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Wichitan honored at White House on Friday

Lynn Gilkey, the Wichita mentor honored at a White House ceremony as a “champion of change” on Friday, is not sure what new ideas she’ll bring to bear when she comes home to Wichita now.

But whatever she does will likely include an effort to encourage more women here to help her do the work that brought her to Washington.

Gilkey, a former crack addict, turned her life around to mentor girls and young women in Wichita for many years. “Champions of Change” is an initiative created by President Barack Obama to recognize women who do outstanding work in creating extracurricular enrichment, after-school, and summer programming for marginalized girls, including girls of color.

Gilkey was honored with nine others on Friday.

“It was an honor for me to represent Wichita, Kansas, today,” Gilkey said by phone after the ceremony. “When I was lost in my addiction it was not people from New York or the west coast who lifted me up. It was my community that did that — lifted me up and encouraged me. I love my community for believing in me.”

Gilkey, with her husband, David, mentor young people in Wichita. They were crack addicts who got clean years ago and formed nonprofit groups to keep others from making similar mistakes.

The Gilkeys designed their work to steer young people toward jobs, educational achievement, caring for family and good behavior. Their efforts have been lauded locally by everyone from Koch Industries to police to administrators in school districts.

One idea David and she developed years ago, Gilkey said, is that it is smarter to build one strong girl than to try to restore one broken woman.

Not enough is being done community-wide, she said. Schools, for example, do not have nearly enough counselors to intervene, coach and mentor young women in need in schools, she said.

“I don’t know where God has me going next, but it will take more than me to empower girls in our community,” she said. “I hope more women will join me in this movement to be a positive role model for girls in Wichita and all over the world.”

Friday’s event at the White House included remarks from President Barack Obama’s friend and senior adviser Valerie Jarrett, who met and befriended the Gilkeys and came to Wichita in April to speak at one of Lynn Gilkey’s mentoring events.

Gilkey several years ago founded CLASS — “Caring Ladies Assisting Students to Succeed.” The organization mentors teen girls.

Congressman Mike Pompeo, R-Wichita, lauded Gilkey for her work and her White House honor in a statement released Thursday.

“The story of Lynn Gilkey and her husband David is inspiring and represents the best of Kansas and America,” Pompeo wrote. “We live in the land of second chances and with the help of community partners Lynn has inspired, motivated and empowered many young women to unlock their full potential.”

Roy Wenzl: 316-268-6219, @roywenzl

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