. Mavis Pearl has her very own stuffed Mavis Pearl blessing dog with handmade outfits. These dogs are sponsored and sent out to patients.

In the last year Rich & Cartmill employees have not only volunteered to help Joy In the Cause make stuffed dog outfits on their lunch breaks, but also sponsored a stuffed Mavis dog to be delivered to every child at Little Lighthouse.

“The smiles and joy these little stuffed dogs brought to these kids was indescribable,” Bain said. “They also helped Joy In the Cause bring a Christmas celebration to these special kids. They sponsored a special book and stuffed animal for each child.”

Bain said: “We are truly overwhelmed with their giving and support. They are hands on! They help in the smallest of ways and the biggest. From dressing a little stuffed dog to sponsoring so each student could receive a gift….they are givers and heroes in every sense of the word.”

Clarkson is a mother – a 60-year-old single mother of five adopted children.

She had been raising three daughters (Joy Lee, 14; Julia Lin, 12; and Jennifer Lian, 10), and a few years ago adopted again – a 7 year old boy (Joseph Louis Cheng, now 10) with physical disabilities. All of Clarkson’s children were adopted from China and arrived in the states without being able to speak any English.

“Jan worked tirelessly with her children to help acculturate them to their new country, and she devotes all her time and energy to them – ensuring that any setbacks or disabilities are not a hindrance to their development and ability to lead full and happy lives,” wrote Erin Larrabee, communications specialist at The IMA Financial Group Inc.

Clarkson recently decided that she wanted to do more to help children. As a result and against challenging odds, she was recently approved to adopt another son – a 10-year old boy from Linyi, China. Shen Jie, who was given the American name of Joshua Lawrence Shen, “Josh” for short by his four siblings, was born with a treatable form of spina bifida called Meningocele.

Adopting another child meant time away from work. For Clarkson’s boss, missing a few days at the job didn’t matter. “We have all hired people through the years that we feel can make a difference with our clients,” said Mike Whipps, president of IMA. “I think it is much harder to find a person who can truly make a difference in someone’s life. Or in this case, multiple lives!”

In Clarkson’s view, she’s the real winner. “What’s really amazing is that these great kids continue to have hope even after starting life with nothing,” she said. “I think I am the luckiest woman in the world to be given the chance to be their mom and watch them grow. It is the best thing that has ever happened to me.”

One of those individuals was Celedinas Insurance Group’s Kyle Henderson.

After his son, Foster, was first diagnosed with ASD in 1999, Henderson decided to do everything in his power to enhance the life of his son and others affected by the disorder. That’s when he became involved in the Autism Project of Palm Beach County (APPBC), a parent-driven organization striving to not only provide the tools and services for children and families directly affected by ASD, but also heighten public awareness and inform their opinions.

At the time, the APPBC had only been in existence for three years and the local ASD community was still lacking a centralized location for education, support and service necessary for these children and families. Henderson became involved in the organization, co-chairing the Annual Food & Wine Festival, creating golf tournaments, and he continues to help grow the organization as a member of the board of directors.

Henderson’s involvement with APPBC led him to enrolling his son and sitting on the board of the Renaissance Learning Center while Foster was still in middle school. During that time he helped open the Renaissance Learning Academy in 2009, a local charter school for grades 9-12 dedicated to education, job training and tailored therapy programs for young adults with ASD.

Whether he’s in a wetsuit helping children catch a wave with Surfers for Autism, swinging a club at the Els for Autism golf challenge series, or throwing on his sneakers for a 5K supporting the Rooney Foundation, on the weekends, Henderson is actively supporting the cause.

“Families of children with life-limiting conditions are thrown into extremely challenging situations that were never expected. Their lives are changed forever,” says Katie Lindenfelser, executive director of Crescent Cove, a nonprofit dedicated to building a children’s hospice home.

Matt Christensen, a property/casualty marketing technician in the Minneapolis office, assisted his wife, Katie with founding Crescent Cove in 2009. Katie and Matt established the organization after Katie spent time in Melbourne, Australia, at a children’s hospice and recognized what a gift this place was for children with life-limiting conditions and their families.

Crescent Cove – while still in the development fundraising stage – will be a family-focused place of short respite breaks beyond the traditional hospital or home environment to offer physical and emotional respite. It will offer therapy rooms and family suites. It is designed so that families may stay together while enjoying a temporary vacation from the constant demands of caregiving.

It will be the first of its kind in the Midwest and only the fourth to be built in the United States. There are about 40 hospice homes for children in the world, while there are more than 4,700 to serve adults.

With the support of the Harmon Killebrew Hospice Home for Kids Fund, Crescent Cove is now close to its fundraising goal and closer to making this dream a reality for the Minnesota community.

Today, outside of his time at Hays Cos., Matt spends 15 hours a week as Crescent Cove’s secretary of the board and assisting with business operations, running financial reports, building the network, interviewing board members and helping to fundraise.

Hays Cos. supports Crescent Cove. It is one of the top corporate sponsors at the annual Crescent Cove Galas and handles the the organization’s insurance.