It's called the Lake of the Ozarks Idiots Club, but don't let the name fool you.
Created by retired educators Danna and Denny Hiner, the charity is all about the serious business of raising money for needy children. The nonprofit, run entirely by volunteers who call themselves the "Jesters of Goodwill," has donated about $421,000 since 2014 for clothes, dental care, school club fees, competition fees, scholarships—or whatever else educators say students need to succeed. Donations come from individuals, annual membership fees and fundraisers at 10 lakefront restaurants during the summer.
"Our lake is a huge tourist area in the summer with thousands coming on the weekends," said Danna Hiner, noting that this summer's outreach resulted in 1,110 new members. "The weekenders are here to have a great time. They come off their boats, see our big sign, and they say, 'I could be in that club.' We tell them what we do, and they join."
The club with the attention-getting name—borrowed from a charity in South Padre, Texas, where the couple spends winters—earned the $5,000 grand prize of the 2019 Touchstone Energy® Cooperatives
The Hiners were nominated by Janell Dimond, a high school teacher and member of
Co-Mo Connect, headquartered in Tipton, Missouri. The club "has been a godsend for youth in the Lake area. It all started and continues because of the caring hearts of Danna and Denny Hiner," she wrote in her nomination.
"Shock" best describes the couple's reaction when they learned their small charity earned a national award. "We were truly amazed that someone would look past our attention-getting name to really see what we do," said Danna Hiner.
The prize money will help the nearly 60% of local children living in poverty—those qualifying for free or reduced lunches at school. "When the busy summer season is over, many parents are out of work," said Denny Hiner.
This year's #WhoPowersYou winners were among some 200 nominations reviewed by an independent panel of judges.
The $2,000 second prize went to Mary Ann LeRay, director of The Filling Station, a food pantry, and a member of
Jones-Onslow EMC in Jacksonville, North Carolina.
The winner of the $1,500 third prize was Sue Murdoch, a full-time volunteer in the communities served by
South Plains Electric Cooperative in Lubbock, Texas.
The $500 honorable mention prize went to Bill Strandlund, executive director of Grace Place, a resource agency for caregivers of relatives with mild to moderate Alzheimer's disease or dementia in communities served by
Cullman Electric Cooperative in Cullman, Alabama.
"These people are heroes in their communities and to us all in the Touchstone Energy Cooperatives network," said Jeffrey Connor, interim director of
Touchstone Energy. "They tirelessly demonstrate what it means to have a servant's heart, and we are honored to recognize them for their dedication to our core value of commitment to community."