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‘Your focus has always been on empowering others.’

‘Your focus has always been on empowering others.’
‘Your focus has always been on empowering others.’
From left, Dr. Dora Dragneva, an unidentified nurse practitioner, and Judy O'Bannon at St. Vincent's Hospital in Indianapolis, after Natasha, a four-year-old orphan from Moldova, had open heart surgery.

What Indiana First Lady Judy O’Bannon of Corydon used to do locally — helping those who couldn’t help themselves — she’s now doing internationally.
O’Bannon has played a key role in bringing a four-year-old orphan with tragic birth defects from the Eastern European country of Moldova to Indianapolis, where surgeons have given her a new life by performing open heart surgery — the first and least troublesome of several major corrective operations the child will have.
Last Thursday night, at the 25th anniversary celebration of Harrison County Community Services, O’Bannon briefly described how the child’s life has been saved. The banquet was held at the Corydon Presbyterian Church Community Life Center, and about 200 people attended. O’Bannon was the keynote speaker, former HCCS executive director Judy Hess was the master of ceremonies, and Shirley Hawkins, the present director, received special recognition, as did others.
Moldova, between Ukraine and Romania, is one of the smallest countries in Europe. Although quite beautiful, Moldova is the poorest country in Europe. Its main industries are “wine and crime,” O’Bannon said. Bribery is a way of life, corruption is rampant. Just getting all the individuals, doctors, hospitals, agencies, bureaucracies and governments to work together at the same time to allow a child to come to this country for several operations was almost impossible, O’Bannon said.
“It’s taken a whole team, all of us working on it together,” she said, a concept that’s utterly missing in the former Communist block country.
Natasha had open heart surgery late last month and will have even more extensive surgery to create new organs in her small body, which is the size of a two-year-old’s. O’Bannon said the child wore hard-soled shoes for the first time last week and ran up to her in St. Vincent’s Hospital, saying, “Hello, Auntie Judy.” On Labor Day, Natasha visited the Indianapolis Zoo. “Isn’t that wonderful?” O’Bannon said this week.
No one in Moldova thought Natasha would live because they haven’t the hospital facilities or resources to care for extraordinary children like her. The hospitals lack adequate electricity, O’Bannon said. (A more extensive story about Natasha will appear in this newspaper next week.)
And no one ever thought HCCS would be around to celebrate a 25-year history of helping the needy, said Hess, who led HCCS from 1976 to 1984. In fact, there were so many difficulties with the federal government in the 1970s that some people thought the self-help agency would fold. Hess said the people who ran the agency had a mission, a passion, to help people help themselves — plus, they were blessed with “scads” of volunteers, “who have given of themselves, their pantries and their closets, because they felt love for HCCS.”
“Some of us go way back,” said Hess, “Tonight, we’re going to continue the love-fest.”
O’Bannon said she shares many rewarding experiences with local people. She remembered sewing many pairs of Levi’s with Christine Pendleton in the third floor apartment of The Corydon Democrat building, where Judy lived after she married a young sportswriter and attorney named Frank O’Bannon. She remembered the first food pantry in Corydon with the “mysterious” blue curtain in the window.
O’Bannon said the volunteers supported social workers like Judy Hess and Shirley Hawkins who learned how to meet the needy “on an equal footing” and “meet people where they were.” O’Bannon said people like Emma Bates helped her understand the things that couldn’t be learned in a classroom.
“Your focus has always been on empowering others,” she said.
Although this is a new day, she said, the same kinds of problems still exist: People need housing, they need nourishing food, they need to feel productive, and they need to feel part of something bigger than themselves. In the early days of HCCS, O’Bannon said, some people just needed to be encouraged to leave their house to attend a meeting that would benefit their family. In the early days of HCCS, they learned how to break through many hidden barriers.
“Everybody has a gift, and everybody has a need,” O’Bannon said. “Whenever we can come together, we really feed each other, and the community is healed.”
Sam Lander led the HCCS from 1984 to 1986, and Hawkins has been in charge since then.
In 1988, the HCCS budget was almost $9,000. Today, it’s more than $400,000, and many agencies are directly involved. About 21 of them had displays all around the Community Life Center. Steve Gilliland, executive director of the Harrison County Community Foundation, said HCCS now has an endowment fund that totals more than $300,000, and it’s still accepting donations. Proceeds from the monthly Friday Night Coffeehouse at the Presbyterian Church go to HCCS.
Last May, Shirley Hawkins was given the Leadership Harrison County Servant Leadership Award. However, the plaque wasn’t available then, so Hess presented it to Hawkins Thursday night. Hess read a moving statement that described Hawkins’ quarter century of “representing the unrepresented” and “speaking for the voiceless.”
HCCS Board president Dr. Sharon Uhl introduced the directors, and honored several volunteers, including Jan Stafford and Richard Mangeot, and thanked the Corydon Presbyterian Church for its constant support.