“Follow your heart” reads the bracelet on Sandra Hill’s wrist as she packs up the belongings of her Lombard home, dashes to farewell dinners with longtime friends, prepares her younger daughter for her first year of college and trains her successor at the Outreach House of First Church of Lombard.
There’s so much to do as Hill and her family move their lives from the town she’s served for nearly three decades to a city in even greater need of their service — New Orleans.
Fresh off recognition from Lombard trustees, who proclaimed a day in May in her honor, Hill says leaving the town where she served as a school board member, led youth groups on volunteer trips and started a nonprofit group was not an easy choice.
It took plenty of consideration for Hill, a 53-year-old social worker and faculty member in College of DuPage’s Human Services department, but in the end, she’s doing as the bracelet says and following her heart.
She’s following her habits, too, as the Lombard trustees who recognized her say she has been working for years to fill people’s basic needs for food, shelter, clothing and belongings.
“She’s just been an invaluable resource, just giving everything to people in need,” Trustee Laura Fitzpatrick said.
She answered social service questions for trustees before the village contracted with an agency last year, served as a Girl Scout leader and mentored many First Church youth group participants, including Trustee Reid Foltyniewicz.
“She was just one of the many people who helped raise me and made me the person I am today,” said Foltyniewicz, a 29-year-old police officer for the village of Oak Brook and father of two. “She was vital in my upbringing.”
Every time Hill found a new way to serve Lombard’s less fortunate, she worked to bring others with her, multiplying her efforts by getting more people involved. She said she’s uncomfortable with the spotlight, preferring to shift focus to the power of group efforts.
“My mother tells me, ‘You do too much,’ and I say ‘There’s so much to do,’” Hill said. “That’s the philosophy of my house.”
Hill and her husband, Rick, moved to Lombard in 1986 and first got involved with the Lilac Parade committee because their neighbor led the group. Callers to the Lilac Time hotline would hear Hill’s voice on the recording telling them times, dates and places of Lilac-themed events.
But a passion Hill has had since her childhood years spent in Brookfield led her to get involved with causes that help children, women and families. She volunteered with a YWCA rape crisis center, then a Public Action to Deliver Shelter, or PADS, site at First Church of Lombard United Church of Christ.
At the church, she met the Rev. Robert Hatfield, who became a mentor and co-worker until his death in February.
“I think he saw something in me or we worked well together,” Hill said. “Rob was the person who helped me find my strength and what I’m supposed to do.”
While the elementary educator was in culinary school to be a pastry chef, she and Hatfield started a partnership between the church and the Northern Illinois Food Bank, bringing a food truck to Lombard once a month to feed low-income families.
Hill then asked a question that became common for her. It started with “What if?”
“Whenever I would say ‘What if,’ Rob knew I wanted to try something else,” Hill said.
In this case, she wanted to create a weekly meal service for anyone in the community, held to coincide with First Church’s Wednesday night hosting of PADS guests.
“Being a foodie, it just made sense,” she said about the 2009 formation of the weekly meal called Community Table, which includes live music, fine china and crisp linen tablecloths. “That was another one of those ‘What ifs.’”
An earlier “what if” led Hill to help start Walk-In Ministry, a service providing emergency help with food, transportation and personal care products to residents of Lombard and Villa Park.
A “What if” question also sparked the creation of First Things First, an infant needs pantry started in 1999.
“Throughout all of these endeavors, Sandra has championed those who are the most vulnerable of our population,” reads the proclamation creating a day in her honor.
“The babies, the children, the adults and all of those who may be on the fringes of society but are in need of our community’s help.”
One last “What if” led Hill and her husband to take their daughters on a service trip to New Orleans several months after the city suffered the wrath of Hurricane Katrina. Mackenzie, now 24, was 16, and Kendall, now 18, was 11 when the family went to “de-muck” abandoned houses, removing everything they could so the sun could dry the space for possible rebuilding.
“Either it was the best parenting we’ve done or the worst,” Hill said.
The first visit to the disaster-stricken city awakened a desire in Kendall to follow in her mother’s social justice footsteps, and the Glenbard East High School graduate will begin studying in the fall at Loyola University in New Orleans to pursue that passion.
It sparked another “what if” in Hill’s mind that eventually led her and Rick to plan a move to the Big Easy.
“I’m not surprised she got attracted to New Orleans. There’s a very free spirit,” Fitzpatrick said. “She can see a lot of need, and I can see her filling that need and feeling comfortable there.”
Hill said she has applied to work with a nonprofit that provides baby items for new parents in need and hopes to teach at a community college after she completes the move later this month.
“There’s a reason I’m supposed to be there,” she said.
Because “there’s so much to do.”Copyright © 2014 Paddock Publications, Inc. All rights reserved.