Monday, January 20, 2003

Hometown Heroes

Moms reach out to help many kids

By Janet C. Wetzel
Enquirer contributor

For Johnda Keuffer and Kim Eppens, there is no such thing as "days off."

If they're not at their jobs, they're usually volunteering.

Both are board members of Teen Response in Madisonville, a non-profit organization that serves youths ages 10-18. The two work nights and weekends at concession stands at University of Cincinnati games to help raise money for trips. They also do community service and chaperone group trips.

Mrs. Keuffer, 48, of Oakley, is a manager at Key Bank in Hyde Park. She averages more than 80 hours a month at Teen Response, directing fund-raising and event planning.

She also helps out at Fernside, which helps children deal with grief. Until this year, she sat on various boards at St. Cecilia schools and served on the church finance committee.

Mrs. Eppens, 42, of Madisonville, is an instructional assistant for the Cincinnati Board of Education. She spends 15 to 30 hours a month at Teen Response.

That's after spending at least 30 hours a week January through July, as assistant supervisor/secretary for Districts 4 and 9 of the Greater Cincinnati Knothole Association, where she's volunteered for 18 years. She also volunteers at her son's school, Purcell Marian, and does community service with the Norwood Business and Professional Women's Club.

Both women feel a burning need to help youths.

Mrs. Keuffer, a widow with two teens, Joe, 18, and Amanda, 14, began doing the banking for Teen Response in 1993 to help her husband's nephew, John Keuffer, founder and executive director.

After her husband died of cancer in 1995, she got heavily involved.

"It gave me a safe haven after the death of my husband, and it gave my kids a place to interact with other kids who had suffered different misfortunes than they had,'' Mrs. Keuffer said. "My kids had their dad for years, and got to see him every day for two years while he was home sick. Some kids never know their dads or may never see them. ...I love helping all these kids, putting a smile on their faces.''

Mrs. Eppens, mother of Charlie, 25, Tommy, 18, and Timmy, 16, said she and her husband, Tom, were looking for something positive for their younger sons when she stumbled across Teen Response in 1994.

"I was very impressed with their philosophy,'' she said. "They teach the children you need to be involved with your community, that your community is what you make it, that you need to be responsible for yourself, and to make sure you are getting the right education ...''

The women also liked the group's involvement in community service and charitable functions, such as helping at the annual Thanksgiving dinner at St. Cecilia Church in Oakley.

"I just kind of jumped in with both feet when my boys got involved,'' Mrs. Eppens said.

Members are expected to help with fund raisers, and their parents are asked to donate 40 hours a year.

John Keuffer said Teen Response is also designed to help teens work on leadership skills and improve self-esteem. Staff meet each week with 20-30 youths. It is geared toward underprivileged youths, but all are welcome.

As an offshoot of that program, Mr. Keuffer goes to schools to talk about self-esteem.

In recent years, the youths have earned money for trips, including one to Mexico, to an Indian reservation in Montana and a cruise to the Bahamas. A retreat camp is planned for this year. Mrs. Eppens chaperones all the trips.

There are others who are "wonderful and essential,'' Mr. Keuffer said, including five-year volunteers Theresa Hofstetter of Madisonville, and Melanie Rothschuh of Norwood.

Do you have a Hometown Hero - someone in your community dedicated to making it a better place to live and helping others? E-mail Janet Wetzel at, or fax to (513) 755-4150.

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