Two Hilliard residents are among five central Ohioans recognized as recipients of the 2015 Jefferson Awards for Public Service.

Two Hilliard residents are among five central Ohioans recognized as recipients of the 2015 Jefferson Awards for Public Service.

Heather Bennett, founder of Katelyn's Kloset, and Imran Malik, chairman of the Noor Islamic Cultural Center and vice president of the Safe Alliance of Interfaith Leaders, received the award at an April 2 ceremony sponsored by WBNS-10TV.

The Jefferson Awards, founded by Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis and Ohio Sen. Robert Taft in 1972, honor the work of unsung heroes in the community.

Bennett was recognized for her continuing efforts to improve the lives of children with disabilities.

Malik was honored for his efforts to unite community members of different faiths through cooperative-outreach projects.


In February 2014, Bennett and her husband, Edward, opened an adaptive-toy library at the Easter Seals Central and Southeast Ohio office, 3830 Trueman Court in Hilliard.

Katelyn's Kloset is named for Katelyn, the 16-month-old daughter of the Bennetts who was born with spina bifida, a birth defect in which vertebrae are not fully formed.

Toys at the library, which can be borrowed or purchased, are specially modified for children with disabilities.

When it opened last year, Katelyn's Kloset featured a variety of handheld toys, such as Mickey Mouse dolls or Chuggington trains with modified switches or buttons for children with limited dexterity or mobility.

Bennett has since added to the toy library by providing battery-powered vehicles for children to use to give them a degree of independence.

"Instead of being dependent on a caregiver to move them, these adapted cars can allow kids to explore on their own," Bennett said.

The vehicles with rechargeable batteries are adapted as necessary.

"Instead of a foot throttle, there could be a switch or a button on the steering wheel to make it go, and it could also have a head support built into it," Bennett said.


Malik has been on staff at the Noor Islamic Cultural Center, 5001 Wilcox Road, since it opened in 2008.

The center offers a two-hour public program each Saturday to share the principles of the Islamic faith and the number of those attending has steadily grown, Malik said.

He said the increased attendance indicates successful efforts to reduce prejudice and hatred among different faiths.

"Our purpose is to use our diversity to strengthen our ties," Malik said.

Mailk said efforts of the Safe Alliance of Interfaith Leaders include creating inner-faith collaborations in suburban and rural areas in amounts equal to those occurring in urban areas.

"Through food drives and other charitable work, churches and places of worship of many denominations and faiths have joined together for good causes," Malik said.

Other winners

Three other central Ohio residents were recognized for their public service.

The other Jefferson Award winners were:

• Joshua Gilger, of Canal Winchester, for his support of the Canal Winchester Food Pantry.

• William Mirick, of Worthington, for his contributions to the Volunteer Veteran Visitation Program at OhioHealth Riverside Methodist Hospital.

• Catherine Willis, of north Columbus, for the continuing efforts of the organization she founded, Friends of Art for Community Enrichment.