Railport Brewing Company was jam-packed as over 200 people turned out for the Daily Light’s third annual “40 Under Forty” award ceremony and fundraiser, Wednesday.
Forty professionals whose work in Ellis County has made a difference in the lives of others were honored for their service above self. They were all 40 years old or younger. The youngest honoree was just 24 years old.
One of the highlights of the grand occasion was the presentation of checks to two charities chosen by the nominees: Manna House and Texas Baptist Home for Children.
“When we sent out questionnaires to all of tonight’s honorees, we asked them to name their favorite charities,” Waxahachie Media Group Advertising and Operations Director Colton Crist told the audience.
“Proceeds from tonight’s event will be divided between these two charities as a donation from Waxahachie Media Group and Ellis County’s 40 Under 40,” Crist added.
The ticketed event raked in $1,490, securing $745 for each charity.
“There is so much need in the area. It’s a blessing. It’s people coming together to help people. It’s moving,” said an emotional Sissy Franklin, Manna House’s executive director.
Moved to tears, Franklin called it “mindboggling” to think of all the people who will be fed because of the generous donation.
Manna House is a 27-year-old Midlothian-based community outreach organization that provides food, financial assistance and other forms of support to those in need.
Texas Baptist Home is an adoption agency in Waxahachie that provides foster care and adoption programs for abused and neglected children.
“The money that goes to something like this, we can use to serve children and families that are involved in foster care and adoption, so it really goes to a worthwhile cause, and we’re incredibly grateful for the community and for the Waxahachie Daily Light and everybody involved in this event,” Texas Baptist Home Director of Development Jansen McDonald said.
The Daily Light caught up with a handful of the honorees who were still beaming with pride even as the event came to a close.
“It’s wonderful, such an honor. I’m very glad to be here. It’s inspiring. It’s very inspiring,” Deanne Fite said. “Everybody here is so wonderful and such a productive member of our community. I love it.”
Fite, 39, is an award-winning realtor who was named Top 100 Century 21 Realtors in Texas. She invests in the community beyond her work by participating in various organizations and charities.
Stacey Duenas, 38, opened SMD Designs + Boutique in Waxahachie after being with the Grand Prairie Police Department for 14 years. She volunteers with The Avenue Church in Waxahachie where she mentors young girls.
“I’d probably say I’m humbled. The fact that there’s a lot of businesses out there, and to be one of the top 40, it just opens my eyes to the potential that my business is able to do and grow in the future,” Duenas said.
Shane Henry is also an entrepreneur in Waxahachie as the owner of Fresh Market Coffee. Among his long list of charitable deeds, Henry volunteers as a motivational speaker to at-risk youth.
“You work in a community that you love, and even just this crowd of people, these 40 other individuals, it’s just a pretty awesome feeling. It’s an honor, for sure,” Shane Henry, 32, shared.
The backyard of Railport was the main stage of the event as temperatures soared, but there were enough cold beers to go around. There was also enough food for the occasion, catered by Tacos 4 Life. Through its Meal for Meal hunger-fighting initiative with the Feed My Starving Children organization, the restaurant's donation will feed as many as 250 children.
The ceremony began at around 5:45 p.m. with a Grammy-worthy performance of the national anthem by Roberta “Robin” Fox, who manages the circulation customer service desk at the media group. Her 25-year tenure with the company makes her the longest-serving team member.
Although this was the third award ceremony, it was the first under the leadership of Crist and his practically new team.
The award winners were first nominated months ago by community members. A panel of the media group's staff then carefully selected the winners based on their community service endeavors.
“I'm very proud of all the hard work our team did in putting together this event and honoring the young professionals of this area,” Managing Editor Rebecca Jones said. “It was a pleasure to meet our nominees and acknowledge the impact that they have on this great community. We are already looking forward to next year."