For Toni Werner, teaching was what she was meant to do with her life. After getting her degree in elementary education from Ball State in 1999, Werner spent 23 years teaching in an elementary school for DeKalb Central Schools.
“The last few years, I’ve just been looking for something a little more fulfilling,” Werner said. “Not that teaching isn’t fulfilling, but I was just looking for a different way to give back to [the] community.”
Two years ago, Werner began volunteering at Warm a Heart ministry in Waterloo, Indiana, and, now, she has taken over as its director — completely changing her career path.
“Warm a Heart ministry is an outreach program where we serve food twice a week and we give out groceries, so it’s like a food pantry and a soup kitchen,” she said. “We also have a thrift store, and there’s going to be more programming that we’re going to do soon.”
At Warm a Heart ministry, Werner found a way to continue living the Beneficence pledge beyond her time at Ball State, as she lives out social responsibility and values the worth of all community members.
Werner began volunteering for Warm a Heart ministry, which was founded in February 2012, after her church presented the opportunity. After her first experience volunteering, she said, she began taking over one night a week to serve a meal within the church, which put her in the position to become director of the ministry.
Werner is the second director the ministry has seen. She was offered the position after the former director, Diane Reynolds, decided she was ready to retire, and officially took over in July.
“She had been doing this for about eight years, and she was feeling God was putting her in a position to start slowing down and retiring, so it all just kind of came together,” Werner said.
Reynolds is now on the Board of Directors for the ministry, and said she looks forward to seeing Werner grow personally and spiritually as the director.
“What set her apart was her genuine heart for the people she was serving — it was evidence of her compassion,” Reynolds said. “[Werner] has a vision that will take Warm a Heart to a new level.”
As director, Werner oversees all the ministry’s volunteers and ensures there is a plan to serve meals Tuesdays and Thursdays. She said the ministry has five churches that consistently serve a meal once a month, and she has other groups of volunteers to regularly serve meals. If there are no volunteers for the night, Werner cooks and serves the meals herself.
She also oversees the financial business for the ministry, including writing the grants, working with donations and fundraising.
“Our money sources right now are totally donations, other than grants we used to build a new building, which opened in March of 2020 — right in the beginning of COVID,” Werner said.
Along with overseeing volunteers and the ministry’s financial business, Werner is also in charge of Warm a Heart ministry’s thrift store, which includes keeping track of donations and organizing items in the store and storage unit. The thrift store is open Tuesdays, Thursdays and Fridays.
Werner is working to make the ministry more of a “community space,” where people can come not only if they need food, but if they need company as well.
“Waterloo is not a very big town,” she said. “There is not a lot going on right now — a lot of things have gone out [of business], and I just want to help revitalize the town and bring the people together.”
Reynolds said the “future for the ministry has potential for amazing growth” under Werner’s leadership, and it is evident she is passionate about the ministry growing.
Transitioning into the director position has kept Werner busy, she said, but she’s enjoyed it and is excited to see where it will lead.
“Normally, I would have the summer off, but I haven’t,” Werner said. “I really enjoy getting to know all the people that come in here and just how humble and grateful they are for the support that we can give them. I go to bed at night thinking of all the good I’ve done.”