LAWRENCEBURG, Ind., December 29, 2023 – The Dearborn Community Foundation, Inc. (DCF) is honoring three community volunteers as 2023 recipients of the Heart of Gold Award for touching the hearts of others through their volunteerism and other acts of kindness.
The Heart of Gold Award honorees deserve the recognition for making a difference in our community in their own unique ways, said Fred McCarter, Executive Director of the Dearborn Community Foundation. “They are role models for how all of us can have a positive impact on others.”
The 2023 Heart of Gold honorees, nominated by a DCF committee and then chosen as Heart of Gold Award recipients by the Foundation’s board of directors, are given the privilege to serve on the “Heart of Gold Grants Committee.” Each recipient recommends a proactive grant(s) totaling $750 to a charitable organization that serves Dearborn County residents.
This year’s honorees are Tara Bailey, Debbie Zimmer, and Ron Sweeney. The 2023 Heart of Gold Award recipients have much in common, including being involved in too many volunteer acts of kindness to mention and their humbleness about the impact of their good works. They also are known for being leaders who enjoy working with others to positively impact their community.
This year’s honorees bring the total to 121 for the number of volunteers honored in the 25 years of the program designed to recognize the community’s fine volunteers and to promote philanthropy. To learn more about these Dearborn Countians with “Hearts of Gold,” please read their stories detailing just a bit of what they do in our community:
Heart of Gold Honorees’ Stories
Tara Bailey is an “exceptionally altruistic individual whose unwavering willingness to help others is truly commendable,” says fellow volunteer and friend, Rachel Reynolds. “She eagerly volunteers for any initiative or event, dedicating her time and energy to spreading awareness, raising funds, and providing comfort to those in need.”
Bailey, 68, Lawrenceburg, is involved in a significant number of efforts to help others. She is one of the original volunteers for Feeding Those In Need, an annual event in which volunteers deliver Thanksgiving meals to those in need the night before the holiday. It’s now a project of the charitable organization The Community Project. She also started the Blessing Wall in Aurora at Lesko Park before the Community Blessing Boxes, another project of The Community Project. The wall is filled with sanitary needs, warm clothing, winter essentials and blankets. She’s now also a volunteer for the Community Blessing Boxes, which also provides food and other items for the homeless and others in need.
Bailey, who is an EMT and has an associate degree in healthcare support, volunteered along with others to help the Dearborn County Health Department administer COVID-19 vaccines during the pandemic. She also volunteered with others in 2020 to help homeless folks at an emergency shelter in Lawrenceburg during frigid weather. In fact, Bailey worked with others to raise funds to place six homeless individuals in a hotel for up to six weeks, said Reynolds, a 2013 Heart of Gold Award recipient.
“Tara has a remarkable ability to rally the troops together for the greater good,” said Reynolds. “It underscores her commitment to accomplishing common goals and the positive impact that each individual can have on others.”
An example is Bailey’s dedication to making a difference in others’ lives is when she made it her mission a few years back to make sure a homeless couple would not spend Christmas in their car. She garnered donations to provide the couple with two nights in a hotel along with gift cards for local eateries and groceries, said Reynolds. The couple was struggling mightily to get by, but now have their own apartment and are both working full-time, she said.
“I’ve only mentioned a handful of the things Tara has done and continues to do in our community,” said Reynolds. “She is always offering a helping hand, is extremely kind and caring. She is someone who does all these things without the expectation of being acknowledged. She does it because it’s the right thing to do.”
Bailey, a widow, and mother of four grown children, has done a little bit of everything in her lifetime. She’s currently a deputy Dearborn County Coroner. She’s been a school bus driver, a stay-at-home mom, a girls’ youth softball coach, and even went back to college at age 55 to get her associate degree. She’s been an EMT since 1989 and taught CPR for the Red Cross for 15 years.
Bailey says she’s always been involved in something. “With the Blessing Wall and now the Blessing Boxes, the main thing is to help people, who often are too embarrassed of their situation to get help,” she said. “I’ve been there when it comes to being in need. I was a part of a large family and as a kid it was tough sometimes.”
It seems, if there’s something she can do to help others, she’ll do it. Another example is that she makes beautiful infant burial gowns from donated wedding dresses and gifts them to hospitals.
Bailey also says when she became a parent, she knew volunteering and helping others would set a good example for her kids. “You want them to look back and do the same thing when they are grown. I always say, if you can volunteer to help someone, why not do it? … I wanted the kids to understand no matter what, there’s always someone worse off than you. Always be thankful for what you’ve got, no matter how little it is.”
In fact, Bailey says each year she picks a family in need to help and her kids always pitch in. … “I’ve got good kids. They’d give the shirt off their backs to help someone.”
Of course, volunteers don’t get paid, but Bailey does get something out of what she does. “I go to sleep each night knowing that hopefully I helped somebody. … Pay it forward! Sometimes just a few kind words can mean the world to someone.”
Debbie Zimmer is someone you probably know or have heard of if you live in her hometown of St. Leon. If an event is happening at St. Joseph Catholic Church, the St. Joseph American Legion, or at the St. Leon Volunteer Fire Department, she’s probably involved.
“I met Debbie 30 years ago when I moved to St. Leon. She was always the person in charge of whatever event was going on,” said Sally Bertram, a friend, and Director/Teacher at All Saints Catholic Academy in New Alsace. “She’s still going above and beyond the call of duty to help various organizations in our community. She spends endless hours of her time helping others.”
Zimmer, 73, whose been married to Ronnie Zimmer for 55 years, is the mother of four and grandmother of six. She retired from McPherson’s printing company (now The Occasions Group) in Sunman after 30-plus years but returned after six months and is now a part-time employee. She’s also worked part-time for St. Leon BP for 28 years. With work and family life, Zimmer somehow finds time to volunteer.
“Everything I do is about giving back to the community,” said Zimmer. “Growing up, my dad was big in the American Legion, so I learned a lot from him and mom (Antoinette Andres) about giving back.”
Her father, Billy Andres, who passed when Zimmer was just 17, was a part of the original group that established the St. Leon Volunteer Fire Department, she said. Zimmer followed in his footsteps by serving as a first responder and is now the fire department’s secretary/treasurer. She’s been in the Legion’s Auxiliary Unit 464 since age 18 and is now president.
Zimmer heads up the Legion Auxiliary’s annual chicken dinner during Oktoberfest, which raises funds to support the needs of veterans. In her role at the fire department, she oversees the annual Fireman’s Festival that raises operating funds for the organization. The event includes volunteers preparing 1,000 chickens and 800 pounds of coleslaw. She’s been involved in the festival since 1970.
St. Leon businessman Dave Deddens, a Heart of Gold Award recipient in 2020, was once Zimmer’s boss when he owned the St. Leon BP. “You name it, Debbie’s involved,” he said. “When something happens in town, she gets involved and helps organize things to help others.”
Zimmer’s involved in many things, but it’s clear her involvement with North Dearborn Conservation Club, St. Leon, is close to her heart. She’s Chaplin of the club. When her brother Greg Andres passed away in 2012, she helped establish a scholarship endowment fund at DCF to award scholarships to seniors of East Central and Franklin County high schools. She works tirelessly to help raise funds to add to the endowment and to award more scholarships in memory of her brother.
“I’m always on the go and can’t sit still,” said Zimmer with a laugh. “Whether it’s raising funds for scholarships or for the fire department, it’s about giving back to the community. … It feels good helping the community.”
Ron Sweeney is always thinking about a way to help others, according to friend and fellow volunteer Ken Maddin, a Heart of Gold Award recipient in 2021. “Ron is truly one of the first to volunteer, if he knows somebody needs help.
Sweeney, 66, St. Leon, has worked in real estate development for 46 years. He also was in the restaurant business with two of his sons (he has four sons and a daughter), who own and operate Third & Main Restaurant in Aurora. Ron left the restaurant business about six years ago, but that experience helps when it comes to his volunteering.
Maddin, a retired real estate professional, and Sweeney have known each other for many years, and both are clearly good at networking to get things done. When Maddin and his wife Cherie started the Christmas with Friends event (now a part of The Community Project) five years ago they asked Sweeney to manage the food at the event. Christmas with Friends is a gathering at Dearborn Adult Center for anyone who is alone on Christmas Day. It’s a free event with food, fun and Christmas joy.
“Ron didn’t hesitate to say yes, when we asked for his help,” said Maddin. “He does a great job managing the food and volunteers. Every year, he comes up with something we can do better.”
Christmas with Friends is not the only volunteering for Sweeney. He’s always on the go, said Maddin. He’s a regular volunteer at the North Dearborn Pantry and Dearborn County Clearinghouse for Emergency Aid, helping pick up donated items and networking to see if he can help fulfill any of the pantries’ needs.
Recently, Maddin was contacted by a company in Fairfield, Ohio, offering 12 skids of unused blankets for folks in need. Sweeney used his network to borrow a truck from North Dearborn Pantry and to pick up the blankets. The duo then dropped off the blankets at food pantries and other organizations that help people in need. “He just does whatever he can to help others,” said Maddin.
Sweeney is also known for using his networking skills to help fulfill the needs of organizations, like YES Home, a residential group home located in rural Dearborn County that serves youths ages 13-18 that provides a structured, nurturing environment for abused, neglected, and abandoned children. He also promotes fundraising events for organizations, like Pregnancy Care Center in Lawrenceburg, said Maddin.
Sweeney is clearly someone who likes to be behind the scenes helping to get things done. Helping others is simply something he enjoys doing.
“Many people just walk by when they see someone in need. It really only takes a couple of minutes to stop and see what you can do to help. It’s a good feeling to know you’ve helped.”
Sweeney says he’s been blessed. “You can write a check anytime to help, but it really makes a difference to get involved and help.”
Not many know about it, but Sweeney says he had open heart surgery in August. He says he’s doing well. “Having the heart surgery did open my eyes more,” he said. “I try to do something every day to make a difference.”