by Buck Ryan
(April 14, 2014) ― A local business owner with 30 years of public service focusing on social justice issues and homelessness, the founder of a service-dog training program to assist people with disabilities, and a student leader who expanded alternative spring break service trips globally are the recipients of the University of Kentucky's 2014 Algernon Sydney Sullivan Medallions for outstanding humanitarian service.
They will receive their medallions this evening at UK's annual Honors and Recognition Awards Program in the Student Center Grand Ballroom. A 6 p.m. reception will be followed by the formal program beginning at 7 p.m.
The citizen recipient of the Sullivan Award this year is Debra Hensley, owner of the Hensley Agency of State Farm Insurance Companies in Lexington. She has worked in insurance and financial services since 1974.
When she was a council member for Lexington-Fayette Urban County Government from 1986 to 1992, she focused on social justice issues and homelessness. As chair of a task force on homelessness in Lexington, Hensely emerged as a leading force behind creation of the Hope Center to assist homeless and at-risk people.
Hensley is a past recipient of the Humanitarian Award from the National Conference for Community and Justice, and she is the founder of Debra Hensley’s Social Stimulus, which hosts events featuring local “do good” businesses and nonprofits. She is past chairwoman of The Plantory, which covers administrative needs of nonprofit tenants focused on social innovation, bringing together artists, activists and entrepreneurs who share the goal of improving the well-being of people and the planet.
As a co-founder of JustFundKY, Hensley helped create an endowment to fund efforts to eradicate discrimination against the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) community. She worked with public officials and community advocates for passage of the Fairness Ordinance to protect LGBT individuals against discrimination.
She was honored in 2012 by the Girls Scouts of Kentucky as one of 100 Women of Distinction, and in 2013 she was recognized by the Lexington Herald-Leader as one of Lexington's Most Influential Leaders.
Katharine E. Skarvan was selected to receive the Sullivan Award for the graduating senior woman. An animal science major, Skarvan was the founder as a freshman and the inaugural president of Wildcat Service Dogs (WSD) at the University of Kentucky. WSD is a student-run organization that trains service dogs for the benefit of disabled individuals.
With its goal to "help students to help dogs help people," WSD trains dogs to turn on lights, fetch phones, open refrigerators and perform other basic tasks that challenge their disabled owners.
Skarvan recruited and trained an 11-member officer team and negotiated with the UK legal office to allow the organization’s dogs to live in the dormitories and attend classes with their handlers.
She secured a State Farm community service grant to ensure the program's future success after she graduates, and her work has been featured on local television and in area newspaper coverage. WSD received the 2014 Outstanding Leadership Award from the UK chapter of ODK, the National Leadership Honor Society.
Currently training a dog for the Louisville nonprofit Paws with Purpose, Skarvan keeps the dog in Lexington every other week and on the off week drives him to the Kentucky Correctional Institution in Pee Wee Valley, where an inmate handler also trains him.
The Sullivan Award for the graduating senior man goes to Andrew Ritzel, a double major in biology and Spanish who, beginning as a freshman, became involved in the Alternative Service Break (ASB) program at UK. Under his leadership, the program's opportunities doubled from 2010 to 2014 and the first service trips to Nicaragua and Ghana were launched.
He initiated ASB’s first formal partnership at UK with Shoulder-to-Shoulder Global, resulting in a medical brigade being sent to Ecuador for the first time over a Spring Break. In 2012-2013, Ritzel developed a need-based scholarship program to address increasing concerns about access for all UK students to be able to participate in the program.
Under Ritzel's leadership, ASB was named 2014 Program of the Year, a national recognition by College Educators International.
UK has been recognizing Sullivan Award winners since 1927 and is one of several Southern universities that present Sullivan Awards, sponsored by the Algernon Sydney Sullivan Foundation. The award recognizes individuals whose commitment to community service evokes a spirit of love for and helpfulness to other men and women.
The criteria for selection, which puts a premium on character, integrity and humanitarian service, are written in the spirit of Algernon Sydney Sullivan, a Southerner who became a prominent lawyer, businessman and philanthropist in New York in the late 19th century.