For some reason, I don’t know where to start. I’ve been trying to write this article for two weeks. Ever since the last picnic in the park and before the start of school, I’ve just wanted to say “thanks”. But the words have failed me. All I have is what feels like a huge heart of cotton candy… floating… and wistful thinking of what our community would be like if every time we tried to cut through a day, we came up with a slice of people having a good time, caring for one another… Wouldn’t that be nice?
In great literature, I think they call that a utopia… a perfect society. The Scriptures would say that’s Heaven. And during the Summer, I call it “Picnics in the Park.” This little slice of kindness and goodwill towards all was created by so many people, I can’t even list them all. This little slice took the effort of many imperfect folks just trying our best. Sure, some things didn’t go as planned. Some days may have seemed right to the wire… but in the end—Burke Park became a place to hang out, strengthen relationships, forget about some relationships, enjoy some peace, let your kids play with the comfort of safety, grab a quick bite, enjoy a long sit, hear some great tunes, watch some awesome kids, and just be… without comparing yourself to your neighbor. Just be… and finally see that Summer is about breathing in and breathing out and knowing that there are still safe places and still pockets of folks who want what you want—peace.
So thank you to the many companies that stepped in. Thank you to the churches that worked in the forefront and behind the scenes. Thank you to the folks who just stood around waiting to jump in where needed. I am really at a loss how to express myself to you. I can only tell you that as the director of Empower Youth, my heart bursts with gratitude towards you… and there is much anticipation for next Summer—even a little angst as I wonder how to have a do-over as fabulous as this year.
The numbers are in on our camps this Summer—Empower Youth sent 141 students to camp! That’s worth repeating—Empower Youth sent 141 students to camp! Thank you to the many special donors and to those folks who participated in our Send a Kid To Camp fundraisers. If you bought a shirt, you helped send a kid to camp. Thank you to Community Savings Bank for taking on the shirt fundraising project!
SUMMER FOOD SUMMER FUN:
This little program grew and ebbed and flowed with our hot Summer. We started with just a few students but in the end we were running 30 – 45 students consistently with a few really huge days of over 45! This was a fantastic offering for us and we are thankful for our partnership with the Freestore Foodbank for the free meals that were easy to serve and for the weekend bags we were able to distribute every day.
Well, by the first Thursday in September, we will have started packing the weekend backpacks for the Bethel Tate Tiger Packs, the Amelia Elementary Tiger Packs, and the Grant Career Center Weekend Survival Kits. We are increasing our program to the point of doubling what we currently do. We already have started collecting names of students needing weekend food packs and we know they will grow.
Thursday September 1, 2016, we secured the lease on a packing space of over 900 square feet. We are now in a position to have groups come and help us pack 400-500 packs at a time. We have plenty of parking space. We have plenty of room. The anticipation is killing us as we prepare to start using this space.
Everything we do is a leap! We are filling in the gaps in our local schools by jumping over chasms of territory we have never navigated before.
In just a few weeks, we will be giving all the Kindergarten students of Amelia Elementary and Bethel William Bick Primary a brand new pillow, pillow case, and stuffed animal. This was all donated by Multi-color Corporation with the hard working hands of girl scouts tie-dying those pillow cases as well as seamstresses from around Bethel making beautiful handmade original cases. Dream Big is ready to go and as a leader, I was blessed to do little more than pick up the items. So different from last year.
We need weekend food packers—own this project with us. If you have a youth group or other community group or just want to bring your family, we need folks to sign up to pack our weekend packs. You can choose to come for a couple of hours or you can decide to stay until you reach a specific goal of so many bags packed. This is up to you. We strongly believe in letting our volunteers lead on… and we just hang out and provide the backup you need to accomplish your dreams.
We need help with our dream big project. We have all the ingredients for this– we just need a team to come in and put it all together: stuff pillows and stuffed animals in pillowcases and then wrap and rubber band it all to be placed in a bag for each Kindergarten student in Bethel and Amelia Elementary.
We need monthly support. Every month, I receive a check of $24 from one of our monthly supporters. When I get her check, I don’t see dollars. I see 6 weekend packs. 6 children who will eat because she gave faithfully. At the end of the year, that $24 a month will have provided 72 weekend packs—that is a cherished donation. That is enough to feed two families. We have other donors who give $100 a month. I know that with that over the course of the year I will be able to provide 300 weekend packs. I see 300 faces. With a monthly donation, we are able to make purchases in advance and get the best deals for our programming.
We need food collections from civic groups and churches of the specific food we need for our weekend packs! Cans and cans of ravioli, beefaroni, spaghetti and meatballs are used every week. Most weeks we have a combination of those food items with mac and cheese or two of those canned goods. That’s expensive but a lot of times, folks will take it upon themselves to donate us cases of the stuff—one lady took advantage of a local sale and gave us 5 cases! What a blessing. Some folks see $ signs, some see cans of food, I see 60 faces with smiles.
It seems that with Empower Youth, we barely say thank you before we are asking again. And for that, I cannot apologize. Not until the last heroin addict is gone from Clermont County, not until the last set of big hungry eyes are satisfied can I rest, not until there are no more children living in cellars with their single parent or “camping out” permanently can I sleep and say “we are done.”
Please help us as we go in to this year. Please say that this year, you will jump on board in such way that is meaningful to you and to us. Perhaps it’s a sacrificial gift. Maybe it’s just saying you will volunteer to pack or deliver packs. Maybe, your gift is that you are going to help us mentor students…
Whatever the call—I will never tie your commitment to your wallet—I will always tie it to your heart.
This is opportunity here for you to do big things in very big and very small ways.
YOUR NEXT STEP:
Email Lori Conley at firstname.lastname@example.org and simply tell me your heart. Then we will work together to see how you can make your dreams for this area and beyond a reality with our help.
And yes, we do have very specific jobs to be done if the dreamer part of you is a bit rusty 😉