Taking our ministry to the streets

I don’t remember mission trips in my early childhood church life. Though at one point in time, I wanted to join the Peace Corp and so did my daughter…not really sure where that came from but many of us thought that was the road to take….especially if we were going to run away from home.

However, I do remember my own children helping and giving to charities through church and school here in Downers Grove but never in the same capacity as a mission trip out of the state or country.

Mission trips help to promote generations of strong disciples connected to churches while leading with God. I wish that I would have started a tradition in my own family. Though it is never too late; parents or even grandparents can can set an example and travel with their children growing closer together in God’s love.

First Congregational United Church of Christ of Downers Grove traveled over 1,000 miles to Houston Texas last month to help people in need and returned with a message never to ignore any of God’s people. We have the power to build A Beautiful City, a song by Hunter Parrish, presented by Dena Provenzano, Director of Youth Ministries at the Sunday service describing the trip.  Other mission workers were eager to share a summary of their participation in Texas.

Many of the youth that have attended mission trips in the past found this trip to be the most impactful; finding that just simple loving conversations with the underprivileged was how they could help the most.

Madison talked about one homeless lady who wanted a certain bag of chips and Gatorade so they went to buy her the food. Madison said that when they came back to give the lady the food, she could not believe that they did come back probably one of Madison’s most memorable experiences.

Luke enjoyed working at the food bank and was amazed at the number of meals they made which totaled about 5,000.

Faith sat next to a woman at Crosswords and despite all the women’s problems she asked Faith questions about her life, what she did and really listened to Faith’s answers.

Erin talks about Crosswords also for the homeless and she talks about one guy who was having a bad day. She was able to calm him down and it truly opened her eyes to what others go through. Erin is so fortunate for what she has and will never forget that experience.

Joe said just giving homeless people food was one of the most positive events in his life.

George talks about how anyone can be homeless at one time or another such as a linebacker he met who had played in the Rose Bowl. Vinny talks about how grateful  people were at the time for the little help that they could give. No matter what happens in life  …Madison says…… God will be there, no matter what.

Mady talks about bringing sack lunches to Rainbow house and it really opened her eyes on how she had food when so many children did not.

Pastor Scott Oberle, who also attended the trip, was amazed at the fantastic group of young adults that were like shining stars in the darkness and was proud that he could serve with this group.

After sharing this story with a friend who lives in the northern suburbs today, a guest speaker at her church; a young teen just returned from a mission trip in Houston, Texas. Imagine….he said the he never felt more embraced by the love of Christ and how Christ changes lives.

For more information about the music, arts, teaching, worship and mission programs you may want to experience, please click on First Congregational United Church of Christ in Downers Grove.

What does child poverty look like in your state?

Hopefully, 2018 will bring a better year to the poverty and homelessness crisis in the US. especially among individuals with long-term disabling conditions whose statistics increased in 2017. However, homelessness among families with children declined 5.4 percent nationwide since 2016, while local communities report the number of persons experiencing long-term chronic homelessness and veterans experiencing homelessness has increased according to Continuum of Care in Dupage County in Illinois.

“In many high-cost areas of our country, especially along the West Coast, the severe shortage of affordable housing is manifesting itself on our streets,” said HUD Secretary Ben Carson. “With rents rising faster than incomes, we need to bring everybody to the table to produce more affordable housing and ease the pressure that is forcing too many of our neighbors into our shelters and onto our streets. This is not a federal problem—it’s everybody’s problem.”

As I walked an older woman  through the doors of First United Congregational Church of Downers Grove, she could barely speak and she pointed toward the sixth floor.  I knew exactly where she was going. I helped her as many have done for others looking for solutions.  I made sure she found a comfortable seat in the mass of people waiting to see a counselor. She thanked me with a tear in her eye as I looked around the room at so many young and old… children… who could not smile or greet me; their dignity ravished by their situation. Their only hope was Hopes Front Door.

Who or what is Hope’s Front Door?  In the southwestern suburbs of Chicago in Dupage County, Hope’s Front Door often acts as a “first responder” to neighbors who are facing financial and/or medical crises. They play an integral role in ensuring the well-being of individuals, families and the overall communities they support. When clients walk through the doors, they determine their immediate needs. They help them with either food, medical, dental and/or transportation vouchers, plus a clear pathway into the network of social agencies that can assist them with the long-term restructuring of their lives, by helping move them out of living a “crisis to crisis existence”. They serve the homeless, as well as those seeking assistance in six local communities.

Childhood hunger is not just something that happens in other cities or counties. One in six children living in DuPage County experiences food insecurity. Everyday Hope’s Front Door provides food vouchers to help area families have access to fresh food.  Over 72,800 live in poverty in DuPage County, once known as a fairly stable employment community, with over 27,000 living in extreme conditions.

Unfortunately, to afford the average rent, according to a survey completed by Bridge Communities,who also connect homeless families to a better future, you would have to work 110 hours per week to afford a 2 bedroom apartment which is approximately 1,176 a month.  A one night survey conducted at Bridge on January 28th 2016 indicated that 642 persons in DuPage County were homeless on that night, an increase from 2014.

Through the help of their program partners and supporters, Bridge Communities provides free transitional housing to homeless DuPage County families each year. During the two years each family spends in their program, they are able to save money, learn budgeting skills, and obtain better employment, so they can live self-sufficiently once they graduate. I work with one of the families children who is doing exceedingly well and loves the new opportunities given; working hard to maintain a much more promising life.

Program supporters and partners are instrumental in helping the needs of their communities and there are many ways to give your support in volunteering or making a donation as well as becoming a partner. Area businesses have become an integral part of providing special services.

As a Chicago lifer living in the city and suburbs, I have watched the deterioration of many families due to job loss, high cost of living, low wages and no adequate health care; many who are friends as well as my family. Some who are older and been homeless for many months have just chosen to mark time in emergency shelters..hoping that illness will help them leave this life quickly. Others continue to struggle with one crisis after another; losing just a little bit more of themselves as the days go on. Though, somehow, someway, they do believe in God’s love for them.  I guess we all have our priorities such as fair rights for women, gun control, ant-political protests, racism………but what about this?

 

Five of the best Chicago land holiday light presentations

It was called the Christmas Tree House. That’s what my kids called it, anyway, back in the early 1990’s. And you had to wait…a mile long car line on Christmas Eve to see the house in Downers Grove, Il. Neighbors of the Gorsham family also decorated to excess so you were entertained while you moved pleasantly through the neighborhood…your children oohing and ahhing in the back seat.

The Gorsham house had a booth that held Santa and Mrs Claus on weekdays and the house was highlighted with a beautiful train village in the garage and several booths of animated scenes.The crew members would begin decorating in October and the Gorsham’s would end up with an electric bill of 3 to 4 thousand dollars. They finally retired and moved to a warmer climate selling their stock to a neighboring village.

Where are some of the best places in the Chicago land area to view decorations and lights today? The zoos are the first favorites to begin.

Lincoln Park Zoolights 
Lincoln Park Zoo, 2200 N. Cannon Dr., Chicago
On the north side of Chicago, for over 20 years Lincoln Park Zoo has provided a beautiful light display of over 2 million lights. You can also find beautiful ice carvings throughout the zoo grounds and other holiday related activities such as ice skating where you can bring your own skates or rent a pair.

Holiday Magic at Brookfield Zoo
Brookfield Zoo 8400 31st St. Brookfield, Il 60513
Just south of Chicago in Brookfield at the zoo, you can see over 30 years of celebration for the holiday season. Visitors can be dazzled by over a million lights and can enjoy caroling with the animals and special treat with Santa and Mrs. Claus. Several corporations have set up trees set to music and one that you can actually interact.

Aurora’s Festival of Light’s
Phillips Park, 1000 Ray Moses Drive. Aurora, IL 60505
Free admission to the festival in Aurora just southwest of Chicago which is considered one of the largest displays. You can drive through a dazzling mile of lights that are animated and a Christmas Tree that is 20 feet tall and actually sings.

Larsens in Elburn

When he was a senior in high school he was awarded the lawn maintenance contract for the City of St. Charles; a huge contract and from there he went into landscaping and design work.

In 2000, Brian Larsen incorporated County Wide Landscaping, Inc. and pretty much got out of maintenance and concentrated on design work. He went to CAD architectural school and focused on designing outdoor living spaces. Since he has won awards for his work and has designed his own Christmas house since 2006. People have traveled from all over the world to see this show light show during the holidays. Brian uses a little over one million lights and because of how the display is set up, over 20,000 extension cords.

According to the Larsens, inside the house you can’t even tell what is going on outside unless you look out the window. The music is also transmitted to play on the visitor’s car stereo via a FM transmitter so you don’t hear the music.

Mooseheart Holiday Lights

Holiday Lights at Mooseheart in Batavia is one of  the largest Chicagoland’s light displays! The lighted route is approximately 1.8 miles and has more than 80 lighted displays to view.

New this year is a half-mile extension of the route to include Mooseheart’s farm area for the first time. A live Nativity scene will highlight this new portion of the show on Nov. 30, Dec. 7, 14 and Dec. 21-24.

Even though Santa is extremely busy this time of year, he couldn’t turn down an opportunity to visit Mooseheart! For six nights this year – Dec. 8-10 and Dec. 15-17 – the admission price includes not only the Holiday Lights show, but also a chance to see Santa Claus at the Mooseheart fieldhouse.

Santa will sit for free photos beginning at 5:30pm. In addition to Santa Claus, children can enjoy a crafts, holiday music, hot chocolate, and Christmas cookies at the fieldhouse.

Become a Volunteer at Hope’ Front Door

By Janell Robinson: Executive Director

Hope’s Front Door provides an entry point to social services for members of our community who need immediate assistance and help in finding continuing assistance.

Our volunteers are the face and heart of our organization. We can’t do what we do without them! Most volunteers work during the hours that Hope’s Front Door is open to clients. Hours are: M, W, Th, & F from 10:00 – 11:45am and Mon evening from 6:30 – 8:00pm. Other volunteer roles work outside of client hours.

Client Interview Volunteer: The Client Interview Volunteer works one-on-one with Hope’s Front Door clients through our Immediate Assistance program. They listen to the client’s concerns and provide help for their urgent needs in the form of vouchers (e.g. grocery gift cards, fuel cards, bus and train passes). The Client Volunteer also provides referral information to other non-profit agencies and government organizations that can offer additional assistance.

We are in need of additional Client Interview Volunteers for our morning and evening hours. The number of days a person wishes to volunteer is flexible. Some volunteers work once or twice a month, others work 1 or 2 days each week. It is dependent on each individual’s circumstances.

Health and Wellness Assistant: The Health and Wellness Assistant works one-on-one with Hope’s Front Door clients addressing needs such as prescriptions, dental care, eye exams/eyeglasses, medical supplies and employment related transportation/uniforms/shoes. They also work with our Health & Wellness resources to link clients with health/disease information and prescription assistance programs. Health and Wellness services are only offered during our morning hours. We are in need of additional volunteers for this role to cover various mornings. A person volunteering in this capacity could also work as a Client Interview Volunteer.

Facilitator: The Facilitator handles the computer responsibilities to confirm client eligibility for service, checks in clients when needed, ensures that the information sheets are filled out, and attaches any supporting documents to the paperwork that the Client Interview Volunteer may need when working with the client. We are looking for volunteers to cover various days during our morning client hours. The volunteer should be comfortable working on a computer and pulling information from our database.

Data Entry: The Data Entry team handles entry of all the information pertaining to our clients and each of their client visits into our database. We are in need of additional volunteers who are computer savvy and would enjoy this type of work. Attention to detail and accurate typing skills are critical. This is typically a once a week opportunity and occurs outside of our client hours.

Office Help: This volunteer (or potentially volunteers) assists HFD with filing. This is a once a week role. A specific day would be determined. Hours could be during or after client hours.

In all cases, Hope’s Front Door will provide training to ensure that a volunteer feels comfortable in their role. We are also be happy to have anyone potentially interested in volunteering to come visit and talk with us during our client hours to see first-hand what we do and how our volunteers interface with our clients.

For more information call 630-322-9803

Hope’s Front Door: Financial Literacy program changes lives

By Janell Robinson:

Kim was pregnant, unemployed and homeless. She came into Hope’s Front Door because she needed help obtaining medication and transportation vouchers for a job search, but found a resource that would not only change her life, but that of her unborn child, Noah, as well.

“I have never been a saver. I was like, I need some help here. I thought to myself, I am here anyway, maybe I should meet with bank counselors. During my sessions with the bank counselors, the bankers helped me create a plan to pay off my debt. I just started paying the smaller ones first and then putting the larger ones on a payment plan as they suggested. My credit score is now at 735. I also started a savings account at that time with the help of the program. I wanted a rainy day fund.”

“Noah knows I was homeless before he was born. So, it was important to show him that we were saving money. Each time I would get a receipt from the bank after making a deposit I would show Noah and tell him, ‘Look! That is what we have now in the bank.’ When he saw the amount growing, Noah decided he wanted learn how to save too. So, we went to the bank and they gave him his own little piggy banks, which he filled for his college fund.”

“Noah has been saving since he was five years old; he just turned 10 years old last month. He likes going to the bank. He likes to collect change from everyone’s pockets. The bank tellers’ print out the receipts with how much has been put in the account and how much money we have. He likes to tease me saying, ‘I have more money than you, Mom!’”

“I have taught him about saving and budgeting his money using Legos which are his favorite toy. I ask him, does he want to save his money to buy the big Legos that he really wants or spend right now for the smaller ones. He is very disciplined with his money. I hope that he realizes the more you save, the more you can get, and the more self-sufficient you can become. At his age, I would have just spent all of the money I could have saved!”

“Basically, by going through the financial literacy program, I wanted to share with him some of the things I learned. I wanted to show him that if you spend everything you won’t have anything, you will have to be dependent on others and no one wants to live like that.”

Kim and Noah’s journey from being homeless to becoming financially secure started with help from the community.

HOPE’S FRONT DOOR (HFD) often acts as a “first responder” to neighbors who are facing financial and/or medical crises. They serve the homeless, as well as those seeking assistance in the communities of:

  • Darien
  • Downers Grove
  • Lisle
  • Westmont
  • Willowbrook
  • Woodridge

Hope’s Front Door will be hosting The Traveling Feast fundraiser on October 5, 2017. Guests will be tasting delectable food offerings from five downtown Westmont restaurants before traveling down the road to their next culinary destination. We’re looking to raise to raise $20,000 that will be used in support of our Financial Literacy Program – helping area residents, like Kim and Noah, gain financial self-sufficiency through baseline financial literacy including budgeting, savings and credit repair.

For more information about the event or to purchase tickets, please visit www.hopesfrontdoor.org or call 630-322-9804.

Best HOPE campaign: Hope’s Front Door

Contributed by Janell Robinson, Executive Director of Hope’s Front Door

On her second birthday, Jill made her first visit to Hope’s Front Door. You see her mother, Teia, lost her job two months ago but has a lead on a new one through an area employment agency.  Jill and her brother, Jon, were as patient as they could be while their mom learned about Hope’s Front Door’s weekly job list and job coaches.

Jill and Jon received new donated Beanie Babies to play with as their mother explained that she was really hopeful the new job would lead to an improved life for her and her children. “Things have started to get tight and this new job could mean stability and better things for the kids; receiving the gas vouchers to go to the interview means a lot to me and my family.” Teia explained.

While the family is hopeful about the future job opportunity, they are still concerned about how to meet financial challenges occurring right now. Jon said he would be in 1st grade this fall and was excited.  Part of helping Jon maintain that enthusiasm for a new school year is making sure he has the tools needed to succeed. But with limited resources, purchasing school supplies can seem daunting. The family will be attending the READY. SET. LEARN! back to school supply giveaway at Hope’s Front Door to make sure the school year starts off on the right foot.

Life was a blur and out of focus for Kayla when she was 16 years old. But with the help from Hope’s Front Door, life became much clearer.

“I have had glasses since the fifth grade. Last year, I outgrew the prescription and they broke. My eye sight was getting blurry when I looked at things. I can see close up, but far away is a problem when looking at chalkboards or whiteboards in the front of the class,” Kayla said.

Kayla’s mom was newly separated and unemployed. So, Kayla tried to make due while her mom looked for a job that would provide insurance. They also waited for their application for Illinois’ All Kids insurance program to be approved, which could take up to 45 to 90 days. She did not want to bother her mom when she knew that money was tight in their household.

“I used to really stress about it myself. It was hard knowing my mom was worried about money and providing for us and looking for work. She’s my mom. I tried to put some of the burden on my own shoulders, so she wouldn’t have to worry. I tried wearing a pair of my mom’s old glasses and that was okay for a while. Then they broke and that was no longer an option,” she explained.

Kim, Kayla’s Mom, came into Hope’s Front Door seeking assistance in search of vouchers for her job search transportation and food for her and Kayla. Not only was she able to receive those items, but an eye exam and glasses for Kayla were provided as well!

During HFD’s Back to School Project, which runs through August, Kayla was also thrilled to have been able to receive school supplies.

“I got pens, pencils and a book bag. I used all of the paper. I at least had something to start out with for the new school year. It’s important to have folders and paper for US History and workshops. It would have been bad to start the first day having to ask another student for

So many of the children who have participated in HFD’s Back to School Project echo Kayla’s comments.

“Thanks to Hope’s Front Doors generosity Kayla, now 17 years old, can see just fine and had the necessary supplies to help her succeed in school. Last year, their investment helped over 1100 area children, kids like Kayla” said Kim.

Hope’s Front Door often acts as a “first responder” to neighbors who are facing financial and/or medical crises. They play an integral role in ensuring the well-being of individuals, families and the overall communities they support. When clients walk through the doors, they determine their immediate needs. They help them with either food, medical, dental and/or transportation vouchers, plus a clear pathway into the network of social agencies that can assist them with the long-term restructuring of their lives, by helping move them out of living a “crisis to crisis existence”.

They serve the homeless, as well as those seeking assistance in six local communities. Childhood hunger is not just something that happens in other cities or counties. One in six children living in DuPage County experiences food insecurity. Everyday Hope’s Front Door provides food vouchers to help area families have access to fresh food.  Over 72,000 live in poverty in DuPage County, once known as a fairly stable employment community, with over 27,000 living in extreme conditions.  Currently,Hope’s Front Door is seeing an 18% increase in the number of children assisted compared to last year.

As a community, we can help children like Jill, Jon and Kayla as their families experience a financial rough patch. By donating to the READY. SET. LEARN! school supply drive you can help Jon and other kids have the things needed to learn on day one.

By giving to the Best HOPE Campaign you can ensure that kids like Jill have access to basic necessities like food, transportation, medication, oral healthcare and eye exams/eye glasses. Please join us at Shanahan’s Food & Spirits (1999 75th St, Woodridge, IL 60517) to support both projects! On August 2nd we will be accepting school supplies…and 20% of the sales from your dining bill, with event flyer, will to help children through the Best HOPE Campaign!

Please join the Best HOPE Campaign to benefit area children. Now until September 30, Hope’s Front Door would like to raise $20,000 to help more than 250 children with food and school supplies as well as access to medication, dental and vision healthcare . . . even financial literacy.

Your donations will make a huge difference in the lives of our neighborhood children! 

For more information on the READY. SET. LEARN! project and Best HOPE Campaign, please visit www.hopesfrontdoor.org.