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Inspired

Local community members share their sources of inspiration and gratitude

Article by Alexandra Frost and Laura Leavitt

Photography by Len Kaltman—West Chester Corporate Photography and Provided

Originally published in West Chester & Liberty Lifestyle

While the West Chester and Liberty Township communities are full of role models, these community standouts have emerged as some of our inspirations. Each leader points back to the community as a source of inspiration and gratitude, proving that “it takes a village” to create a positive impact.

Red and Jo Deluse

As recently-named Philanthropists of the Year by the Community Foundation of West Chester/Liberty, Red and Jo Deluse prefer to stay out of the spotlight. West Chester residents since 1968, they’ve sent thousands of children to camp and helped pay part of Lakota Participation Fees, as well as supported the local Boys and Girls Club.

“The Deluse family has had a major impact in the lives of thousands of children and their families in West Chester and Liberty Townships. We are truly blessed to have them as loving and giving community members,” says Erin Clemons, president and CEO of the Community Foundation of West Chester/Liberty.

When asked what inspires them to give back, Jo explains, “Red and I grew up in very humble times, so when we were able to, we donated what we could. We felt like we were always interested in helping the kids in the area.”

They speak highly of their social and family network as a source of strength. “We have a wonderful family,” says Jo. “We have four daughters and ten grandchildren. We are all very close.”

This year’s Key Event, where they received their award, was especially impactful. “We have so much to be thankful for—that’s the way I felt when we were at the Key Event,” says Jo.

RiskSOURCE Clark-Theders

RiskSource puts its mission of being guided by their moral compass into practice in the community. They’ve recently been raising money for West Chester Boys and Girls Club for technology-related creative expression, but they choose special causes and give back in many ways throughout the year.

We asked RiskSource Cares Committee President Kasey Young, and RiskSource Vice President Jean Mabry what inspires them to do great work. They say, “We believe that we are servant leaders in the community, and for us, it is much more than providing insurance. We’ve been giving back for over 11 years.” 

“Even though we are a small group, we make a big impact: we’ve given away more than $50,000 and donated 4,000 hours of time in the community. Our leadership team allows each employee to give back 30 hours of paid time off at a registered nonprofit organization,” say members of the RiskSource team. 

The team expresses gratitude, citing everything from “do-overs” to “the way we support each other” as sources of thankfulness. Common threads include gratitude for family, work, health and faith in God. 

Brenda Yablonsky

One of the most inspirational youth influencers in our community, Brenda Yablonsky is the Executive Director of EDGE Teen Centers. The two teen centers, which serve the two Lakota high schools, provide mentoring relationships, community service, social activities and much more.

Brenda first began her involvement by volunteering with and donating to the teen center, before becoming a board member. 

“I fell in love with the organization and its mission to help teens become the best version of themselves,” she says. 

Brenda gives the credit back to her staff. “They are the most authentic, genuine people I know…They choose to invest their lives in walking alongside teens during what I think is one of the most amazing, and at the same time, challenging seasons of life,” she says. 

Brenda draws strength from her husband and her faith.  She says, “Even when things don’t work out the way I expected, I have peace knowing I did what I thought I was meant to do at the time.” 

Mae and Jun McKnight

Local mom of five Shannon McKnight is the proud parent of three biological children and two daughters, Mae (8) and Jun (11), adopted from China. Both girls are ordinary children with an extraordinary challenge to overcome, as they both were born with limb differences.

The family moved to the West Chester area because they saw it as a “cultural and religious melting pot,” as they wanted diversity in the community in which their children grew up. “[In our previous town] people may say ‘Oh, they are handicapped.’ and I’m like ‘Really? Watch her run.’”

Both girls taught themselves how to swim, then thrived with the inclusive support of the Beckett Ridge Swim Club, including the encouraging coaches and parents of other swimmers. One family even researched ways to accommodate the girls’ limb differences to level the playing field when they competed with their peers, as to not have them disqualified for issues related to their disabilities.

“What’s inspirational to us is all of the people in the community who accepted our girls and love them for who they are in their hearts. People in West Chester love and accept them,” Shannon says. She is also moved by her daughters’ strength as they navigate their differences. 

What motivates the girls? “When I'm swimming and I come in last and see other people ahead of me, it pushes me to try even harder,” Jun says. 

Mae simply answers, “Jesus.”

The family has overcome their immense challenges by saying “I’ll try,” not “I can’t,” and demystifying mental health by using a counselor. 

“There’s no shame in our home. We ask ‘What are you dealing with today and how are we going to work through it?’” Shannon says. “They don’t get a choice about getting up and putting on their leg and walking to the bus stop. It makes me think ‘Stop making excuses—they don’t get to.”

Rev. Dr. Troy Sybrant

Rev. Dr. Troy Sybrant is the leader of Compass Christian Church in Mason, the Secretary and Acting President of the Faith Alliance of West Chester/Liberty and the Vice President of the Caring Community Collaborative (C3), an organization that brings sectors of the community together to “raise awareness of community concerns, identify needs, and build networks.” Through these roles Troy works to create conversations about mental health, substance abuse, senior needs, veteran needs and youth empowerment across various faiths and organizations in the community that typically get siloed.

Troy began investing himself in communities, working alongside a 98 percent working poor African American neighborhood to secure low-income housing. He obtained his masters in divinity and social work, then his doctorate in ministry. He helped HIV-positive people, tracked welfare reform at the state level and overcame the physical challenge of living with allergies and asthma that limited his social interactions as a young person.

He credits his “great cloud of witnesses” as his own source of inspiration and gratitude since he was born: family, friends, teachers, mentors and colleagues.

“The challenges of an individual life are more than any one person alone can bear; I draw strength from my family and friends. The challenges of an individual household are more than any one family can bear; I draw strength from neighbors and my congregation. The challenges our community and nation is facing are more than any single group can bear alone,” he says. His partnerships with others in the Faith Alliance, C3 and the Poor People’s Campaign help him address those challenges.

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