Fit-2-Serve was founded as a 501(c)(3) on September 15, 2008, with the mission to equip people for works of service. September 2018, we celebrated our 10 year anniversary as we continue to pursue our mission and our vision to be a catalyst for a vibrant collaborative community.
Our primary method of equipping people for works of service during the first fours years was through the development of educational resources that were designed for faith-based settings to include churches, Bible studies, small groups, and a Christian university. During a sabbatical from his university teaching in 2011, the director studied poverty alleviation in the context of rural America using Mattoon, IL, as the textbook. We then began to think more strategically as to how we could engage our mission of equipping people for works of service while addressing the issues of rural poverty.
In Mattoon, our work of equipping began with the residents of our local homeless shelter. Day programming was developed for the guests, designed with the goal of offering developmental opportunities as opposed to simply providing relief. As a result of our work, the opportunity sprang forth to establish our first community garden, farming side-by-side with guests of the homeless shelter. In 2014, we harvested 800 pounds of produce from our work in the garden and subsequently donated it to local food banks. In the process of working with the guests and building relational connections with one another, it became apparently clear that value, dignity, and worth was not only desired but needed.
Concurrently, each year from 2012-2015, the director would bring a group of university students from Chicago to Mattoon to engage in the study of asset-based community development We discovered a plethora of assets in Mattoon, and the most prominent asset was the youth encountered during the time in the community. We began thinking about what it could look like if we were to target youth in our efforts to equip people to serve. This is how our Community Bridges programming was birthed.
We began engaging youth in our community garden work as we sought to create a Sustainable Food Center. In 2015, we had 1000 volunteer contacts in the two gardens we managed; in 2018, we had 2,400 volunteer contacts across the four community gardens we manage.
Concurrently, we began taking groups of elementary students to senior living facilities to engage intergenerational service learning as a part of our Generation-2-Generation (G-2-G) program. In January of 2016, 80 youth participated in G-2-G; in January of 2019 over 400 youth in Mattoon participated and 90 in Charleston. Our partnership with the Family Consumer Science program at MHS as well as staffing provided by our local YMCA has allowed for this expansion of G-2-G.
Each year, other Community Bridge programs have been developed, piloted, refined and reworked. Farm-2-Table, which engages first graders, began in 2016 with two classes, and now serves all 12 first grade classrooms in our public schools. School-2-Farm (formerly Farm-2-School) serves all second-grade classes at both Williams and Riddle Elementary schools thanks to our partner, the FFA program at MHS. Our Talents-2-Strengths program has been piloted with four fifth grade classes, with plans to expand it during the 2019-2020 academic year in partnership with the JROTC program at MHS.
As our primary population served are youth, our goal is to have a longitudinal service learning program serving all K-5th-grade students (approximately 1,500 youth) in Mattoon by the year 2024. Additionally, we will serve more than 150 of our local high school students as intentional leadership opportunities will be provided for them through engagement in facilitating our Community Bridges programming.