Citizen Dane: Ripples of relief

Our inaugural Citizen Dane presentation gives a shout out to four selfless citizens.

From the pages of In Business magazine.

A community’s heroes don’t often fly under the radar, for they usually are prominent enough to make positive headlines. So, we decided to launch a program to honor Dane County’s unsung givers and in the process, sing their praises.

We call it Citizen Dane, and with apologies to Wisconsin and Hollywood icon Orson Welles, who starred in the classic movie with a similar sounding name, we think they offer blockbuster examples of what unsung heroes can do.

Our first class of Citizen Dane honorees, and the nonprofit organizations they serve, are:

  • Jesi Hartman, Wisconsin Academy of Graduate Service Dogs;
  • Holly Hill-Putnam, Dane County Humane Society;
  • Cory Recknor, American Cancer Society; and
  • Janet Bybee, Middleton Outreach Ministry.

As you will come to know, their causes are their passions, and they all have a special message for people who are interested in devoting themselves to a cause but have yet to fully commit: The rewards are many — thanks to the ripples of relief you provide.

Jesi Hartman

Wagging the dog

Jesi Hartman’s husband Justin had a concern about her interest in becoming a volunteer service dog trainer for WAGS (Wisconsin Academy of Graduate Service Dogs). He didn’t think she could, after spending about 18 months with a service dog, just let go of the animal, but when she saw how much the trained service dogs mean to people with disabilities, it was easier to start the process over again.

WAGS volunteers have trained service dogs to serve people with disabilities for more than 30 years, and Hartman, an account executive with WKOW in Madison, is on her tenth canine trainee. For humans who work with the dogs and prepare them to serve the disabled, WAGS has a training director who works with individual trainers and trainers as a group to keep things on track. The dogs will accompany trainers, and the disabled people they eventually serve, just about anywhere, including restaurants and grocery stores.

The training commitment is such that Hartman spends more time with the dogs than any human, but she’s still able to let go when the time comes. “They are really with me more than anyone else, and you definitely bond with them. There is just no way around that,” she explains. “You fall in love and you create a bond that’s so strong that it’s very difficult to say goodbye, but when I see them being paired with somebody else, and when I see the positive impact that they have on somebody’s life, it’s a life-changing thing.”

Holly Hill-Putnam

Soaring, spirited pursuit

Holly Hill-Putnam might have hit the volunteerism nail on the head by posing the following question. “How many pursuits can make your spirit soar?”

For Hill-Putnam, the answer has been volunteering at the Dane County Humane Society, where she has spent more than 14,000 hours, many of them in the Animal Medical Services area helping animals to recover from spay and neuter surgery. Hill-Putnam got started with the Humane Society in 2012 when she had to leave her job as a restaurant manager to care for parents who both had Alzheimers. While providing care for them, she needed a stress-reliever — a way to stay in contact with people (and animals) and not get isolated.

Supportive husband Rollie stepped up to the plate and helped so that Holly could spend a few hours a week at the humane society. Hill-Putnam has tried on a lot of different hats with the organization, but perhaps her most significant impact has been with the Wildlife Focus Group, where she’s part of a team that cares for sick, injured, and orphaned wildlife with the goal of releasing them back to their home environment.

“It’s a heartwarming feeling to be recognized for doing something I love,” she states. “It’s a lot of hours but they just fly by. The feeling you get helping orphaned and injured animals at the Wildlife Center or helping a little puppy or kitten recover from surgery is worth every second invested. I go home every day and truly feel like I did something worthwhile.”



Cory Recknor

Cancer-fighting ambassador

Cory Recknor was shocked to learn of his Citizen Dane honor, but when you’re an effective cancer fighter, recognition will come. Recknor, who in 2018 served his second year as the Chairman of the Coaches vs. Cancer Wisconsin Board of Ambassadors, has been instrumental in the success of the local Coaches vs. Cancer program.

Recknor, the CFO of Research Products Corp., got involved through a friend. At the time, family members and friends were being diagnosed with cancer, which placed him in a lot of company because many people have been impacted by cancer in some way. Recknor used his financial acumen and connections to drive a successful fundraising strategy in which new executive-level volunteer board members were recruited to each raise a minimum of $10,000.

Recknor’s ability to form business boards also came in handy when former UW Men’s Basketball Coach Bo Ryan, a driving force behind Coaches vs. Cancer, retired in 2015 and some board members departed. Back then, the program faced a bit of a crossroads, but rebuilding the board has paid dividends for cancer victims.

Recknor points with pride to the 27 percent reduction in cancer death rates since 1991, noting that it’s mostly due to funds raised for cancer research. “Once you get involved, you begin to see these things, and you see directly how the money we’ve raised in Madison affects so many people,” he notes. “It’s easy to continue to do the work, to continue to want to do the work, and feel like you’re making a difference in people’s lives.”

Janet Bybee

MOM knows best

Janet Bybee’s sympathetic ear has served the community well, first in her role as an administrative assistant for the Middleton-Cross Plains School District, and now as a super volunteer for Middleton Outreach Ministry. In each role, her empathy has helped people going through a rough patch.

Through action and advocacy, Middleton Outreach Ministry, or MOM, has a mission to create food and housing security. The organization runs a food pantry that is open six days a week all year round, and serves, on average, 65 households each day. It relies on a network of dedicated volunteers, and given her tireless work for MOM over the past 13 years, Bybee is described as the glue that holds the organization together.

She serves MOM in two roles — one as a front desk receptionist and another in the MOM food and clothing distribution center. “When I worked within the school system, I was an administrative assistant, so I dealt with many kids and outside persons that came in on a daily basis,” Bybee recalls. “That gives me some insight as to how to approach and perhaps help people who are very much under stress and seeking the services we offer.”

Bybee believes that volunteerism gives her a better connection to the community. “By volunteering, one can have a small part in providing solutions for those who may be experiencing stressful times,” she notes. “The MOM organization strives to provide a ray of hope within the community it serves.”

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