Heroes work in the communities around us. They share a common thread that’s driven by a love of helping others. You might never know about their selfless or tireless work because they don’t seek recognition or the spotlight.
Westchase District’s Advisory Board premiered its inaugural Community Impact Awards in 2018 to highlight these heroes. On Thursday, Jan. 9 a new set of honorees was announced for the 2019 awards and presented to Gwyn Buzzini, Beverly Okosun and Gerry Ross.
“Our call for nominations received a tremendous response,” said Don McKinney, Westchase District’s Vice President of Public Safety who leads the program. “Our judges did an extraordinary job going through dozens of nominations and selecting from the best of the best from our community. This year’s winners exemplify the spirit of the award and their positive impact really stands out. Like last year, this group will be hard to top in 2020 but we know we’ll find more people like Gwyn, Beverly and Gerry,” he added.
The Community Impact Awards were presented by incoming Advisory Board chair Tom Gaden, executive director of the Quillian Recreation Center, at an awards luncheon at the Houston Marriott Westchase.
Long-time Walnut Bend resident Gwyn Buzzini not only has an eye for beautification but puts her labor into it. When she noticed students at Walnut Bend Elementary standing on muddied ground waiting for the bus at the corner of Briar Forest Drive and Walnut Bend Lane, she sprang into action. Raising $5,000 with help from friends, she oversaw the construction of a stone patio and continued finding improvement opportunities. She has manicured shrubs, planted seasonal flowers and brought in outdoor benches to make students feel at home at the school.
Principal Michele Dahlquist appreciates how Buzzini has taken ownership for the school’s exterior surroundings. She is regularly seen walking the grounds to pick up litter. Having an ongoing presence helps her identify other beautification needs. In one project she built a berm with limestone edging to reduce water runoff onto the sidewalk near the school’s entrance. “She is a joy,” said Dahlquist.
“I want the residents — and the school is a big part of it — to feel empowered and treasure the neighborhood as much as I do. I need to be an example and demonstrate that there’s a lot of small projects we can do that improve the area and make a big difference,” said Buzzini.
At the heart of Westchase District’s community-centric feel is the Quillian Center, sports and recreation ministry of First Methodist Houston. Quillian offers facility rentals and programs at affordable costs. Its doors are open to anybody, especially families with children looking for summer camp, after school programming and youth sports. That’s where you’ll find afterschool director Beverly Okosun. Leading activities and coming up with fun ways to engage kids are Beverly’s mission, no matter the time of year.
“My reward is the smiles and the trust that parents have in our staff and me,” said Okosun. Another gratifying feeling for her is seeing kids grow up over the years. It’s not uncommon for her to see children formerly in her care who are now college age. Okosun recently ran into young boy who had autism when she first started at Quillian. “He found friends at Quillian and a place to be himself and now I see him doing great with his mom at the grocery store and they expressed appreciation to how their experience at Quillian helped him develop into a young adult,” she said.
“Beverly has created that strong connection we have to many families, now over a generation,” said Quillian’s Director Tom Gaden. “Her energy and passion for what she does are unique.” Okosun credits her mom as inspiration for her work ethic and passion. She said her mother worked long shifts as a nurse but always made time for her family.
Gerry Ross, a semi-retired engineer, is a global traveler who is making a second “career” as a volunteer at ESL instruction for Literacy Advance. Early in his career he found himself unable to communicate with others in Latin America because he didn’t know Spanish. Instead of letting language barriers conquer him, he resolved to become multi-lingual. In 2014, he came to Literacy Advance armed with experiences from around the world and the knowledge of how to learn a new language. His customized and warm-hearted approach is downright ‘infectious,’ according to Colleen Mayer, program manager for Literacy Advance.
“He makes our entire program better. Gerry came from a very humble background with working class parents in England. He took those childhood lessons and built a successful career coupling it with an enormous heart in volunteerism,” said Mayer. When he’s not traveling to faraway places like New Zealand and throughout Asia, his time is dedicated to Literacy Advance. “I’m fortunate that I have the time to give back and help others,” said Ross. “I’m proud when our students feel confident that they can assimilate in Houston without fear of not being able to communicate.”