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Countryside announces 2018 Community Hero winner

Countryside Plumbing & Heating, Bryant’s dealership in New Richmond, announced Kym Lokken of Hudson as this year's winner of a free furnace. Pictured are (from left) Countryside Plumbing & Heating President Carol De Young, Inc., Lokken and Countryside Communications & Marketing Manager Cindy Croes. Tom Lindfors / RiverTown Multimedia

Tis the season. You know the rest, tons of shopping, countless cards to mail or tweets to tweet, parties a plenty, trees to trim, stockings to hang with care, holiday concerts, relatives, neighbors, Santa, elves, reindeer, way too much food and way too little time.

It's easy to get overwhelmed by the holidays and even easier to miss the point buried in a snowdrift. It is supposed to be a season of giving, a time to put others first, lend a helping hand to those less fortunate and recognize folks behind the scenes who work diligently to make this world a better place while shying away from the spotlight.

In 2015 Bryant Heating & Cooling Systems began a program dedicated to recognizing these people called Community Heroes.

Here is how they describe the program: "A way to honor local heroes who make a difference in their community. There is no one definition of what makes a hero, but most tend to be unsung quietly doing amazing work for the improvement of their community. Heroes demonstrate how people with passion and determination can use their life to make a difference. Heroes come in all shapes and sizes, and not all Heroes wear a cape or even a uniform. They might be your neighbor, your colleague, your friend or someone that you see is making a positive impact."

The program relies on ordinary people to recognize and nominate their heroes.

Across Wisconsin, Minnesota, North Dakota and Upper Michigan, panels of judges are assembled by local Bryant dealers to evaluate nominations and award winners with a brand new free Bryant furnace. Since 2015, the program has recognized 80 heroes across four states.

The program has been taking place here in New Richmond sponsored by Countryside Plumbing & Heating, Inc. for the last three years.

According to Carol De Young, President of Countryside Plumbing & Heating, Inc. the program is finally starting to snowball a bit. Past winners are nominating worthy heroes, paying it forward so to speak, and spreading the word.

"It was difficult getting it off the ground the first year because it was an unknown thing so we marketed it somewhat," said De Young. "We did get several nominations that first year and now each year it's kind of started to snowball on its own because people are watching for it and the past winners are paying it forward, so it's growing a lot. I'm a little overly passionate about it and they kid me about it but I've been on it since day one. I just think it's an amazing program to be able to offer something as unique as a furnace."

The winner of this year's Community Hero Award selected from a field filled with deserving nominees is Kimberly Lokken of Hudson.

Lokken is a mobile mammographer, mother of three and co-founder of Crowning Achievements, a non-profit organization supporting adults with special needs within the St. Croix Valley area. Lokken co-founded CA with her daughter Shelby 10 years ago. Kim and Shelby recognized that once special needs individuals left high school, their access to social opportunities declined. The goal of CA is to foster awareness and acceptance of the participants as well as to promote their social skills and grow their social circle by providing fun events each month in local communities.

Initially CA began as an effort to give the girls with special needs that Shelby volunteered with an opportunity to experience a princess pageant. In the 10 years since its inception, the goals of the program have grown to include a focus on recruiting young volunteers. Kym and Shelby understand that opportunity works both ways.

"If we can get people volunteering at a young age and get them comfortable working with that part of our community, participants are going to get more opportunities, they're going to have more friends, more people who are in touch with their situation in life and are watching out for them. It's no longer just about providing opportunities for our special needs participants, it's also offering meaningful volunteer opportunities for young people in our community," said Kym.

Previous to becoming a mammographer Kym worked as a special education assistant in the Hudson School District. She went back to school in her 40's to earn her degree and ended up attending at the same time as her daughter.

"It was super fun and I know I got invited to way more keggers than my kids did. I'm just saying. I totally got better grades probably because I wasn't going to stuff like that. It's fun to learn. I knew when I went back to school that I had to find something where I would be helping other people, that's just kind of my nature to help," said Kym.

CA can be nearly as demanding as Kym's regular job, sometimes requiring 20 plus hours a week outside of work.

"The pageant is a ton of work. At least three months prior, I'm coming home from work and I'm putting in an additional 20-30 hours a week working on the pageant," said Kym.

A lot of that time is spent writing a complete script for the pageant using information provided by participants.

One thing is for sure, Kym's script did not include a call from De Young.

"I had no idea. I use my cell phone for work too, so when she called me between patients, I answered. I didn't recognize the number, but with everyone using my number for CA I thought it might be someone calling to ask me questions. When she asked if I had a minute to talk, I thought I really don't, I'm at work. Then she told what it was about and I was like 'what?' ... I was sitting there in shock so I wrote a note and showed it to my co-worker, Ali, and went, 'What!' I said, 'This is why you might have to go get the next patient.' I was in shock."

De Young explained what it was like on her end of the line.

"It's a little awkward for me to make that call because, I explain who I am and you wonder what am I calling for? But if I lead right in with, 'You just own a new furnace,' you might think that's leading into selling you something else or some sort of scam," said De Young.

An hour before, Kym and her husband Scott had received a call from their son who had just found out he had gotten into a Navy pilot pilot program. It had already been a pretty good afternoon.

"I went out and bought a lottery ticket,"said Scott.

"It's very humbling because I can think of so many people that probably deserve this a whole lot more than we do," said Kym.