Judy Hart’s 50 years at Ozanam have left lasting legacy

04/01/2014 8:36 AM

04/01/2014 8:36 AM

Grand Canyon park rangers were displeased about the bottleneck of tourists that clogged the national park’s mule trail.

Boys from Ozanam, a nonprofit organization in south Kansas City that serves troubled youth, and their chaperones had stopped the animals making an ascent from the canyon bottom

so one of the boys could look for a lost contact lens. The commotion meant a crowd of mules and park visitors disrupting the line up.

The rangers asked Ozanam officials to move on out.

The boy amazingly found his contact lens and the story has become one of the memories Judy Hart has to share about her 50 years with the organization. She currently is consultant to the Ozanam Foundation and formerly was senior vice president of development.

The trip in the early 1960s to the Grand Canyon was part of an annual educational field trip that took several weeks as a caravan of Volkswagen buses carried the boys toward California. Along the way they learned about geography, history and culture as they stopped to camp en route to Hollywood. The trip took most of the summer, and the boys completed homework along the way.

“For most of the kids it is their first time away from home,” Hart said. “The director knew people in Hollywood and found people to sponsor activities.”

The summer trips stopped when the number of boys began increasing. The organization continued to expand, and what started in a small apartment in 1948 has now helped thousands of boys and girls and their families.

Much of Ozanam’s growth is owed to the fundraising efforts of Hart, who first first worked as a counselor and then started in the development office. She received an “Ozanam Oscar” in December for her 50 years with the organization that mentors and provides at-risk youth with other services.

Hart was born in Kansas City, and her father died when she was young. A maternal aunt and her husband raised her, and as a military family, they moved around. Hart attended 16 different schools before moving back to Kansas City as a teenager.

She was an education student at UMKC on a scholarship that required community service. That’s how she found her way to Ozanam in the Martin City area.

She incorporated different techniques she learned from college that included more one-on-one time with children to learn about their difficulties.

She later pursued a master’s in social work from the University of Kansas and began counseling the youth.

While doing reviews for the youth, she would bump into the psychiatrist in charge, Wayne Hart. The two married and both continued to work at Ozanam.

Early on she saw that the organization needed someone to help it grow. She was a therapist until the early 1970s and then started the program to redo the campus. She most recently was senior vice president of development.

Although a board of directors did the fundraising, Hart helped provide the formal way of approaching community-based groups.

“It’s been our philosophy that we don’t go into debt for anything,” she said. “The reason I’ve been there for 50 years is that I’ve had so many different and unusual opportunities.”

Laurie Minx, Ozanam’s director of development, had been shadowing Hart and has taken over Hart’s areas in fundraising. For at least the rest of the year, Hart will be working one day a week on special projects for the Ozanam Foundation.

“I continue to learn things from Judy every day.”

Minx recalls sitting across from Hart during meetings with potential board members.

“She would explain to them that everyone brings a unique passion and skill set to the table, and our overall hope is that they can learn to ‘live Ozanam’ throughout their daily lives,” Minx said.

Hart was instrumental in starting the organization’s signature gala 30 years ago. The first one raised $30,000 with 100 people attending. Last December the gala had 800 attendees with $640,000 raised.

Paul Gemeinhardt, past president of the organization, has known Hart since 1968.

“Judy cares a great deal about children experiencing challenges, and she was determined to make a lifelong commitment to that calling,” he said. “She understands the the principles required in fundraising and never forgets how to say thank you to the community.”

Doug Zimmerman, former CEO for Ozanam, has known Hart for more than 40 years. He talked about the culture of care the organization has because of Hart and others like her.

“One of the things Judy really excelled at was understanding the importance of building community relations,” he said.

The oversight and regulations that preside over nonprofits and agencies have brought the most change to the organization, Hart says.

“We spend a lot of time keeping straight with agencies that refer the child,” she said. “What we did back then was have more one-on-one time.”

Often a counselor can start with school subjects and allow youth to gain confidence and learn to trust.

“It’s an unusually dedicated staff and and its main focus is to establish a beneficial relationship that the child will use positively to become independent and productive,” Hart says. “For the kids who come, there is so much to change in what is happening in their lives There’s so much failure — in getting along with the family situation, in a school situation, in a personal situation. We have to help them feel success.”

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