2017-18 Indiana Heroes Award Recipients

The Indiana Heroes program serves as one of the premier community outreach programs of the Indiana Pacers. This program honors an individual(s) who have made an overwhelming impact on the lives of others and who, through their unique commitment and humanitarian spirit, have made exceptional and lasting contributions to our community and our State.

The Indiana Pacers are now accepting nominations Indiana Pacers Indiana Heroes Award Program. Click Here to nominate a neighbor, friend or relative who is a firefighter, policeman, rescue worker, or just an everyday hero like a teacher, nurse or community leader making a difference. Nominations must include the nominee’s name, street address, city, state, zip code, phone number and email address, along with a short description of why this nominee is deserving of the award. The description should include examples of the nominee’s level of commitment, as well as any lasting contributions to the community.

March 23
Susan G. Komen of Central Indiana Race Ambassadors

Each year Susan G. Komen, Central Indiana, selects Race Ambassadors that represent the organization at a local level leading up to Survivors/ Thrivers Day and Race for the Cure. This year, ten individuals were selected to join Susan G. Komen in their promise to end breast cancer by sharing their personal experiences. This year, the Indiana Pacers honor the following Ambassadors; Kim DeMasie, Laura Gillis-Sheridan, Dawn Hughes, Amie Lieurance, Michelle McGovern, Dawn McGraw, Nicole Osborne, Tracy Paris, Laurie Plue, and Tony Pottorff. Each of these individual’s commitment to sharing their personal story to inspire hope, is brave and encouraging. Thank you to each Ambassador for your commitment to increasing breast cancer awareness throughout the state of Indiana. Join the Indiana Pacers in our fight against breast cancer by joining the Indiana Pacers Race for the Cure team and walking with us on April 28, 2018.

March 9
Bella Simons

Bella Simons is a busy 17-year old who has always had a love for helping others. This time she was raising money for others in need, while facing her own health struggles. In 2015, doctors discovered Bella had two brain tumors, that would need to be removed and she would need to undergo radiation. Two years later, Bella suffered a stroke. While her own health was the center of concern for her family again, Bella was excited, busy planning a fundraiser to raise money for Riley Children's Hospital. Although she was busy planning her fundraiser, there was the reality that Bella would be having another brain surgery the day after. Bella enjoys giving back to the community that saved her life. She wants to make sure other kids who face similar health situations know they are not alone.

February 23
Danielle Rothchild

Danielle, a 17-year old Senior at Carmel High School has collected nearly 2 million bread tags to help purchase mobility products for people in need. She started her non-profit, Danielle Cares for Chairs in 2016 after finding a passion for giving back to the community in sustainable ways. In January, after recycling bread tags she had collected, Danielle surprised a young girl with a power wheel car customized to her specific mobility needs. She collects bread tags from wherever she can find them, hoping other people will do the same. This year, Danielle will look to break a world record in March by creating the longest chain of bread tags before recycling the bread tags to help another individual.

January 27
Jeffrey Thomas

Jeffrey Thomas is a special education teacher at Lew Wallace School 107. As the temperature started to drop, he noticed some the students arriving in nothing but sweatshirts. He knew he wanted to help, he just wasn't sure in what way. After a group of students asked to borrow his scarf to play during recess, he realized most of the students were cold. With students from 34 different countries, Jeffrey realized that this was the first exposure to the cold for some students and having a scarf would make a big difference.

After cutting coupons and shopping Black Friday sales for fabric, Jeffrey was able to make over 650 scarves which he distributed to the students at his school. There were over 50 patterns of fabric the kids could choose from. Having this choice was important to Jeffrey as he knew not many of the kids have had the opportunity to own something that was completely theirs.

Since December, Jeffrey has raised enough money to make an additional 1,000 scarves and hopes he can continue to raise money and awareness so he can distribute more scarves to more schools and students.

January 6
Alex Shoemaker

Story courtesy of WTHR by Emily Longnecker

A central Indiana family is finally getting the chance to meet and thank the teenager who took a risk to help them on the side of a dark road.

Eighteen-year-old Alex Shoemaker didn't have to stop and some probably would have advised against it, but the Avon High School senior pulled his car over anyway when he saw a family in need of help.

That family's been wanting to thank him ever since.

"You were truly a Godsend," Delana Ward told Alex Sunday afternoon when the entire Ward family met Alex and his mom for lunch.

The meeting was a few weeks in the making, after the Wards experienced a life and death moment following a Halloween Party.

The family was driving home when dad Don's heart stopped.

"I don't remember a whole lot," Don explained, including his wife Delana doing CPR on him on the side of a dark country road while the couple's kids watched terrified.

That's where Alex comes into the picture.

"Out of the darkness, just two kids come out and waved me down and I knew right then that something was up just by their facial expressions and I knew that I couldn't just keep driving by," said Alex who saw the Ward kids, Hunter and Presley, on the side of the road waving for help.

Alex stopped to help them.

"He didn't have to stop, but he took a chance and he did," said Delana.

Alex helped call 911 and put a blanket under Don's head after Delana revived him, while they waited for the ambulance to come.

"It wasn't so much what you did, but it was your presence," Delana told Alex Sunday.

No sooner had he showed up, just like that, Alex was gone.

The Wards never had a chance to get his name or say thank you.

So Delana turned to Facebook, hoping to find the kind stranger.

Then the family spoke to Eyewitness News about it.

Alex's mom, Tammi, saw the story on TV.

"I really didn't think it was Alex because they said 'man.' He's my high school son," said Tammi Shoemaker.

When Tammi went to WTHR's web page, though, she was convinced the story was about her son.

"I read about the location and more importantly the description of his blonde surfer hair, I knew that really had to be him," Tammi said.

Weeks later, the Wards are finally getting to say thank you to the kind stranger whose name they never knew.

December 15
Brandon Warren

Story courtesy of IndyStar
Brandon Warren is on a mission to save this city — his city.

The soft-spoken teen, a football player, National Honor Society member and student council representative at Warren Central High School, is leading the charge to turn down the violence that is maiming and killing his peers.

For Brandon, it was the death of his friend Dijon Anderson that thrust him into a leadership role in the community.

Anderson, a Warren Central football star, died May 23, two weeks after being injured in a shooting on the west side.

The 18-year-old senior, described as "fearless" and someone who loved people, was headed to Southern Illinois University on a football scholarship before a bullet cut short a life full of promise.

"It seems like every other day there's something in the news about violence, somebody gunned down," Brandon, 17, said. "We want to send a message to teens that this has to stop."

He's joined in his grief and desire to make a difference by Warren Central classmate Angie Ramirez, who lost one of her closest friends, Angel Mejia-Alfaro, 17, in the same shooting.

Together, the two teens and an army of young people will carry a message of peace and unity Saturday during a peace walk and community program on the east side.

The We LIVE Indy march steps off from Washington Park, 3130 E. 30th St., at 11 a.m. and ends at the Marion County Youth Detention Center parking lot at 25th Street and Keystone Avenue.

Several hundred are expected for the walk, led by families touched by violence. It will be followed by a short prayer and speech at the juvenile center. The remainder of the program, featuring vendors, a DJ, entertainment and food, will take place at the park until 3 p.m. Indianapolis Metropolitan Police Department officers, city officials and legislators are expected to be on hand. The public is encouraged to attend the free event.

Stop the killing
We LIVE Indy began as a social media movement, but with guidance and support from school officials, city leaders and family members, Brandon and his committee of change-makers are calling for all people to come together to stop the killing. Several high schools have joined in the effort, including Pike, Ben Davis and North Central.

The group's name was inspired by a phrase Anderson used to repeat, "We LIVE, baby," Brandon said. Now LIVE (rhymes with five) stands for Linked to Intercept Violence Everywhere.

Warren, who was a friend slain student Dijon Anderson, is hoping to raise awareness about city violence through involvement with Don't Sleep Indy, and an August 12 peace walk at Washington Park.

"We're live as a community, as a city trying to come against violence everywhere," Brandon said. "We want to be larger than Indy — as large as God can make it."

Since Brandon first sat down with IndyStar in mid-July to talk about the violence, several more shootings involving teens have occurred, most recently injuring a Ben Davis student and a graduate of North Central.

Last year, Indianapolis topped its all-time murder rate, marking 149 homicides.

This year, 10 of the 76 criminal homicides investigated by IMPD detectives have involved teens, according to an IndyStar analysis. Teens have been accused in killings, too. At least five have been arrested in connection with homicides this year, including a 15-year-old boy accused of a July 18 triple homicide.

It's long past time for the community to come together to change the situation, Brandon said. "(We) as a people have to do it. It shouldn't be up to police or city officials."

So this effort is up to the youth of Indianapolis.

Brandon Randall, community liaison for Dont Sleep, said his activist organization is supporting Be LIVE Indy and will have an information table at the event, but the group is giving the teens a chance to run the show.

"When we hear about youth violence, it's usually adults proposing solutions," Randall said. "The problem is they often don't invite youth to the table to give input. Young people deal with this violence and trauma in ways we couldn't imagine. If we want youth involved in positive outlets, we have to encourage them to use their voice to advocate for themselves and for solutions."

Mayor Joe Hogsett applauds Brandon's decision to take a stand against senseless gun violence and hopes others will follow the young man's lead.

"Too often we talk about young people as future leaders, but the reality is, teens like Brandon are finding ways to shape our city and influence the conversation right now. Together, we can make Indianapolis a safer city for all."

'You could see the despair'

Serena Fowlkes is Brandon's cousin and the person who inspired him to launch We LIVE Indy. She got to know Anderson and his family when he played on a travel football team with her son and cousin last year.

Anderson was not just an athlete, she said. He was a friend. "We became like a family, and we looked out for each other."

Fowlkes, who worked as a mental health counselor on the west side for 10 years, is still haunted by the pain she saw in the eyes of family members and young mourners at the funerals for Anderson and Mejia-Alfaro.

"You could just see the despair and brokenness," she said. Later, she told her young cousin, "We need to do something."

A peace walk is a good start, she thought, but it can't end there. Linking teens with employers and opportunities to serve will help the city change course.

For the kids, she wants to show them there are ways out of their circumstances "other than street hustling."

"We want the kids to come together and say, 'I don't want to go that way.' "

And she wants adults to stand with youth today, to be the role models they need.

For everyone, she said: "It's time to stand up for what's right. We need to make some changes so our kids don't have to keep burying their friends."

Lions in the fight
The Rev. Charles Ellis, statewide director of the Ten Point Coalition, believes young people can be a force in the battle against youth violence.

"We are looking for young lions, young people with a voice that have the same amount of passion not just about unjust shootings, but about urban gun violence."

It's easy for younger people to dismiss "old fogies" like himself, he said, but they will listen to their peers. "It's time to incorporate them into the fight."

U.S. Rep. Andre Carson, D-Indianapolis, echoes that sentiment. "I am pleased to see We LIVE Indy getting young people involved in the conversation. It is my hope that these young men and women use this experience to get more involved in our community, develop leadership skills and get more civically engaged."

Brandon, Angie and their peers are ready.

"I was on board as soon as I heard about it," said Angie, 16, who serves on the planning committee for Saturday's event. Her role has been reaching out to the families of those hurt by violence — families like her friend Mejia-Alfaro's.

She still visits his mom's house, where they talk about the good times. Now, his family and others have an empty space in their homes and hearts, she said. Her message to her peers is: Don't wait until it hits home.

"You have a lot to live for, it's OK to say no to a bad choice, to take a different path."

Brandon, who is active in New Beginnings Fellowship Church and calls We LIVE Indy a "movement by God," is preaching the same message.

"This violence has to stop. We want the whole city there Saturday, and we want everybody to be at eye level."

That means parents, students, school officials, city leaders, community activists and police.

"We don't want teens to think that every cop they come across is a bad guy, and we don't want cops judging our teens."

Brandon, who hopes to play football in college, said he never saw himself as an activist, but he's willing to take on that role with the support of friends, family and the larger Indianapolis community.

"We're trying to save this city, and I want people to walk away inspired to help."

For more information, email weliveindy@gmail.com, or see the group's website at weliveindy.com.

December 8
Andrew Peterson

Story courtesy of FOX 59
INDIANAPOLIS, Ind. – A local Special Olympics athlete has qualified for one of sporting's most prestigious events—the Boston Marathon. Andrew Peterson, 24, has been a Special Olympics runner for years. He was born with fetal alcohol syndrome, but has never let its effects slow him down.

During Saturday's Monumental Marathon in Indianapolis, he finished three minutes faster than the time of three hours he was shooting for.

"I was able to be pumped up though," said Andrew.

The goal Saturday was simple: hit that three hour mark and qualify for Boston.

"He looked incredibly comfortable the whole race," said Andrew's dad, Craig Peterson. He was there watching, but alongside Andrew was Justin Dyszelski, helping Andrew keep pace.

"Andrew could definitely run faster for sure," said Dyszelski, "so his next race I would expect him to run quite a bit quicker than he did today."

Before Friday, Andrew and Dyszelski had never met. They were paired up through a group called the November Project, which helps motivate people to stay physically fit. Dyszelski had also never helped anyone like Andrew before.

"You're pacing someone else that has a really great opportunity on their hands and they can qualify for Boston so you don’t want to mess that up," said Dyszelski.

For Andrew, it was just the support he needed.

"He was a good role model to me and a great partner," said Andrew.

But this race was about more than making a time. It was also about making some history.

"Only one Special Olympics athlete has qualified officially on time and that was 35 years ago," said Craig, "we thought that was another great challenge for Andrew."

He's now the second Special Olympics athlete to ever qualify for Boston, and his determination is something we can all learn from.

"There's a lot of people that can look up to what Andrew does and use that as motivation as well," said Dyszelski.

Andrew qualified for the 2019 Boston Marathon since 2018 is already full. Dyszelski said he plans on being there, cheering Andrew every step of the way.

November 24
Matthew Luttrell, Lane Richie, Nelson Sheldon

Matthew, Lane and Nelson helped saved a woman from a burning vehicle in Columbus earlier this year. The men saw the accident and sprang into action when they noticed Timberly Trueblood trapped inside her car and other bystanders unwilling to help.

The three men were able to get Trueblood to safety before she was transported to Columbus Hospital. Luttrell said, "I feel like I was at the right place at the right time to get her out of there."

November 17
Chief Tom Neal and Chief Jay Settergren on behalf of Indiana Task Force 1

Story courtesy of FOX 59
INDIANAPOLIS, Ind.— Three hurricanes later, members of Indiana Task Force One sat down with FOX59 to talk about multiple deployments to back-to-back storms.

"Every incident was its own animal and not really comparable to one another," explained Captain Michael Pruitt, public information officer for INTF-1, "when we look back at how the teams were deployed, they were deployed differently to each."

Pruitt travelled to Texas, Florida and Puerto Rico, serving as communications officer for the teams.

Three storms, three disaster zones, three totally different responses.

"It started kind of late, but then you had three storms virtually back to back," said taskforce member, Tom Neal, "it's been a pretty hectic season."

Neal has been part of Indiana Task Force One for 23 years. He deployed to Hurricane Katrina in 2005, but said some of what he witnessed in his three deployments to Hurricanes Harvey, Irma and Maria surprised even him.

Jay Settergren handled logistics for hurricanes Harvey and Irma before he deployed to Puerto Rico. And Marty Roberts, who has been part of the task force for more than a decade, was sent in the wake of Harvey and Maria.

Responding to Harvey:
Indiana Task Force One deployed to 22 skilled first responders to southeastern Texas at the end of August after Hurricane Harvey turned into a tropical storm and loomed over the Gulf coast.

Each day brought a separate set of challenges and tasks for crews.

Part of the team went to the northern part of Houston to search and clear the area. They shared photos of water rescues, travelling by boats on water-soaked roadways.

"I think that huge rain event we saw in Harvey is something we will not see again. That's something that was record setting, hundred year-plus time frame that we've seen stuff like that," explained 21-year taskforce veteran, Jay Settergren, who coordinated logistics for Harvey from central command.

Their help was then requested as thousands of evacuated Texans needed to be processed through a triage center setup at an area airport.

"It really took a lot of people off guard due to the amount of personnel," said 14-year member of INTF-1, Marty Roberts, "they were not expecting that many victims to come in."

Roberts said within a three or four-day period, they triaged just under four or five thousand people.

Hurricane Irma: A Second Deployment
Before the task force’s work was done in Texas, some members received word that they were to head directly to Florida and brace for Hurricane Irma.

Tom Neal was one of the men who got the call while still on deployment in Texas.

"Typically, you don't get dispatched from one incident to another, you have an opportunity to get back, get home and relax a few days," Neal explained, "I got the phone call saying, 'you're being rerouted.'"

The second deployment caused logistical complications. Much of the task force's equipment was already down to Texas to assist with cleanup, search and rescue and other needs, but the hazmat team had been requested again to stage in Alabama.

It was unclear where the teams would be operating and what they'd be doing until they arrived.
INTF-1 turned around boats, generators and hazmat suits quickly to send down with additional crew members who were deploying from Indiana.

"It was a big challenge for us, we haven't done that in recent times," Settergren explained.

The eye of Hurricane Irma was wide and unpredictable.

Tom Neal talked about extensive damage by the storm surge by the Atlantic Ocean, and wind damage closer to the Gulf of Mexico.

On one mission, Neal was sent to assess the structural integrity of an elderly man who rode out the storm in his own house. The 79-year-old said he had no family nearby or relatives he could evacuate to.

"He watched this thing come into his house, those are the stories that you hear from individuals when you go to a storm response and each individual has their own story and uniqueness to how they survived the storm," Neal added.

A Third Deployment: Hurricane Maria and the island of Puerto Rico
Hurricane Maria gained strength and ultimately made landfall on Puerto Rico just shy of a Category 5 hurricane.

Michael Pruitt was the very first member of INTF-1 to arrive on the island. He was deployed with hundreds of other first responders from departments across the country to ride out the storm, they were placed in a “hurricane grade” hotel in San Juan.

"Whatever that means," said Pruitt laughing. He stayed on the fifth floor of the hotel while other task force crews had rooms on the fifteenth floor. Those units reported so much movement in the building that the water in the toilet bowls sloshed around.

Water poured through the hotel, collapsing the ceiling in Pruitt's bathroom. The first responders were moved into a central ballroom to ride out the duration of Hurricane Maria as winds and strong rains tore through the island.

It took a few days before the rest of the first responders from across the country could land on the island and begin relief work.

"As soon as the search and rescue teams arrived, they were facing many of the same challenges as even the residents of Puerto Rico were faced with: access, fuel—those were two big ones—communications," Pruitt added.

INTF-1 deployed 27 members with a scaled back cache of equipment since the island was so difficult to travel to, and through.

"To me, arriving in Puerto Rico and taking a look at the damage there—it took the bark off the trees," Settergren described, "we went through Hurricane Katrina and I don't remember it taking the bark off the trees."

Over the following days and weeks, they estimate they travelled 7,700 miles around and across Puerto Rico, an island which is only 100 by 35 miles long.

When asked what people's reactions are when they drive and fly into the devastated communities, Jay Settergren says people are very happy to see them.

"They know that once we're there, that, the additional help is soon to follow," Settergren added.

Their main mission was to gather intelligence and assess infrastructure damage and report back. The teams had to physically drive to take helicopters since communication systems on the island had been eliminated; they themselves used satellite phones.

"People are waving, saying to thank you. They're yelling out their windows about how much they appreciate us being there," explained Marty Roberts.

But even those they were tasked with reconnaissance, task force one found their missions took humanitarian turns. They faced countless people who had been cut off by landslides and basic infrastructure like water, and oftentimes gave the rations and water they travelled with to the people they met.

"There was a gentleman, he was coming up and just balling. He had gone 6-8 days without food or water for his family of seven. You know, he's just like 'we need help.' And I'm like, 'we're here gathering information to see what type of help we can send for you guys,'" Robert went on to explain that the man had given what food and water he had left to his neighbors.

So, the task force crews grabbed the water they’d stored for their daily mission and handed it out.

"He was excited and grateful," Roberts added.

Their stories about the communities they encountered are incredible and seemingly endless.

As they drove across Puerto Rico they witnessed individuals working alongside first responders, directing traffic, making human chains to pass along food and supplies to stranded mountain top communities, even rebuilding their own makeshift infrastructure in the interim.

"It's watching people take action, start taking care of themselves but also assisting us and us helping them—that's what I love to see" said Pruitt.

Looking back:

When asked if fatigue ever sets in, the task force is quick to remind that this is their job and it's what they're trained to do.

"Even when we're faced with a lot of people that need help, we know from previous disasters that there is, there is an end to all of this and we've seen it before, and we see how we get there, explained Pruitt, "so trying not to get too distracted or sucked down into what’s going on, we stay focused on the mission and being compassionate towards those we’re trying to help."

Pruitt said keeping their minds on the end goal keeps teams motivated to keep going.

Now back in Indiana, the team members say the amount of water and images of flooding from Hurricane Harvey will stick with them, as will the diverse devastation they witnessed on Puerto Rico.

October 20
Melina Lakey

Story courtesy of CBS4
A young Pendleton girl who will be honored by the Girl Scouts on Thursday for rescuing her mom from an overturned vehicle now has a new fan club — the Indiana Pacers — who want to recognize her as an Indiana Hero.

Melina Lakey, a Brownie Girl Scout, used safety lessons she had just learned to help her mom escape their vehicle after a serious accident April 15. Her Brownie troop had recently earned their first-aid badges and had completed a service project benefiting Fire Rescue House of Madison County.

The then 8-year-old and her fellow Brownies from South Madison Girl Scout Troop 3597 had toured the Alexandria Fire Department and learned basic safety skills. Later that same day, she put those skills to work by staying calm and helping her bleeding and dazed mother, Ashley McCollum-Lakey, get safely out of the overturned sport-utility vehicle.

"I used what I learned in Girl Scouts. It was scary, but I kept calm and stayed courageous," Melina said in a news release.

Her mom, who leads her daughter's Girl Scout troop, told IndyStar that the accident occurred when she, her husband, Jeff, and Melina were returning from the drive-in movies in Shelbyville late on the night of April 15. As they rounded a curve on the country road, the Nissan Rogue hit a ditch and spun out of control, rolling six times before coming to rest on its roof.

All three were restrained by seat belts, and the SUV's airbags deployed. McCollum-Lakey said her husband reached back to unbuckle Melina, who was able to climb out of the overturned vehicle and get to her mom, risking being cut by shattered glass and other debris.

"She wasn't concerned about hurting herself; she was getting me out of the car," McCollum-Lakey said.

The little girl then picked up her mom's bloodied cellphone to call 911.

Jeff Lakey was able to escape the vehicle on his own after his wife and Melina got out.

A Madison County Sheriff's Department deputy who was on the scene said in his report that Melina "maintained a calm and capable attitude" and "displayed a level of maturity beyond her age" at the accident scene.

When they were safely away from the car, McCollum-Lakey pulled her little girl close.

"As a mother, I got her in my arms once I got out of the car, and that's when all the pain hit me. 'We’re OK,' " she told her daughter.

Reliving the wreck is painful, she said, but she is immensely proud of her daughter.

"I could have lost my family, but instead my 8-year-old used everything she's been taught to become my hero. She was there when I needed her the most and knew exactly what to do."

Girl Scouts of the USA CEO Sylvia Acevedo wrote a congratulatory letter to Melina that said in part, "Your extraordinary courage, incredible confidence, and your willingness to take decisive action in the midst of an emergency has not only saved a life, but also serves as a shining example for Girl Scouts everywhere of fortitude and dedication. Your heroism and sound judgment have earned you a place in the pantheon of heroes who have come before you, and left an indelible mark on the Girl Scouts."

Melina, accompanied by her family and members of her troop, will be honored with the Girl Scouts' Medal of Honor on Thursday at the Girl Scout Service Center in Daleville. Also attending will be Anderson Mayor Thomas Broderick, Alexandria Fire Chief Brian Cuneo and Girl Scouts of Central Indiana CEO Deborah Hearn Smith.

Indiana Heroes Award Recipient


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