Huntley's Shepherd of the Prairie supports the Aarrk Gardens' mission
Members of Shepherd of the Prairie Lutheran Church in Huntley embody the church's statement of purpose "A Growing Church for Growing People" and its pledge to "encourage and equip everyone to make a difference in God's world."
Community outreach is high at the top of the list to achieve that goal. Church members either volunteer or donate needed items for the local Grafton Food Pantry, Habitat for Humanity, Northern Illinois Food Bank, PADS, and more.
Another organization that is close to its heart in a number of ways is the Aarrk Gardens in Hebron, a nonprofit with a mission to help the homeless re-enter society through agriculture.
Families at the Huntley church support Aarrk's Community Supported Agriculture program. They purchase an annual subscription at the start of the growing season to receive fresh vegetables grown on two acres at the Hebron farm which are planted and tended by the nonprofit's homeless clients.
Church member Vik Bekeris is the coordinator and driving force behind the church's support. He picks up the vegetables every Saturday and has them all ready for church members to get their bags brimming with fresh produce after the weekend services. Bekeris, himself, has a remarkable story of his own. He was a client of Aarrk Gardens several years ago and has passionately made the nonprofit a priority in his own life. So much so that he now serves as a board member of Aarrk Gardens.
"I can't say enough of how much Aarrk Gardens and its founder and executive director Janet Dolan have made a difference in so many lives, including my own," Bekeris said. "Providing the homeless a paid job and a way for them to get back on their feet provides them hope. I still help at the gardens and every week bring fresh tomatoes, beets, zucchini, lettuce and beans to our church for distribution."
Dolan is amazed at how Aarrk Gardens has grown since it was founded nearly 6 years ago. "SOTP is our biggest supporter," Dolan said, "and Vik is the catalyst that brought the church to us. I value his input."
Aarrk Gardens began as Dolan's idea with a one- acre garden at Bethany Lutheran Church in Crystal Lake.
It expanded when she rented two acres at a Hebron farm, before purchasing a home located there. Up to four people can stay at the property's home with a goal of up to one year.
"My desire has always been to help people with homeless, alcohol, and drug issues," notes Dolan, who knows the consequences as she grew up with an alcoholic father. "I was given this vision, prayed for it, put together a strategic plan, and it happened. Our name is somewhat an alliteration of Noah's Ark. No way am I able to do this alone. With the help of a grant writer, a financial person, Vik's energy, and others' support, we keep going."
Church members Mike and Rachael Yndestad are subscribers and recently attended a picnic at Aarrk Gardens.
"The vegetables are fresh and delicious and I was amazed at what I saw at the farm," Rachael said. "The gardens are meticulously maintained by the workers, right down to scheduling, and taking care of the soil with fertilizer and bug control."
The church is collecting items to help Aarrk Gardens, including egg cartons, hanging planters (cleaned out; old or new), and plastic fruit containers, such as those used for berries and tomatoes. Items may be dropped off at the church, 10805 Main St. For information, contact Bekeris at email@example.com.
Shepherd of the Prairie Lutheran Church, under the faith leadership of Pastor Mark Boster, has served the Huntley community for over 20 years. Visit www.sotp.org.