“Seeds to Succeed” blooms in Illinois

By Anne Marie Gerhardt, Special Contributor

Jennifer Ibarra noticed a Seeds to Succeed ad while riding a train. She looked up the website and decided to sign up to volunteer.  The single mother brought all five of her young children to a community center in Chicago that early Saturday morning and worked for hours weeding outside, picking up trash and organizing classrooms.

“In order to plant seeds, you have to start with them and help them to grow,” said Ms. Ibarra who wanted to show her children the importance of giving back.

As part of the Northern Illinois Conference’s Seeds to Succeed program, 16 volunteers from Bethany of Fox Valley UMC in Aurora, Ill. spent the day sprucing up Georgetown Elementary School. PHOTO BY ANNE MARIE GERHARDT

She is one of more than 250 volunteers who came out to volunteer in Seeds to Succeed service projects across Northern Illinois on Aug. 11. The Northern Illinois Conference received a generous impact grant from Rethink Church to help plan and promote the event.

“As a conference we planned this whole summer to be out there in the community and local schools in Chicago, Elgin, Rockford and across the conference,” said Bishop Hee-Soo Jung to nearly 20 volunteers gathered outside Community United Methodist Church to work across the street at Willard Elementary School in South Elgin.

Bishop Jung, who has since moved to another episcopal area, was one of several volunteers who helped paint Willard’s lunchroom.

“We are so fortunate and so thankful to have these volunteers come in to support our school and support our kids,” said Jason Franzke, Willard’s principal.

Community UMC member Nancy Ball spent the day weeding and planting new flowers and plants outside the school’s entrance. Ball is a second generation alum of Willard. Her father went to the school along with her siblings.

“I live in this community so I wanted to do my part to help make it beautiful to welcome the kids back to school,” said Ms. Ball.

Project Backpack

An estimated 2,000 people stood in line for hours to receive a backpack and school supplies at Elgin Community College on Aug. 11 and United Methodists were there to reach out to them. Kara Berg of Epworth UMC knew families with young children would be waiting outside in the summer heat for backpacks.

As part of Seeds to Succeed, Ms. Berg enlisted volunteers from First UMC Elgin, Cornerstone and Epworth to hand out water to those in line, thanks to a contribution from D’Angelo Natural Spring Water. The three Elgin churches also donated more than 150 backpacks and scores of school supplies to Project Backpack.

“This is an amazing example of how this community comes together and supports each other no matter what the differences are,” said Ms. Berg.

Sprucing up schools

As the Harlem School District was getting ready to welcome back 1,350 children, more than 70 volunteers came out Aug. 11 to help spruce up three local schools. Coordinator Jeff Brace said the Ralston School’s building custodian was choked up by the blessing of 19 people showing up to help him.

“Much was accomplished at the school,” said Mr. Brace. “Volunteers did lots of painting, picking up the school grounds (over six bags of garbage) and taking part in a neighborhood cleanup within a block radius of the school.”

Volunteers also gathered at Hilltop Ministry Center to stuff backpacks (40 of them with school supplies left over) and attend an anti-bullying workshop.

Trinity UMC in Sterling took a two-part approach for Seeds to Succeed. They collected book bags and supplies for all the children served at the area women’s shelter and helped clean up after a massive summer long facelift at Challand Middle School in Sterling. Pastor Paul Judd said both projects were an outstanding success.

“We asked for backpacks and supplies for 20 children, we received 47 book bags and enough supplies to not only fill all 47 bags, but have enough left over to resupply the book bags later in the year,” said Mr. Judd. “We experienced our own little loaves and fishes event.”

Growing literacy

Hundreds of students in the Elk Grove Village community will return to school with lots of books to read thanks to Prince of Peace UMC’s Seeds to Succeed project. Organizers worked with two local schools that have relatively high poverty rates—one elementary and one junior high. The school principals gave them “wish lists.”            On Aug. 11, volunteers sorted and packed 951 books, 93 backpacks and over 20 cartons of school supplies.

Seeds to Succeed also received a large donation from seven-year-old Izzy Ruiz. After raising over $600 for Shriners Children’s Hospital with a lemonade stand in 2011, she chose to support Seeds to Succeed in 2012. A lemonade stand on the grounds of the Elk Grove Presbyterian Church, which she attends with her family, raised enough money to purchase 50 backpacks and many cartons of school supplies.

“Hundreds of school children will be impacted by this project when they return to school,” said organizer Betsy Boswell. “Whether they receive a book, a backpack or school supplies, they will know that people in their community care about them.”

Special Contributor to UMR

Special Contributor

This story was written by a special contributor to The United Methodist Reporter. You may send your article submissions to

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