A lot of research and deliberation goes into selecting the recipients for Club TNT’s biannual Water Bearer Awards. And who’s to argue with the results coming from the three longtime Club TNTers – Gaddi Ben Dan, Betty Banks, and Jeanne Erickson – who have over a century of Madison-area community involvement between them to determine the winners.

“The Water Bearer Awards dinner are just a fun and exciting time for us and it’s an honor and a privilege to be able to recognize some really wonderful people in Madison,” Jeanne Erickson, director of public relations for Club TNT, told Madison365. “We’ve honored 106 individuals and organizations with Water Bearer Awards over the past 13 years for the contributions that they have made to the community that they live in and work for. This year, we have eight wonderful honorees.”

The slate of the 2016 Water Bearer Award recipients includes: Martha Vukelich-Austin, vice president of AVA Civic Enterprises and Philanthropy Advisor for Planned Parenthood of Wisconsin; Tom Bier, former general manager of WISC-TV;
Jasmine Banks, coordinator of community engagement at Community Action Coalition for South Central Wisconsin, Inc.;
George Chavez, a detective for Madison Police Department; Scott Haumersen – CPA, CGMA, PARTNER, Wegner CPAs; Michelle Heitzinger, executive director of Susan J. Komen; Andre Johnson, Dane County Juvenile Justice Manager; and Toya Johnson, director of community impact, self-reliance and independence for United Way of Dane County.

Award recipients will once again get colorful water urns personally tailored to them at the awards ceremony scheduled for Friday at the Radisson Hotel on Madison’s west side. The host and emcee for the evening will be Ralph Cohen, an account executive with WISC-TV/TVW who was the original host of Club TNT, and Deana Wright, a talented radio and television personality here in Madison.

Club TNT co-founders Dan and Banks have creatively worked with young people for more than a quarter century to educate them through entertainment on their Saturday morning show which provides opportunities for youth to build self-esteem and confidence to say no to drugs, gangs, and other risky behaviors. Both Dan and Banks can be seen doing hard work in the community, oftentimes behind the scenes. Back in 2003, they decided that they would honor people in the Madison community for doing that very same thing with the Water Bearer Awards.

“We’ve been at it a long time. But when you think about all of the work that’s being done in this community and all of the people who are doing it, it’s pretty amazing,” Erickson said. “And all of these people are doing these things for the reason that we honor – they are really not looking for that award; they are looking to make their community better.

“For example, we are honoring [Susan G. Komen Executive Director] Michelle [Heitzinger] this year. We know her from the Susan G. Komen Foundation, but she does so many other things in the community that people may not know about,” Erickson said. “Same thing with [Wegner CPA Managing Partner] Scott [Haumersen]. We know him from Wegner, but he is so much more than that with what he does in our community.”

The “water bearer,” a biblical term, is the individual who each morning and night went to the well to bring water — the essence of life — back to the village and the family. The Village People Water Bearer Award is presented to individuals or groups committed to the community in all aspects of life, a commitment that goes beyond work, and whose actions and deeds exemplify that commitment to supporting the village and the family and giving, in essence, what the village needs to continue and grow. Honorees are also supportive of the mission of Today Not Tomorrow Inc./ Club TNT, sponsor of the Water Bearer Awards.

“These are the people who bear the water for the community,” Erickson said. “They bring that refreshment. They bring that energy. They bring the life to the community and the community members so they can refresh themselves and they can be productive.”

The 2016 Water Bearer Awards Dinner is a fundraiser for Today Not Tomorrow and its related initiatives, one of those being Project Babies, which is celebrating its 10th anniversary this month. A portion of the event proceeds have been earmarked specifically for the Beds for Babies initiative of Project Babies.

“Project Babies started 10 years ago because there was a need to take over the community baby showers that had been done by WISC-TV,” said Erickson, who also is the director of Project Babies. “We decided that it really needed to be continued. We started by doing a community baby shower once a year and we have just grown over these 10 years.”

Project Babies also provides information and activities that enable families to become proactive in their children’s health and well-being. “This Friday night at the event, we will be launching the ‘Beds for Babies’ initiative. With an increasing number of toddlers and babies out on the street and homeless and changes that are happening in the shelter program, we have babies and little infants spending their days in carriers. So what Project Babies is doing is purchasing portable bassinettes for infants and toddlers who are homeless or sheltered or transitioning in or out of housing. These bassinettes are small and collapsible and can fit into backpacks. Babies will have a safe place to sleep in during the day,” Erickson said.

The mission of Club TNT is to strengthen families and promote “Comm-Unity” by using the medium of entertainment and technology to inform and educate, children, youth and young adults, and the adults in their lives on the consequences of risky behaviors. They also work to provide information about the community resources available to support positive lifestyles and to promote the health and well-being of families and their children of all ages.

“Club TNT is as active as can be. We’re still working on many of the issues that we always have to improve the community and to help children be aware of risky behaviors,” Erickson said. “We’ve been around for a while now. This is our 13th straight year that we’ve been on TV since coming back from our hiatus from our original show in the ’90s. I think that’s amazing.”

The Saturday morning Club TNT show is both entertaining and educational, much like the Water Bearer Awards ceremony which will have musical performances, youth performances, and, in all likelihood, Dan leading the crowd in an interactive singing of “The ABCs of Love.” Is that going to happen this Friday?

“You know it,” laughs Erickson. “It’s hard to imagine an event without it. He’ll close out the night with that and turn things over to a group out of Chicago called ‘Remedy’ who people might recognize from America’s Got Talent two seasons ago. They were a group that was literally discovered in the subways of Chicago and they are quite talented. They will be doing a Capella old-school cover songs … a little mini-concert inside the Madison ballroom [at the Radisson].”

Erickson said the food (including a dessert bar) is going to be amazing at the event and she guarantees everybody will have a great time.

“The Water Bearer Awards are a great chance to network and have fun and have fellowship with people from throughout Madison,” Erickson said. “There are folks that we have in this community who have done some great work and we are happy to acknowledge them. It’s a chance to support Club TNT, too. We are a non-profit and rather small but we do powerful things. People say we’re one of the best-kept secrets in Madison.”

The 2016 Water Bearer gala event will be held at the Radisson Hotel on 517 Grand Canyon Road on Friday, Sept. 16. It begins at 5 p.m. with a social hour and the start of a silent auction. A buffet dinner will be served at 6:30 p.m. followed by the awards program at 7:30 p.m. Get tickets here.