Jefferson Award Honoree: Judi Ragon
CHATTANOOGA (WRCB) - Judi Ragon leads her life by example. Volunteering is in her blood. "I can't ever remember not wanting to help somebody," she said.
This minister's wife grew up devoted to her church and its mission. During her 35-year career as a teacher, she established a lifelong connection to children, near and far. As far away as Nicaragua, where she helped lead a building campaign for much needed educational and health facilities. That takes money, and Judi knows how to make some dough. She heads for the kitchen.
Her daughter Gina Ragon said, "Because of her baking cakes and breads, we were able to build clinics. Before that, people were having to walk several miles for medical help."
Judi and her fellow volunteers were especially touched by the deplorable conditions of schools in Latin America, one of which had a total of eight books in its library. That was just the beginning of their needs.
Judi said, "We're hoping to get computers for them someday. But the first challenge is just trying to get electricity. One school had only one light bulb. People here in the United States have no idea of what they face in these countries. Everybody needs to see what we've seen."
It's a culture most Americans wouldn't understand. One has to take the time, and go to the trouble of seeing the problems first-hand, and then taking action to change things, in the face of overwhelming odds and obstacles. But Judi's experience has taught her that this mission is about much more than raising cash and delivering donations and supplies. It's about a lifestyle change, meant to last a lifetime.
Judi said, "We're trying to help them help themselves. We want them to use what they have. And then use it the rest of their lives, not just when we bring it to them."
Judi doesn't overlook the needs she sees here at home, even in her own back yard. During her teaching career, she started a program she carries out to this day. She noticed when school let out for summer, many children didn't get a dependable daily meal. So Judi fired up the oven yet again, for a different cause.
Gina said, "Every summer she feeds the poor people of the county. She makes sure they have lunch, and they have food for evenings and weekends."
Whether it be tutoring, fund-raising, building, baking, or just being there for people in need, Judi has been the go-to person in her church, her community, and across many borders. Thanks to her kindness and energy, people of all ages have been on the receiving end of her helping hands. But especially the children of the world, for whom she has an eternal soft spot in her heart.
As Judi said, "They're just so innocent, so trusting. They believe you, and with that kind of trust, you have to come through for them to make their lives better."