New Prospect Heights group aims to involve kids in community service

New Prospect Heights organization aims to involve kids in community service

  • Prospect Heights Deputy Fire Chief Tim Jones sits down to eat with, from left, Jack Leonard, Matt Mabry and Grant McKinney, all of Prospect Heights.

    Prospect Heights Deputy Fire Chief Tim Jones sits down to eat with, from left, Jack Leonard, Matt Mabry and Grant McKinney, all of Prospect Heights. Courtesy of Prospect Heights Police Department

  • Prospect Heights Police Chief Al Steffen receives a thank-you card from 9-year-old Erinn Newhouse of Prospect Heights at the Sept. 10 first responders appreciation event.

    Prospect Heights Police Chief Al Steffen receives a thank-you card from 9-year-old Erinn Newhouse of Prospect Heights at the Sept. 10 first responders appreciation event. Courtesy of Prospect Heights Police Department

  • PH Kids Care participants pose with Prospect Heights police and fire personnel.

    PH Kids Care participants pose with Prospect Heights police and fire personnel. Courtesy of Prospect Heights Police Department

  • Michael Hinman and Karen Gatta, both of Mount Prospect, help PH Kids Care prepare to serve dinner to Prospect Heights police and fire personnel Sept. 10 at the fire station.

    Michael Hinman and Karen Gatta, both of Mount Prospect, help PH Kids Care prepare to serve dinner to Prospect Heights police and fire personnel Sept. 10 at the fire station. Courtesy of Prospect Heights Police Department

  • PH Kids Care participants listen to police Officer Stephanie Conboy's 9/11 presentation and ask questions.

    PH Kids Care participants listen to police Officer Stephanie Conboy's 9/11 presentation and ask questions. Courtesy of Prospect Heights Police Department

  • Prospect Heights police officers receive food from PH Kids Care at an appreciation event Sept. 10 at the fire department.

    Prospect Heights police officers receive food from PH Kids Care at an appreciation event Sept. 10 at the fire department. Courtesy of Prospect Heights Police Department

 
Posted9/28/2016 6:00 AM

Jeannie Messer Leonard grew up in an active family in Prospect Heights, where her mother, Martha Messer, served as the school nurse at Hersey High School and her father, Jim Messer, taught at Wheeling High School.

One brother, Steve Messer, now serves as athletic director at Hersey and varsity boys basketball coach. Another brother, Jim Messer, coached wrestling at Rolling Meadows High School before moving to Oak Park-River Forest High School.

 

Suffice it to say, family members have immersed themselves in their local community. Now, Jeannie is taking up the gauntlet. She and another young mother, Meighan Newhouse in Prospect Heights, recently launched a grass-roots organization, PH Kids Care.

"I've always had this idea of creating some kind of organization that would give kids a way of being part of something bigger than themselves," Leonard says, "and of being part of the community."

Sure, children learn about service at school, she says, and through organizations like Scouts, but she and Newhouse wanted to involve kids -- and their families -- in serving their local community.

Their first event was Sept. 10, serving a Patriot Day meal to Prospect Heights police and fire department members. They drew more than 30 children and their families to the cause.

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Children set up, served, cleaned up and made cards for their guests at the event inside the Prospect Heights Fire Protection District main station. Parents manned the grills and donated all of the side dishes.

The children ate with the officers and sat in on a video presentation about the role of first responders at the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks that destroyed the World Trade Center towers in New York, damaged the Pentagon and killed thousands of people.

"Part of our emphasis is to have an educational component to our projects," Newhouse says.

Afterward, Prospect Heights Fire Chief Drew Smith and Police Chief Al Steffen personally led tours of their respective stations, which are situated next to each other on Camp McDonald Road.

"It's nice to see young people -- all of whom were born after 9/11 -- so mannered, polite, respectful and appreciative of the fire and police," Smith said. "They truly cared, and it showed."

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

This new organization, PH Kids Care, hopes to host two to three events each year. Future endeavors might include a service project during the holidays for local families -- perhaps wrapping the toys donated for the police and fire department toy drives -- and cleaning up a park in the spring.

"We're already working with the Prospect Heights Natural Resources Commission about a spring cleanup," Newhouse adds.

Any way you look at it, their first event looks to have been a success.

"We were honored to be their first event," says Stephanie Conboy, community liaison officer with the Prospect Heights Police Department.

Her boss heartily concurred, saying that in these times when many are questioning police methods, this event went a long way toward humanizing those in uniforms and breaking down barriers between local residents and the officers who serve them.

"That was one of the coolest events I have seen put together by members of our community in years," Steffen said.

Smith agreed, saying, "Everyone who was there had a smile on their face."

Leonard and Newhouse say involvement in PH Kids Care is open to the general public; however, they are committed to serving the Prospect Heights community.

More information is at https://www.facebook.com/phkidscare/.

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