COLORADO SPRINGS — KOAA News 5 wants to celebrate the unsung heroes who selflessly serve those in need. Let us know about amazing people making a difference in our community every day by nominating them for the Jefferson Awards. The prestigious nationwide program recognizes people making extraordinary efforts to make their neighborhoods better through service.
KOAA News 5 has the honor of presenting this award to people in Southern Colorado and we need your help to discover these gems in our communities.
This month's winner has been serving those in need in Colorado Springs for decades. His name is Larry Yonker, and he's the former president and CEO of Springs Rescue Mission. He lead the organization for seven years, before retiring in December of 2020. However his legacy, is still making a large impact.
Before Larry stepped into his role at the Springs Rescue Mission, he felt there wasn't enough being done for those facing chronic homelessness.
"In our community, I really felt like we need to have services. We need to have more mental health services, we need to have a place where people can sleep and stay and stabilize," said Larry.
His advocacy and compassion for helping the poor helped expand the mission and provide a community of hope for the homeless. He lead the effort in helping to buy real estate surrounding the mission, to turn into a campus.
"What they lack most, is hope. They need hope, and so when we came up with the name of 'Community of Hope,' it just seemed like the perfect name for a campus that was going to be designed to do what this campus was designed to do," said Larry.
Back then, the mission had limited resources, but now, with 450 beds, the mission is the largest homeless shelter in the region.
"It's incredible and it's hard for me to fathom what we've done. I can't really get my arms around the fact that it's all completed and it's working better than I ever dreamed it to be," said Larry. "It took a lot of risk, a lot of faith, but it took a great community of people who cared."
His impact on the organization is still being felt and seen today.
"I think back to a time in this community when there wasn't enough shelters in Colorado Springs. Now, we have housing and help and employment resources for individuals who need it the most. It's a significant feather in Larry's cap to his leadership and his ability to love people," said Travis Williams, who worked with Larry for six years.
Travis mentioned Larry has such a big heart and was always committed to changing the face of homelessness.
"Larry is larger than life itself. He has been a champion for this community. To serve the most vulnerable in such a big way, takes a lot of heart, a lot of dedication, a lot of commitment" said Travis. "We are so grateful that he played such a significant role in the life of Springs Rescue Mission and the most vulnerable in our community."
His dedication to the community is why he's receiving the Jefferson Award from KOAA.
"This is meaningful, because it's based on community involvement, and I would say from a child to 70 years of age, I've always had community in my heart, and so to be able to be recognized as a community contributor, that's an honor," said Larry.
For him, he says the community is judged on how much we care for the least, and the ones who have nothing to give back.
"I feel like God made me gifts and when I use them to help and care for other people, I get great joy, and a lot of fulfillment," said Larry.
Larry also worked with Compassion International for ten years, which is a local organization that helps children in poverty. He says that gave him a big understanding in ways to reach out to those in need.
ORIGINS OF THE JEFFERSON AWARDS
Started by Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis in 1972, The Jefferson Awards have honored the incredible spirit and unique accomplishments of over 63,000 national and local heroes.
Every Jefferson Award honoree, from Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor, Congressman John Lewis, to former Buffalo Bill Fred Jackson has inspired through their selfless public service.
Together, we will bring much-needed attention to those Coloradans who generate the ripples of good in our community.