The north wind shows no mercy outside the Wal-Mart on Barry Road off Interstate 29, but Harold Hepfer pays no heed. His mantra—“Good to see you this morning!”—rises above the wind, accompanied by the energetic clanging of a small brass bell in one gloved hand.
Christmas is coming, and Harold Hepfer is at his post. The 73-year-old stalwart of Salvation Army bell-ringers grins into that wind, radiates warmth for consumers hustling inside, and doles out a heaping helping of “Thank you!” with every dime and dollar they drop into his trademark red kettle. It’s a familiar routine for Hepfer, who has volunteered in most every Salvation Army program you can think of. But as the holidays unfold, the red kettle holds a special place for this tireless volunteer.
“Bell-ringing, for me, is a ministry,” he says inside, during a break from the chill. His cup of coffee, unattended, sheds BTUs as Hepfer starts talking about the Army. The retired accountant has done duty with alcohol and drug counseling, mentoring kids, emergency services after fire, flood and tornado—he was on the scene in Greensburg, Kan., for a week—and even train derailments over his 54-year history as a Salvation Army volunteer.
But the bells—man, they’re special. Special enough to get him in front of the Wal-Mart six days a week, for more than 10 hours at a crack, from Thanksgiving through Christmas Eve. He’s been in that routine for the past 30 years, logging 60 hours a week on the business end of a bell. He’s pulled shifts in Kansas City, Kan., Blue Springs, North Kansas City and Lee’s Summit, always with the same result. “I’ve been told I’m one of the top three in the nation” for aggregate kettle donations, he says, somewhat sheepishly.
The biggest contribution he can recall came from a man in Leawood who once wanted to donate $1,000 anonymously. The secret to a bell-ringer’s success, Hepfer says, is “eye contact—you have to look at people. And you have to have courtesy, and tell them thank you when they donate.”
Hepfer is not only an ambassador for the Army and its wide range of social-service programs, he’s involved closer to home as long-time president of the Rosedale Neighborhood Association in Wyandotte County, and with the Rosedale Development Association’s leadership council.
“Anybody can make a difference if they don’t care who gets the credit,” he says. “You can offer your help to your local church, to Harvesters, the Salvation Army, Cross-Lines—any number of agencies.” You don’t have to work 60-hour weeks to help make that difference, Hepfer says; all you need is a willing spirit.
“I just say, ‘Here I am: Use me wherever you can, in whatever way you can.”
MACK and ANNE HULL
HEARTSTRINGS COMMUNITY FOUNDATION
Some people seek to share their blessings and give back to the community by forming foundations. Mack and Anne Hull have done that, but the one they’ve built really is a foundation, one upon which the life successes of their beneficiaries are based. Their Heartstrings Community Foundation isn’t a grant-maker, it’s a skills-teacher: a unique employment service for developmentally disabled adults who want to work.
The Hulls, whose trio of sons includes two with developmental disabilities, started looking over the horizon in the late 1990s, knowing that they wouldn’t be around forever to look after Spence and Grant. They wanted to help their sons become more self-sufficient. So Mack drew on his entrepreneurial skills—among his ventures is The Capital Group, an investment/insurance advisory firm—and Anne drew on her special-education degree to launch the foundation and its first operation, Goody Delivery. The mobile snack company employs workers who have developmental disabilities to package candy and snacks, load sales carts and make deliveries at office complexes around the region.
Business customers, says Anne, “often tell new employees, ‘Every Wednesday afternoon, something special happens in this office, so make sure you have two dollars in your pocket!’” The foundation built on that early success with On My Own, On My Own Too, Custom Gift Baskets and Sacks on Santa Fe, A New Look—businesses that sell donated and new home accessories, antiques and clothing. Also part of the foundation’s work is case management.
“As in all things,” Mack says, “people make the difference” and the Hulls credit the leadership of Bunny Higgins, Heartstrings’ executive director, and an experienced staff of 23 for the commitment that makes those businesses successful. The developmentally disabled who work for the foundation’s companies are in it for the long haul—some, over the past 13 years, have even worked long enough to retire. None gets rich, Anne notes, but all learn responsibility and teamwork, contributing to society as they become more independent. “We’re not giving them a handout,” says Mack, “we’re giving them a hand up.”
The model is adaptable from one community to the next, depending on the mix of potential employees and community needs. The Hulls believe it could be replicated nationwide, and hope to offer licensing and training to do it. For his work, Mack Hull was recently honored in New York as national Volunteer of the Year by the Invest in Others Charitable Foundation.
“When you see a person who loves to go to work, and who is excited about the potential and the opportunity—that’s very energizing to all of us,” Anne says. “To see someone offered real work and see them bloom,” she said, “is just … thrilling.”
If you’re heading up a Big Five law firm in Kansas City, balancing legal issues with executive duties, and you still want to make a profound difference in community affairs, the most powerful tool in your kit is a lever. As Maurice Watson demonstrates.
Watson serves as chairman at the Husch Blackwell law firm, which has nearly 600 lawyers in 14 offices. He has used his legal acumen and past experience to engage with a wide array of non-profit organizations. “Really, as much as anything, it’s a matter of convergence,” says the 54-year-old Kansas City native. “The philanthropic and charitable activities and organizations I’ve been involved in and supported really converge with my professional interests in health care, education and the arts.”
He’s been affiliated with Children’s Mercy Hospital for a quarter-century, most of it in a board capacity or working with strategic committees. He’s served on the board of his alma mater, the Barstow School, where he paved the way for others as the first student of color to graduate there. He’s been part of the Heart of America Community AIDS Partnership and served on behalf of the Kansas City Free Health Clinic, as well as the Truman Library and Kansas City Art Institute. The key to avoid being spread too thin, again, is that leverage, he says. “One of the things I try to do is focus on organizations that have something in common,” Watson said. “They tend to be arts organizations, or related to education and health care, because over time I’ve developed some knowledge capital around some of the issues those organizations face.” That way, when he signs on, he doesn’t start from scratch, he said; he can hit the ground running with knowledge, experience and connections that maximize his value to the cause.
His interests in health policy, particularly AIDs prevention and treatment, and in education can be traced back to his time in Washington. He worked in the office of U.S. Sen. Jack Danforth, who would routinely challenge his aides to confront the emerging issues of the day, and Watson developed an early appreciation for public policy grounded in vision. His love for the arts have even deeper roots: “My interest in music, visual arts, that really goes all the way back to when I was a kid,” he said. “Now that I’m an adult, one of the ways I can continue that interest is through my involvement and as a member of governing boards of different organizations.”
All of those commitments, he said, require a great deal of time and energy. You can apply a lever to them all you like, but if it’s not wielded correctly, the results might be disappointing. “If you don’t have at some level a passion that is independent of the benefit it might have, directly or indirectly, for your profession or your business, you lose something,” Watson said. “You can’t fake a passion for something.”