St. Charles teen helps the needy in Africa
Never tell Alex Gruber that one person -- especially a kid -- can't make a difference.
Alex is an eighth-grader at Haines Middle School in St. Charles, but he's been impacting people on the other side of the world for a couple of years now. His latest outreach is the purchase of four soccer balls for short-term missionary friends Ron and Becky Hubbard to give to youth in Uganda.
"The African kids tie banana leaves together to make soccer balls, so I thought they would like to have some real soccer balls," Alex said.
He was able to buy the balls by regularly setting aside part of his $7 weekly allowance for charity, and he also contributed earnings from mowing the lawn. But his generosity didn't stop there.
The 13-year-old also gave the Hubbards $50 and a note saying the money was "to take to Uganda and use when you see a need -- medicine, shoes, clothes, mosquito nets." He added, "I love what you do there."
Ron and Becky Hubbard of Batavia do a variety of things when they visit this English-speaking, East African nation: spend time with orphans, pass out food and clothing in Kampala slums, pray with people in an AIDS village.
Mostly, they work through a group called Loving One by One, which operates a school, orphanage and medical clinics, but their hearts also have been drawn to a nearby school for handicapped children. They sell jewelry to help support the disabled students financially.
The Hubbard and Gruber families both worship at Rejoice Lutheran Church in Geneva, where Alex has heard Ron and Becky talk about their annual trips to Africa.
Last summer, Alex asked Ron if he would want to take baseball caps to Uganda to help protect people from sunburn.
"I thought he was going to get 20 or 30," Ron said, "and he shows up with 1,300 hats."
Many were given to "stone crushers," who make gravel, Ron said.
"These kids are paid 15 cents a day to sit in the sun and pound rocks. I gave them these hats, and you'd think they'd been given a million dollars."
Going door-to-door with a friend and some homemade fliers, Alex collected the caps by asking neighbors to give theirs up. He also set up a donation box at school.
Generosity runs in his family, he said.
"Other people in this family donate a lot, too, so I'm kind of inspired by them," Alex said.
Not only does that include his mom, Wendy, who is active in missions at church, but also his twin sister, Lucy.
"At one time, 'American Idol' was doing the giveback thing to Africa," Alex said, "and (Lucy) gave all of her money away to Africa."
He said he'd like to visit Uganda to play with the kids, help the Hubbards and see some of his baseball caps protecting heads.
Ron agrees. "I want to get him over there so bad," he said. "He's an awesome kid. I could have died when he showed up with 1,300 hats. Nowadays, you read about teenagers who were caught shoplifting, but children helping children, to me, it's so cool."
House work: Youth group members at Elgin's Epworth United Methodist Church seem to know their way around a toolbox, and I bet they're pretty good at painting and trimming, too.
They spent last week working on houses in Chicago's Humboldt Park area, and last year they framed and roofed homes on an Indian reservation. The residents of those homes are the ones who benefit the most, but for another recent project, the beneficiaries are the students themselves.
That's because the home they updated, located in Elgin at 435 N. Alfred St., was donated to the church by member George Blankenship, a retired teacher, for the purpose of providing college scholarships for Epworth youth.
Church trustees determined that a fresh paint job and a little cleanup would enhance the chances of selling the home, and "the youth were right on top of it," said communications Director Kara Berg.
Besides bringing a soft neutral palette to the walls, the kids and their parents updated bath fixtures and uncovered a nice hardwood floor under some carpeting.
One trustee, Kelly Brown of Four Seasons Redesign Inc., staged the home, and now it is ready for sale and on the market.
"It amazes me what this youth group does. They really get their hands dirty," Berg said. "And it's neat to watch how the older ones will train the younger ones. It's a good mentoring system."