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updated: 6/22/2014 7:55 AM

St. Charles church changing lives with mass volunteerism

Members say it's about creating a relationship in community

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  • A group from Christ Community Church in St. Charles prays in the parking lot before heading out to help people in Willow Lake Estates in Elgin.

       A group from Christ Community Church in St. Charles prays in the parking lot before heading out to help people in Willow Lake Estates in Elgin.
    Brian Hill | Staff Photographer

  • Dean and Tammy Matthews of Christ Community Church in St. Charles work on weeding a Willow Lake Estates resident's garden.

       Dean and Tammy Matthews of Christ Community Church in St. Charles work on weeding a Willow Lake Estates resident's garden.
    Brian Hill | Staff Photographer

  • Mike Stefanski of Christ Community Church in St. Charles helps trim a Willow Lake Estates resident's tree.

       Mike Stefanski of Christ Community Church in St. Charles helps trim a Willow Lake Estates resident's tree.
    Brian Hill | Staff Photographer

  • Video: Super Second Saturday

 
 

A picture worth a thousand good deeds hangs in the halls of Christ Community Church near St. Charles.

From a distance, the 10-foot-tall image depicts Jesus washing the feet of a disciple. It's a visual reminder of a Christian call to service for your fellow man.

Up close, the picture reveals itself to be a mosaic. More than 1,000 tiny photos of people engaged in some form of community service organized by the church's staff show how Christ Community Church walks the walk of the message related in the bird's eye view of Jesus performing a simple act of kindness.

That mosaic came to life this past week in an event church leaders call "Super Second Saturday."

Genesis of an Idea

The vision for Super Second Saturday began about 10 years ago, said Rick Roberts, the church's associate community impact director. Back then, the event was called "Great Day of Service," and it attracted up to 1,800 volunteers. While the numbers were great, Roberts said church leaders never quite had the sense of mission accomplished.

"We didn't want it to be just a once-a-year thing where a bunch of people come together and check off a box," Roberts said. "Our heart is we want to be serving the community. We want people to be caring for people. Any major corporation has their one-day thing. We wanted to do something that addressed our call to really care for peoples' needs, whatever those needs are."

Great Day of Service became "Second Saturday." All 12 months of the year, church volunteers gather on the second weekend of the year for some form of local community project. Those events tend to draw 200 or 300 volunteers. But even those numbers just didn't seem large enough for some projects church members envisioned.

That's when Super Second Saturday came online. Twice a year, in June and November, upward of 90 groups of volunteers gather for various projects.

"The idea is, if we were to give you a ton of volunteers, how could we help you," Roberts said.

Christ Community is a megachurch with additional campuses in Bartlett, DeKalb and near Aurora. A "ton of volunteers," as demonstrated this past weekend, numbered about 850 people.

With a wave of volunteers that large, the key is not losing the sense of purpose.

"If we go somewhere and get the project done, but we don't touch somebody's life, we really haven't done what we wanted to do," Roberts said.

So on June 14, more than 50 volunteers arrived at a trailer home community in Elgin with that in mind.

'A lot of loneliness'

Willow Lake Estates is a senior living community in Elgin. Seniors live in mostly two- or three-bedroom trailers. The management company maintains the grounds except for the trailers themselves and their adjacent garden areas.

Word trickled out to Christ Community Church through a chaplain who performs religious services at the trailer park that the structures needed some attention.

"We went out there about a year ago with a short list of projects and about five people, but neighbors just kept coming out and asking for help," said Bill Kennedy, one of the volunteers. "By the end of the summer, we'd accomplished 18 of the residences."

Kennedy said there was an immediate sense that the church's relationship with Willow Lake Estates would be more enduring than a one-shot cleaning some yards. There was no denying the smiles the volunteers created.

"At one point, these were showplaces," Kennedy said. "They were well-kept, but now they are run down, and the residents are embarrassed. There was one lady whose garden needed some attention.

"She told us her name was Rose, but she'd never owned a rose bush in her entire life. So we just ran out and bought some and planted them in her yard. She was just so thankful."

Barbara Blagen, a Willow Lake resident, does her own volunteering by driving many of the residents to medical appointments and shopping. Blagen said her neighbors found a new sense of worth in connecting with the church volunteers.

"The people who live here, typically, you have a household with just one or two seniors," Blagen said. "He might have diabetes. She might have multiple sclerosis. You can imagine their needs.

"We can't do the gardening we used to do. The need is great. I think that's the case with seniors everywhere. People don't realize how great the need is. There's a lot of loneliness. And if you don't have family nearby, it's pretty sad."

Mustard seeds

In the 10-year history of the effort, volunteers have done everything from building transitional housing for refugees to repairing roofs for single moms while providing positive male influences for children of those mothers.

Each year, each month, the pool of volunteers grows a little bit more. Roberts is conscious of wanting to help as many people as possible but not growing so big that the help is superficial.

"We don't want to do a project somewhere where we can't follow up and continue the relationship," he said. "So there may be someone who needs help in say, Naperville, but what's the reality on Tuesday afternoon, when that person needs somebody there for them, that we're going to have someone available for them?

"Those are things we have to consider. We're not doing this to grow our church. We're doing it to grow a relationship with the community."

Michael Speakman was one of the approximately 30 volunteers who made new connections at Willow Lake Estates last Saturday.

In an email, Speakman said some residents felt compelled to pray with and for the volunteers when the day ended. Like the mosaic of Jesus washing a disciple's feet, the images Speakman will keep with him are of three women -- Elaine, Roberta and Toni -- joining them in a prayer circle to solidify a bond that will carry on throughout the summer.

"We are encouraged that our presence in this community is touching the residents," he said. "This will continue until we complete all the 35-plus homes on our list. But it's not just about the physical tasks."

The next Christ Community Church volunteer event will be a smaller effort on July 12. For more information visit: www.ccclife.org.

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