My name is Jo Ellen Hickenbottom. I reside in Charleston and am a retiree from Eastern Illinois University. Retirement has afforded me more time to be “Nana” to my 7 wonderful grandchildren. It has also afforded me more time to spend with my 90 year old mother who is a resident at the Harmony Center in Mattoon. In fact, this is where I discovered the work Community Bridges is doing in the community. It was about two years ago when I wheeled my mother into the chapel at Odd Fellow Rebekah Home to participate in the Generation-2-Generation (G-2-G) Program listed on their daily activity list.
While sitting with my mother during the programming, I was amazed at how well the children and residents interacted with one another! Watching what transpired truly warmed my heart. Being aware that many of the residents have very few visitors, I realized this visit from the children would probably be the highlight of their day.
I was overjoyed with what I was witnessing... how at ease the children were and the responses from the seniors. It inspired me to inquire about being a volunteer.
My involvement with Fit-2-Serve’s Community Bridges over the past two years has provided the opportunity for me to apply my time where I feel I am making a difference in my community. I like the philosophy: just ONE HOUR, ONCE a MONTH. It provides a definite time, place and location, and you get to know the residents and students a little better each time you go to a program. I’ve always enjoyed volunteering over the years, but it’s mainly been with adults. With G-2-G, I am finding joy in being with the youth and the elderly. It is a perfect fit for me!
The rest of the story. . .
In 2018, I was invited to work as a Summer AmeriCorps VISTA, Volunteer In Service To America. I was tasked with being the Volunteer Coordinator, and my main duty was to recruit new volunteers by working with churches, businesses and individuals. I learned more about the other programs offered through the work of Fit-2-Serve. Because Fit-2-Serve partners with the Mattoon YMCA Summer Youth Camp, I was able to assist with some of those other programs throughout the summer. What a great summer! I loved working with the kids whether it was in the garden, classroom or kitchen.
I realized that many children never have an opportunity to work in a garden, and so much can be learned from that experience. Whether they were pushing little wheel barrows, planting vegetables, weeding, or picking fresh fruits and vegetables, I could see how much fun they were having while learning some very valuable life’s skills. The fact they worked hard (and they really did!) and were able to see the fruit of their hard work when they picked tomatoes, strawberries, etc., helped them understand the importance of a work ethic.
Two years down the road, I continue to work with Fit-2-Serve as their Volunteer Volunteer Coordinator, particularly for the Generation-2-Generation programming. I find great joy as I see how eager the children are to work with the residents in creating crafts and learning from each other. I love the smiles on the resident's face when the children give them a craft or card they made. Many of the residents take the craft and cards back to their rooms to look at through the day. One of the residents in another nursing home even keeps a3-ring notebook of all the crafts and cards the students have made for him throughout the year. He is so proud of the notebook and enjoys sharing it with everyone.
As a retiree, I need to keep active and have something that is rewarding, and this “work” I’m doing with Fit-2-Serve definitely “fits” those needs to serve for me! Last month, after finishing a Generation-2-Generation program at one of the senior facilities, a resident came up to me and simply hugged me. “Thank you so much for coming and bringing these children. They just made my day!”
Consider joining us. . .
I know Fit-2-Serve is working on a sustainability campaign, and I’m glad they are! I live in Charleston, and I am currently coordinating a pilot program for G-2-G with four kindergarten classes from Mark Twain Elementary School and four very willing senior living facilities. My personal dream is to see the pilot program expand to ALL the kindergarten classes and more senior facilities in Charleston. However, it takes volunteers and some funding! With the assistance of EIU student volunteers and the amazing students from the Charleston High School Impact Club, we have been able to continue the pilot program for the last two years. However, imagine what COULD BE if more would consider JUST ONE HOUR ONCE A MONTH?
I encourage you to visit Fit-2-Serve’s website to learn more about volunteering or donating. It has been not only rewarding for me, but has provided great joy to children, senior residents, and their activity directors! They always thank us for bringing such joy to their residents!
You may know me as the Farm-2-Table lady, Ryan’s mom, or the Pro’s Wife. My name is Cheryl Lee, and I wear all those titles. . . and have earned many others over the years. Mark & I have been members of this community for almost 30 years. When our son was almost 2 years old, we moved from the Northwest suburbs and relocated to Mattoon, where my husband served as the Golf Professional at Mattoon Golf & Country Club for well over 20 years. The first and only neighborhood we looked at was Elm Ridge. For many reasons, it reminded me of the neighborhood my brothers and I grew up in in Central Pennsylvania. . . Osceola Mills. However, unlike Elm Ridge, our little town was divided with the “Crick” being the dividing line. My three brothers and I grew up on the other side of the crick. And, we were one of only two Catholic families in that neighborhood.
Should I share my story?
As this story unfolds, you will find a glimpse into how my mother “equipped” her children in the midst of what nowadays would be labeled a “a dysfunctional family.” Her card to me was my inspiration (and courage) to share this story.
It took many years to come to terms with my childhood, and I have labored over how to explain the impact the sentences written and placed inside a Christmas card had on my heart. My courage came in the form of scripture: Philippians 3 “13 Brothers and sisters . . But one thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, 14 I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus.”
In the midst of an incredibly busy “week before Christmas”, I had to sign for an envelope my mother had mailed the week before. The card was lovely and the sentiment very touching. There was also a handwritten note neatly folded around a check. My mother and I had promised to ONLY send cards—but, neither of us held true to that promise! My heart was full, yet heavy as my mother is on a fixed income and care gives for the “elderly” for spending money. My mom is 85--but you didn’t hear that from me!
“I’m sure blessed with a loving family.” she wrote in her letter to me. “You like to give, so do it. Accept this from my loving heart. The act of giving increases my happiness!” Tears well up even now as I write this! In honor of my mother, I chose to donate the money to Fit-2-Serve's Endowment Campaign kicked off earlier this year! What better way to honor my mother's gift to me than "gifting" it to an organization I truly feel IS transforming our community.
When we talked, she admitted her hope had been that I would get something for myself. "But, Mom, I did! And, now we can both feel joy in doing this together!"
Now. . . the rest of the story. . . .
As a child, my mother took all four of her children to Sunday Mass . . . and, we had to sit up front in the 2nd or 3rd pew back! I think back on how strong her commitment must have been to get three boys dressed in proper Sunday attire and for this tomboy to put on a dress. Every single Sunday, there was an envelope that went into the collection basket along with an envelope from each child. Shirley Irene had planted “seeds” in what most would have considered “poor soil” back then.
I often wonder what drove my mother to do what she did. But, like most, we underestimate the power of a Heavenly Father who guides us despite our lack of understanding or knowledge. My mother not only taught her children to be generous, but she lived it throughout our childhood. . . and she still does! She planted the “seeds” of faith that I now live out it my daily life to the best of my ability.
Yes, this is my story of my mother instinctively “equipping” me and my brothers. And, the beauty is her nurturing this gift of generosity is continuing in her grandchildren and great grandchildren. . . a generational shift to giving to others.
Endowment Campaign – Please Consider
Fit-2-Serve begun the journey to establish an Endowment Fund because we are confident that He who began a good work in our community will carry it on to completion. It’s the first step in a long journey, but we are confident with Our Father leading, He will guide us along the way. Won't you consider joining us on this journey of youth development and community transformation?
How can you help?
Over 9,000 contacts in 2019 . . .
Over 800 community youth engaged . . .
Over 3,000 volunteer hours provided. . .
Help continue this transformational work in our community.
Consider donating before the close of 2019!
Mary Hill Dobbs, a resident of Odd Fellow-Rebekah Home, would most definitely fit the description of a "hidden gem" in our community. Mary has worn many hats over the course of her life time: daughter, mother, educator, counselor, columnist and author. She has been a committed and long-standing “volunteer” for our Generation-2-Generation program. We had the blessing of sitting with Mary recently in hopes she could share her perspective on our mission to “equip people for works of service.” Please enjoy . . .
When the children from Generation-2-Generation come here, it is important to understand we are impacting our very neighborhood in developing future leaders. Anything we can do to encourage our children is essential. I know I won’t be here to meet these future leaders, but my grandchildren will be!
I was blessed to have parents who instilled great values. Most of my values come from my mother--put others first; don’t think God has authorized you to judge others; love teach and cheer; give anyone the benefit of the doubt—are just a few. My father instilled the importance of education into all his children. While picking cotton and hoeing tobacco, he quizzed us on each of our state’s capitols. Yes, we worked hard in the fields, but we were always learning!
As I think of the work being done through Generation-2-Generation, I recall Mother's “heart-generated” actions she instinctively lived out on a daily basis. Love, teach, share. . . that is what I see happening each time the children come to visit us! For one hour, we get to express love by the cards and crafts created; we get to teach and learn from one another; and, most importantly, we get to share our presence in a safe, loving place. "Every day is better when I meet with them! I could just take them and hug them all day long!"
After each group of students boards the bus, I realize just how very much I enjoyed each child! It makes me think of the quote that hangs on my door:
We are like a box of crayons.
Each one of us is unique.
But when we get together. . .
The picture is complete.
They complete my day!
Generation-2-Generation reflects yet another value my mother modeled for us her entire life: “you can accomplish many worthwhile things if you do not find it necessary to claim credit.” We were taught you “don’t do things for rewards. Let the fact that you have been given eyes to see and abilities to fulfill the needs of others be your reward.” For instance, I literally have eyes to see because I was given the gift of corneal transplants. Each time the children visit and we share and exchange in conversation, I hope in some small way they understand the “good things” they are doing--right here, right now--can and do matter! As the photos have depicted, I honor these young creators by hanging their artwork on my door and walls. In fact, one framed piece of artwork sits on my desk along with photos of my family. They have inherently “given” to me and the other residents because of their presence. What a beautiful “lesson” to “teach” the youth of our community!
In one of the Generation-2-Generation visits, the children are read a book called “Same, Same, But Different.” A great book that dwells on how we are more the same than we are different. The children are asked to think about this, then draw or write ways we are the same or different. What great artists! What great minds. On occasion, I sometimes share with the children my experience of growing up in the South during segregation. My parents did not believe in segregation and made sure we understood that “if you prick your finger with a needle, we all bleed red.” The picture that hangs on my wall is called “Caroline”. She was a black lady in our community who took in white people’s laundry to wash and iron. . . for pennies. Caroline has no face in the painting because she “didn’t matter”. However, my parents raised us up to SEE beyond the color of one’s skin. I often ask some of the staff at OFRH if they ever experience this nowadays. Sad to say, they admit they do; and for some, it’s a weekly occurrence.
As an educator and farm girl, I understand the value of “life’s lessons” learned while cultivating the soil in preparation for a successful planting and harvest. I love planting seeds with the children as they gather around my table. Who knows what impact a simple statement might have: “We just might have a future doctor or lawyer standing right here at this table.”
The children are so open and honest and share from their hearts. Again, I think of something my mother taught us. We should always give everyone the benefit of the doubt and never take offense by others actions or words because “we cannot ever fully know what another person is experiencing within.” I have no way of knowing what their little minds or hearts have experienced. But, for one hour, I can listen to them, encourage them, and simply find joy in who they are—right there; right now.
Postscript by Cheryl Lee: Sitting with Mary was MY blessing! I could have sat there for the rest of the day! She blessed me with her time, stories, and HER BOOK, “The Steeple’s Scroll”!
She signed it: “To Cheryl, I have learned from you. Enjoy!"
And, I will. For those who might like to read Mary’s book, here is a link to purchase it: Amazon.com. And, I’m pretty sure Mary would love to sign your book for you.
Let me introduce myself. My name is Jerry Elmendorf, husband to Jessica, father to Rylee. With the support of my family, I made a life-changing decision a few years ago to leave my manager's position with a local business and return to college. I enrolled as a full-time student at Lake Land College. This is the story of my summer as an 8-week AmeriCorps VISTA with Fit-2-Serve. Why AmeriCorps VISTA? Perhaps a good place to start is understanding what a VISTA is: a Volunteer In Service To America. This should help explain my biggest why: it gave me an opportunity to connect and serve my community. I have resided in other communities over the years, but never felt "connected" to any of them. AmeriCorps allowed me to be a part of something bigger than myself.
Fit-2-Serve's mission to "equip people for works of service" hit home for me. The opportunity to equip CHILDREN for works of service is instrumental in building great leaders. Providing "safe places" where children engage and interact in different environments--nursing homes & community gardens--allows them to see there is so much more to community and to life itself than what they know.
We are the sum of our life experiences, and these are wonderful and positive experiences for these children to build on. Sad to say, for some, those "positive" experiences might be in short supply. I am so very thankful to have played just a small role in making that happen for them.
Our children ARE our future! I can't think of a better investment we could make!
And. . . the rest of the story. . .
Ever get that urge or nudge to do something? Should I? Or, should I just let it pass? Jerry’s story started several years before his work with Fit-2-Serve. This is a story of two friends; one who had that “nudge” and the other’s answer to it!.
Jerry: After I enrolled as a full-time student at Lake Land College, I was accepted into a Work & Learn Program offered through the college and was assigned to one of the TRiO programs housed by the college: Destination College. How fortuitous! As I became more familiar with my duties at Destination College, I was often directed to review old files often created by the former Administrative Assistant, Cheryl Lee. "Hmmmm. . . could this possibly be the same Cheryl Lee I knew?"
Cheryl: When I ran into Jerry and his family at church a few years ago, he mentioned Destination College and asked if I had worked there. Of course, I had and shared how much I LOVED the program's mission and the job as well. Life happens, and I was on a new path as an AmeriCorps VISTA member. Coincidentally, both programs were part of the 1960's War on Poverty initiative. I share with Jerry and Jessica how I was enjoying my new role as a VISTA.
Jerry: During the Spring of my first year as a full-time student, my family and I went through some difficult times as we grieved over the loss of my father, only to be followed by the loss of another close family relative. As the semester was winding down, I was contemplating what I should do over the summer months. It was then that Cheryl had reached out asking if I might be interested in an 8-week Summer AmeriCorps VISTA position. I was definitely interested but felt I needed to take a pass at this point.
Fast forward. . . May 2019. . . one year later. . .
Cheryl: Cheyenne and I were asked to take the lead in recruiting our Fit-2-Serve Summer VISTAs. We were approaching the "close date" when I felt this "nudge" to reach out to Jerry, especially after he shared an inspiring post on Facebook. I decided to send a message to him to see if he might have any interest in joining us over the summer.
Jerry: My wife and I were discussing what I should do over the summer. She suggested I reach out to Cheryl to see if Fit-2-Serve might be looking for people to work. I kid you not, it was within minutes I received an alert that I had a message. It was from Cheryl asking if I had any plans for the summer! And, as they might say, the rest is history!
I hope the photo above brings a smile to your face as a lovely senior citizen is being loved on by a handsome young man! However, there is such a powerful story behind those smiles, that I hope you will indulge me as I share why this photo holds a special place in my heart.
When I was 5 years old, my family moved to Mattoon, where my father served as the pastor of St. Paul's Lutheran Church two miles east of the Dorans elevator. As I reflect over those years, it would be impossible to count the number of blessings my siblings and I derived from being raised in such a close-knit community. Members of the church were addressed as aunt or uncle even though there was no biological connection; however, we were family just the same. Upon my return to Mattoon, I have been blessed to re-connect with several members who attended the church where my father served. The photo above is one of those aunts of my childhood whose path I have been blessed to cross, Norma Pardieck.
Norma, now a resident at one of our senior living facilities, was one of the organists at St. Paul's Lutheran Church! She was always willing to substitute whenever Janet Homann, our regular organist, was ill or out of town. Mrs. Pardieck loved to play the organ and would always practice the Saturday before any service. Every time I see her now, I am blessed with the beautiful smile captured in that photo! I very proudly refer to her as my dad's church organist when introducing her to others.
One of our Community Bridges programs, Generation-2-Generation visits Mrs. Pardieck's facility each month. If she is not seated at one of the tables, I make a point to walk to her room to extend a personal invitation. Just as gracious as I remember her, she smiles at me then joins us at a table.
Last academic year, she and Kanari (pictured in photo) developed a special bond. Each visit, Kanari asked if he could be at Mrs. Pardieck's table; and they chatted back and forth as if they had known each other forever!
We are blessed Kanari and Mrs. Pardieck met during our Generation-2-Generation program. When I view these photos of the two of them, I deeply feel that very same sense of family my siblings and I were blessed to have had growing up with the aunts and uncles from my father's church.
EQUIPPING IN ACTION !!!!
My final thoughts are depicted in the photos above. Kanari and Mrs. Pardieck simply enjoyed their time together. Volumes could be written in regards to the "connections" being made when the kindergarten and third grade students from our school district visit and interact with the 200+ residents of our senior centers in Mattoon! I'm sure you will agree it's a WIN-WIN…
We all need to be loved… to be valued… to give… and receive.
Our seniors feel valued and simply LOVE on the students gathered around them each visit. Our youth feel loved and valued as they are beginning to understand PRESENCE is a gift they can give to one another.