United Community Services honors Melissa Rooker, Johnson County community leaders for their contributions

Melissa Rooker (center), executive director of the Kansas Children’s Cabinet & Trust Fund, received the Distinguished Public Service Award from United Community Services of Johnson County.

Melissa Rooker, executive director of the Kansas Children’s Cabinet & Trust Fund, has received the Distinguished Public Service Award for her efforts to build a stronger community and policies that make a positive impact on youth.

United Community Services of Johnson County recognized Rooker and other community leaders at its annual meeting Tuesday morning. Rooker, a former representative who served three terms in the Kansas Legislature, started out volunteering for her children’s school PTA, and that has evolved into advocacy work for children.

She now works to serve children and families’ needs and removing artificial barriers.

“I’ve just always found ways to give back, and I think it’s important that we all find that capacity one way or another,” Rooker said in an introductory video about her work.

After the video concluded, Rooker came on stage and thanked UCS for their work and for the honor to receive the award.

“That moment when I was asked why I do what I do for that video, I had to stop and think because, for me, the answer is why wouldn’t I? Why wouldn’t any of us?” Rooker said.

Rooker’s vision for the Kansas Children’s Cabinet & Trust Fund is to “create a universal system that provides equitable access to high-quality, mixed-delivery services, to give every child their best possible start in life.” She noted that partnerships across Johnson County and the state of Kansas are integral in advancing the cabinet’s mission.

UCS recognizes Mary F. Birch, Zero Reasons Why, Rick Worrel

Other active members of the community were recognized by UCS for their roles in Johnson County.

Mary F. Birch, government relations coordinator for Lathrop Gage LLP in Kansas City, Missouri, was named Citizen of the Year for her 35 years of “building community, advancing education and developing leadership in Johnson County,” said Justin Nichols, a UCS board member who presented the award to Birch.

Birch has served 25 years in the Overland Park Chamber of Commerce. She also continues facilitating leadership development through the Kansas City Tomorrow program.

“I think, long term, my biggest hope is for there to be very courageous, strong leadership going forward, because that’s what built this county in the first place,” Birch said in an introductory video about her work.

“Hopefully, as we go forward, we recognize the changes in our county and the people who need help,” Birch added when she received the award. “In my mind, it’s a sin if we don’t help the people who need it because we know how to do that.”

Campaign partners with Zero Reasons Why, a local teen suicide prevention campaign, received the Excellence in Community Service Award for its collaborative efforts to address the social and emotional well-being of teens in Johnson County.

And the daughters of Rick Worrel, Kate and Brooke Worrel and Jill Norwood, received the Karen Wulfkuhle Bridge Spanner Award on his behalf. Worrel, co-founder of Affinis and an active community leader who spent “a lifetime of service” helping others in the community, through the Overland Park Chamber of Commerce, UCS and ForwardOP, among other organizations, died of cardiac arrest in August.

Worrel’s family is continuing his work to advance education about heart disease and CPR training through the installation of a CPR training kiosk in Overland Park.