$23,947.52: Cook off keeps Center aflame

COLUMBIA CITY — Food was the focus at The Center for Whitley County Youth’s 6th Annual Benefit Cook Off Thursday night, and wild game won over the palate of those in attendance.Team Dillon, led by Dr. Gary Dillon and Bob Addison, took home the honor of Best Overall Meal at the fundraiser. Four teams competed with a variety of dishes. Team Green served vegan dishes, while Team City, headed up by Columbia City Mayor Ryan Daniel, served cinnamon-candied bacon over vanilla ice cream. The other team to compete was Team Forklift, with Hank Workman as the captain.In the end, it was Team Dillon’s rendition of a turtle soup and other game dishes that racked up the most votes.Although the night featured creative food creations, the event served as The Center’s one and only annual fundraising event. All totaled, the event raised $23,947.52 — up from $23,259 last year.When The Center factors in a matching grant, the total could jump to $48,947.52.“God continues to faithfully provide. This event will make up a third of our annual budget,“ said The Center’s Executive Director Jeff Wike.“This event means everything. Having such a large turnout and a wide variety of people involved tonight is fantastic. Without them, we don’t exist. So many people are committed to this event every year. They look forward to the food and the fun competition, but in the end it does so much for our mission.”

Volunteers make the difference

An estimated 70 volunteers helped to make the event possible and numerous students who participate in The Center’s programming were on hand to assist in serving. Recognizing the volunteers who help throughout the year was part of the night’s agenda. The Outstanding Volunteer Award went to Chris Loft of Columbia City.“Once I got involved and learned just how much The Center does, I was hooked,” Loft said. “This is the first year I’ve been involved, but I am sold out to this. Knowing the difference you can make in these kids’ lives is so rewarding. I couldn’t imagine not volunteering.”Various community leaders were present at the benefit including Kristi Maloney with Parkview Whitley Hospital. Because of the hospital’s choice to partner with The Center, Maloney attended the dinner and found out there was more to the services provided by the youth organization.“The Center is one of the Community Health Improvement Partners that the hospital works with,” Maloney said. “Before we started working with The Center, I didn’t know what it was all about. Even tonight I am finding out that there is so much this organization does to positively impact our community.”Because The Center focuses its programming around middle and high school students, teenagers have opportunities for educational support as well as a safe place to socialize.“When The Center interacts with these teens, they are offering them something that they may be missing at home,” Maloney said. “They are impacting lives while these kids are still young. Ultimately, The Center gives teens a chance to correct their course instead of waiting until they are adults and the whole ship has to be turned around.”Jessica Kaiser and her husband, Tony, have been long-time volunteers at The Center. Kaiser said volunteering gives her a chance to show care and concern for young adults.“We have the opportunity to show love to kids who might not see it at home,” Kaiser said. “They look forward to coming to The Center and spending time with us. If we didn’t love it, we wouldn’t do it. These kids have made a difference in our lives as well.”Hank Workman, pastor of The Warehouse, has created close ties to The Center. Workman had a hand in establishing The Forklift, a feeding program offered to Whitley County students and families. It seemed like a natural progression for Workman to put a team together for the cook off.“This just made sense,” Workman said. “We wouldn’t miss the opportunity to fund the best gem in Columbia City. Being at The Center you hear story after story of students’ lives that are transformed. These kids may come from a broken home, but when they come to The Center, the find family.”To read the rest of this story, see the April 12 issue of The Post and Mail. Don't have a subscription? Call (260) 244-5153 or subscribe to our e-edition. For breaking news, sports updates and additional coverage, bookmark the homepage and find us on facebook and twitter.