The Shelter Inc. is giving its annual “unsung hero” award to the taxpayers of Douglas County and Lawrence for saving the local office of the Kansas Department of Social and Rehabilitation Services.
“We are very grateful to the folks who made this possible,” said Judy Culley, executive director of The Shelter, a local organization that provides services for children in state custody and crisis prevention help.
As part of its fundraiser, the 25th annual Festival of Trees, Culley said The Shelter wanted to show its appreciation to everyone responsible for keeping the SRS office open.
In July, Gov. Sam Brownback’s administration announced it was closing nine SRS offices, including the one in Lawrence, which was by far the largest among the nine. The administration said the closures were necessary to save money.
But Lawrence and Douglas County officials protested, saying the closure would disrupt services to thousands of people and create havoc in the community.
After the public outcry, the city and county agreed to pay SRS $450,000 over two years to cover the cost of office rent and overhead. Four other cities approved similar agreements to keep their offices open. SRS Secretary Robert Siedlecki Jr. has said he would request state funding of the offices in the fiscal year that starts July 1.
Culley praised local officials for stepping up.
“From our point of view, all politics aside, our concern was for the clients, and because the people that we serve were not going to have those services available here in town, this was a very big issue for us. We are very grateful to the folks who made this possible for the clients that we serve,” Culley said.
The “unsung hero” award usually goes to an individual or group, Culley said. This is the first time it has been given to honor all taxpayers.
The Festival of Trees starts Monday at Liberty Hall, 644 Mass. Local groups and residents decorate trees that are later auctioned. Last year, The Shelter raised $49,318 from the festival.
The public can view the trees from 10 a.m. to 8:30 p.m. Monday; 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Tuesday; and 10 a.m. to 8:30 p.m. Wednesday and Thursday. A $3 donation is requested for adults; children are admitted for free.
At 7 p.m. Tuesday, the party and auction of trees and wreaths will take place. Tickets to the event are $35. At 7:30 p.m. Tuesday, “unsung hero” plaques will be accepted by Lawrence Mayor Aron Cromwell and Douglas County Commission Chairman Jim Flory to honor the taxpayers.