S.J. (2)

SJ Hazim
SJ Hazim

“I look at the world without walls. I never met anybody that I was afraid to go talk to, or shake their hand or introduce myself. So my biggest challenge is to not let the naysayers get me down, which doesn’t happen often. But everyone has feelings and no one likes it hearing those negative things. Like, people often talk bad about Topeka and about the people who are propping up Topeka, so my biggest challenge is to not let negativity win over.

I also don’t want to let anybody change me. There might be different corporations in the future that may want my services, but I never want to become a robot. With all the outside noise, the challenge is me staying who I am. I don’t want to become the status quo.

Somebody once told me ‘If you’re complaining about something and you’re not doing anything about it, then you’re part of the problem.’ So I decided that I needed to do something. It didn’t happen immediately, but it made me stop talking about stuff that I wasn’t going to try to fix. A lot of times we just like hearing ourselves talk. Now I’m at a point in my life where I’m trying to uplift the city however I can and try to continue to support local. If I don’t have any money to give, I give my time or share my insights.”

‘What are you the most excited about?’

“What I’m most excited is how this Pay it Forward came about. Over the last couple of weeks I had somebody pay it forward to me. There was an oversight on some funds that were supposed to go one of the companies I was partnered with on a project and it didn’t get paid. Me and the CEO of this company are talking and trying to figure how to make this thing right, so as that’s happening, I get a call from that CEO a half hour later telling me that an anonymous donor took care of the whole total.

At that point is when I said ‘I’m going to start paying it forward on a weekly basis.’ So now I’ve been getting all this traction from people who want to get involved. And not all of it involves money. For example, we’re going to be going to some of these senior centers and we’re taking hair dressers and barbers and beautify the people and a lot of other things. We want to pay it forward with kindness for a better community tomorrow.”



This is S.J. Hazim, he’s a community leader, activist and connector. This is part one of his story.
-Part of the Kansas Young at Heart series.


“I consider myself a creativity expert. I teach creativity. I believe that in this day and age we don’t tap in to our creativity, or utilize the way that it should be. If we did, we wouldn’t hit a brick wall. Some people play it safe all the time and then wonder why they don’t have the other opportunities that other people have had.

I believe introverts can change the world, but they have to speak from their passion for it to happen. I used to be an introverted person and I had all of these ideas in my head and I would hear people talking and sometimes I had the answer to their questions, but I was too introverted to go share my opinion. Or I thought that people wouldn’t even care about what I had to say.

I believe that there are a lot of people out there that have a lot of the answers we need, but they’re locked up in their introverted selves. We’re waiting on them. Some of those people don’t come to the events and don’t speak out, but some of them are the brightest people in the world. One thing I’ve learned is that it doesn’t matter how good you are, or how nice you are, how giving you are, there are always people who are going to criticize you. You’re never going to satisfy everybody. Just get out there and be involved.

Step out from behind the curtain and be recognized. It’s not about people knowing what you’ve done, but it’s about unleashing your gift. A gift can make room for you. There are no regrets like something you didn’t say or like something you didn’t do. Say it now, do it now. I probably spent too much time in my life not stepping out. I’ve been a helper for a long time behind the scenes for other activities and different community leaders, where I kind of pushed their ideas. So I think this is something I probably should have been doing a long time ago. But at the end of the day, no one can tell your story, but you. I believe everybody has gifts and it’s up to us to use them. I heard somebody say that ‘There is no other place fuller of regrets and wasted ideas than a graveyard.’

A lot of people die with these ideas that were put inside of them to be manifest, but they took those ideas and those gifts to the grave with them. People die with the music still in them. I don’t want to die with the music still in me.”


Vidhi (2)

Vidhi smiling

Vidhi smiling

“I’m kind of like the black sheep of the family. To come to this point I had to make it all about me and how to get better and how to make friends. My parents and my family are still very much Indian, but I have immersed myself into this environment to be more accepted into this culture. I put myself out there and created a new identity different from what my parents would have wanted me to be.

Growing up I always did the opposite of what they wanted me to do. One thing I remember was that prom wasn’t a big deal to them. But to me it was because all of my friends were going. So, I fought with them to get a nice dress and for me to go. It turns out that for me it was kind of meh in the end, but I did it. They were right that it wasn’t a big deal, but I’m still glad I did it. Thinking like that made me who I am today. It has pushed me to try new things. I think even the bad experiences I’ve had turned out okay in the end because it made me who I am now. I’m not Indian, but I’m not American, so I had to find that middle ground on my own.

Marrying outside of my culture definitely made me the black sheep of the family, too. I’m sure they wished I was married to an Indian, but they met my husband, who’s white, and they love him. Once my dad met him and asked him a bunch of questions, he then said, ‘Well, you’re not going to find anyone better than him.’ My mom then said, ‘Well, he eats and likes my food,’ so I knew then that it was all good.”

Dané (2)

Dane smiling

Dane smiling


“What I try and tell everyone is to do what they want. I see lots of people give up on their dream. Since I wanted to be an actor, since high school when I started that, there are lots of people who used to be with me in that and I’m the last one. I’ve also seen lots of things change. It used to be you had to move to the coast to be an actor and follow certain channels, but I never subscribed to that. I’ve never had this romantic idea of Hollywood. I’ve always wanted to do my own thing. I’ve always wanted to tell my own story.

I’ve always felt that if you went out there, you’re going to become part of a school of fish and no one ever pays attention to a fish in a school. But if you’re doing things out here they’ll say, ‘What’s that fish doing over there? No one does anything over there. What’s going on with this fish?’ So I always try and do my own thing. Don’t let anyone ever tell you that your dreams are unrealistic because I feel that ‘unrealistic’ was invented by people who gave up on their dreams, so don’t ever let that be the case.

Also, everyone else seems to think that they know your dream better than you do. I’m like ‘Man, it’s my dream! Give me the benefit of the doubt! Maybe I have done some of my own research on how to do what I want to do.’ So yeah, ultimately when it’s all over I want people to say ‘Dane Shobe was stubborn, but he got things done the way he wanted to do them on his own terms and did not compromise. He did it his way.'”

Courtney (2)

Courtney outdoors smiling

Courtney outdoors smiling


“I was trying to think of a clever name and my dad who’s not creative at all was like, what about ‘Bondbons?’ and I thought that was great.

Back when I started Bondbons, we had just started a Financial Peace University class by Dave Ramsey to pay off our student loans and get rid of our debt. Between the two of us we had $82,000 in student loan debt so I thought that maybe this was something I could do to help us pay it off. I posted something in January of 2014 and told people I was making cake balls for Valentine’s Day, but I wasn’t expecting to get many orders. But I had a lot of friends and family place an order out of the kindness of their hearts and then I told my husband that I probably wasn’t going to get any orders out of this, but I did keep getting more orders from other people and it kept snowballing from there.

That class helped our marriage a lot. We were never on the same page financially until we took that class. We actually sat down and did a budget together. We just talked about money stuff last night and if that would’ve been five years ago we would’ve been screaming at each other because we would get in a lot of fights about money. This time we had a very calm and mature conversation about money because we’re on the same page about it.

My husband started painting on the side and I did this, and in 38 months we became debt free. There’s no way we could have done it without Bondbons and his painting business. That’s one reason why this is so special to me, not only because I built this from the ground up and came up with the concept, but the fact that it helped us get financial freedom is priceless to me.

It’s funny because when we got married I had never baked anything in my life, so he had to teach me how to cook. I remember the first time I tried to make something for him and he was very sweet and eating it and I hadn’t taken a bite. Then I took a bite and realized that it was disgusting! He was like, ‘Well, I was only eating it because I didn’t know if you found it gross, too.’ He had to teach me how to cook. It boggles my mind that me, who didn’t even know how to cook, can start this thing and turn it into something successful. So, I hope that encourages people. Don’t be discouraged where you are now or what you can or can’t do now because anything’s possible. Everybody starts somewhere.”


Courtney smiling

Courtney smiling

This is Courtney Turcotte Bond. Courtney has been an English teacher at Washburn Rural High School for 14 years. She’s also the owner of Bondbons, where she specializes in “gourmet cake balls, cake pops, and various chocolate-covered bites.” Her husband Randall, along with their kids, also help out as needed. This is part one of her story.



“People have a lot of issues with self-image because they can so easily compare themselves to others especially with social media, which I believe causes a lot of depression. Someone once said that, “comparison is the thief of joy” so I try to remember that. I tell my kids, like for example if they say that something’s “weird,” I tell them that I like weird. Weird should be cool and embraced and more accepted. So if you have a certain music genre that you like, or if you want to dress a certain way, just do that.

I did this social experiment three or four years ago, when I taught summer school, where I wore the exact same outfit every single day for four weeks. It was a black shirt and khaki pants. The way summer school works is just students going at their own pace and they can check out whenever they’re done. So as each kid was checking out, I pulled them aside and said, “Hey, did you happen to notice anything about what I wore during summer school?” And I’m not even kidding, not one kid noticed what I wore.

On the very last day I told the five remaining kids that I wore the same black shirt and khaki pants every single day to summer school and they didn’t believe me. So I wrote about that in my blog and it really stuck with me that we care way more about ourselves than anybody else cares about us. Even thinking about what I was going to wear today for the photo shoot I couldn’t decide, like what earrings, and then I reminded myself that nobody freaking cares. You’re going to look at whatever picture is posted way more than what anybody else is going to look at you. You’re going to notice more things about yourself than what anybody else notices, so that’s a piece of advice I give my students. Be yourself and don’t worry about what other people think.

Even when people pick up orders at my house you can easily get sucked into, ‘I want my house to look really nice’ or ‘I want the best things and the most fashionable things’ but is anyone even going to notice or care about that? Or if they care, why would I care that they care? So that’s been a large paradigm shift in my life during the last three or four years.

I’m also working on a book and since I’m an English teacher, I feel like I’ll be judged more harshly, so it isn’t coming to me as easily as I thought it would. I have a lot of writer’s block and I struggle with that because I’m quite a perfectionist, but I try reminding myself that I’m not Nicholas Sparks or a New York Times Bestselling author. I’m sure that Nicholas Sparks’s first book sucked or that he struggled, so I try reminding myself that I didn’t even know how to bake ten years ago and now I made a very successful side business that’s been fun and it’s something I can use to encourage other people.”

Staci (2)


“Before my son was born, I found out that he had a rare tumor in one of his lungs when I was 20 weeks pregnant. From that point on, we had doctor’s appointments every week and had many visits to a specialist. He was in intensive care for three weeks after he was born. He had surgery right away, so that was also a huge moment in my life. This was right before I started painting. The doctors at the time told me that he had a 50 percent chance of living after he was born and that I could terminate the pregnancy or just wait it out. There were some really rough moments during that time. Where do you find strength when you don’t have strength to find in the first place?

During those times after he was born and I was struggling, I started doing these random acts of kindness. I would buy some stranger’s lunch in the drive thru or go drop a bag of groceries for a homeless person, just anything. My life was so bad that I found happiness by making somebody else happy and so that was the only time that I felt that I was doing anything good. Even after all that I went through, I wouldn’t change anything about my life because it gave me strength to be who I am today.

After my son was born with his medical problems, I decided to stay home with him and do daycare, while still utilizing my education degree. I never imagined it would last as long as it has. I’ve learned a tremendous amount about being a woman, who is a small business owner. Doing it for so long by myself it’s also very much a reason for my success as an artist. It gave me the business skills necessary to make my art a business and also gave me the financial support I needed for my family.”

Adam (2)

Adam and Kasie

Adam and Kasie


“We met at the Sandwich Shoppe. She worked at the courthouse and she would come to lunch two or three times a week and I would always ask my employees, ‘Who is this girl?’ Then we started talking and stuff. I’m 10 years older than her, but it works. I just knew when she walked in that I loved her. Food kind of brought us together. It seems that everything with us is food related.

Kasie actually proposed to me first. She made me dinner and she proposed to me. That’s why I love our marriage and our relationship because it doesn’t have to be the plain Jane stuff. I think it’s awesome that she proposed to me. Then a couple of weeks later I planned a trip to Weston with the idea of proposing to her, and planned a reservation at a restaurant that we’ve been to a few times there. It’s a funny story. We were staying at a bed and breakfast there and the restaurant called me on the day of the reservation and told me that a car had hit their power source and there was no power. This was in July so it was really hot. So they said that we could still go and sit out on the patio. And I’m like, ‘I need to keep this reservation. You don’t understand.’ So we still went. I went inside and told the chefs there to put the ring in the dessert and they’re like, ‘No wonder you didn’t want to cancel the reservation!’ It was just awesome.

We’re both busy and have high goals, her with law school and me with the restaurant, but we never forget about our marriage. A lot of people put their marriage on the back-burner. I’ve told her from day one that if this restaurant ever started tearing us apart, I’m out of here. I would rather have her in my life than this restaurant. I love her to death and I love the restaurant, but family is more important. I wouldn’t even be doing this if it wasn’t for her.”

“What’s one piece of advice that you would give the people reading this?”

“Never give up. If you really want to do something, just do it. Go out of your comfort zone a little bit. Try new things. Here I try to push the envelope further and further. Every month we change the menu to get people to get out of their comfort zone, to try new things because there’s so much good food out there. And that’s just like life. I don’t want to just be the guy that goes to work and does the same thing for 40 years.

I want to be a chef. I hate stress, but I also like it because it means that I care. I would tell people to never give up and do what they want to do in life, whether that’s being a chef, being a singer, being a lawyer, just go do it. Even if in a year this thing fails, it won’t upset me because at least I know that I tried doing it. But if I had never tried it, if I had just stayed at the Sandwich Shoppe in my little comfort zone, I would have never been happy with life. Life is so short as it is. You never know when you’re gone. I would just tell people to do what makes them happy. You just get one chance at life. There’s no practice run.”


Chef Adam smiling

Chef Adam smiling

This is Adam. Adam VanDonge and his wife Kasie are the owners of The White Linen, a fine-dining restaurant based on contemporary French and American cuisine in downtown Topeka. He grew up in a farm near Soldier, Kansas. He started the Sandwich Shoppe in Holton, Kansas in 2013. Less than a year later he remodeled the back of the Shoppe and started offering exclusive gourmet dinners in the Drum Room, which years later would sell out in mere seconds. This is his story.


“I grew up in a farm. My parents were divorced when I was around three years old. So at the farm it was me, my dad and two brothers. We raised cattle, we had pigs. He always put in a huge garden. We’ve always gone to my grandma’s house for dinner when we’d go feed cows over at her house. She had a little window that she looked out of and she always waved us in. We’d go in there and she’ll have a lot of food on there like goulash and mash potatoes and I was like ‘We don’t have a family of 40; it’s just four of us.’ I think seeing that at such a young age, I think it was embedded in me to love food. And I learned a lot by seeing the garden, to see how delicate tomatoes are and squash and zucchini and to have to pick them at the right time or they go bad, and seeing how peaches are when they’re canned. It was awesome.

My dad is my role model. I love my mom to death, but if I could be half the man my dad is, that’ll be perfect for me. He’s the guy that would drop everything if I asked him to come down and help with me something. He would do anything for us. He loves Kasie like if she was his own daughter. He’s hardworking and cares about everybody but himself. When I first told him about this restaurant idea he wasn’t too sure about it, and told me that it was a huge risk, ‘What if it don’t go right’ he said. I just told him, ‘When you buy cattle at a sale barn that’s a risk. They might have some type of disease, or something you don’t know about.’ I think me saying that opened his eyes, that and that life in general is a risk. So I told him that I was going to take this risk because I’d rather go my whole life knowing that I tried it and I failed, than never trying it all.

He came down to eat our first soft opening and he called me the next day and it was awesome. He doesn’t show emotion a lot, but he was just like ‘I’m so proud of you. You have an awesome place.’ That meant the most to me, hearing my father say how proud he was of me.

And so far it’s been going awesome with the restaurant. I love it, but it’s stressful. It’s been hard on me a lot because it takes time away from my wife and our two little kids, so I have to sacrifice my time with them to be here. Any chef out there can tell you how hard it is to run a restaurant. We set some high goals for ourselves here. I’m talking Michelin Stars and James Beard awards. I’m hard on my staff and I have high standards because although I started this thing, they’re the face of my restaurant. So, I’m always hard on them to look their best and treat our guests with the utmost respect because we’re trying to do something special here.”

Heather (3)

Heather looking to side

Heather looking to side


“What’s one piece of advice you would give to people reading this?”

“Be amazing and kind to others. Treat everyone like they’re your best friend. I say that all the time. I say that to my son. I have one rule and that is that you be a good person, a nice person, a caring person. I feel like it diffuses everything. Even if you don’t know someone, you never know what they’re going through, so if you try and treat every single person you see like someone you care about, I think this world could be amazing.

We can get so wrapped up in our own stuff, that we forget that what makes this all work is community. It’s about helping each other, lifting each other up and making each other shine. And sometimes no one has ever shined before or realize that they can, and you can seriously impact their day or their life by being kind.”

“What would winning Top Tank Topeka do for you?”

Honestly, I feel like it’s about what it would do for the community. For me, it’s something that I love and I’m passionate about, but the biggest thing is helping people learn and helping them being confident in taking care of themselves. Nutrition in Topeka is geared toward fast food. It’s very Midwest, you know, buttery goodness, but that’s only good in moderation. We don’t have a place where you can truly go for a good meal that is healthy. I also want to have classes and educate people because I really care about teaching others what I know.

There’s nothing like someone telling me how they lost 30 pounds, and even if only a little of my advice helped them get there, that’s really awesome. Knowing that I helped to impact and change their life forever, that’s super cool. Topeka is the eight most obese city in the US. It’s a serious problem and we don’t have any alternatives here, so I think it’s more about what winning Top Tank can do for the community here.”