Crystal Lake churches unite to help District 47 families in need
What started nearly two years ago as a partnership between one Crystal Lake church and Crystal Lake Elementary District 47 has expanded into a communitywide program of churches helping district families in need.
Eleven Crystal Lake churches now are partnered with every school in the district -- 12 schools and an early childhood center -- providing food, Christmas presents, clothing, coats and school supplies collected through drives. They also support teachers and school employees with occasional appreciation lunches or breakfasts, and offer suicide prevention screening for students.
These church-school partnerships were started by Kate Norten, a former Wauconda Middle School social studies teacher and seminarian who developed the idea as part of an internship with Hope Church in Crystal Lake.
"Schools could always use more help," said Norten of Crystal Lake, now a chaplain for Northwestern Medicine hospitals in Huntley, McHenry and Woodstock -- formerly Centegra. "My original intent was just for my own church, but it grew to all the churches."
Some District 47 schools already had a church partnership through Kids Hope USA, a national nonprofit helping to build mentoring relationships with at-risk children. Norton worked with local churches to match them with schools that didn't have a partner.
Participating churches include Willow Creek, First Congregational, Bethany Lutheran, Living Waters, St. Paul's United Church of Christ, Crosspoint Lutheran, Harvest, Evangelical Free Church, St. Thomas Apostle, and Hope Church. They meet four times yearly to coordinate efforts.
District 47 school social workers provided a list of items students and families needed throughout the year.
At Coventry Elementary, for example, First United Methodist Church supplies families in need 50 bags of food each month, money vouchers for eyeglasses, and Walmart gift cards. The church facilitates a clothing drive in the fall and holiday gifts and toys, organizes a school appreciation lunch for staff members, and provides volunteer mentors through the Kids Hope program, which serves 20 Coventry students.
North Elementary School's partnership with neighboring St. Paul's United Church of Christ has had a positive impact on students and families, Principal Christina Moran said.
"Working together to support students through a mentoring program, volunteer opportunities, school supply donations and family outreach is remarkable," Moran said. "St. Paul's has provided quick and responsive support to our families during their times of need, which has helped us meet the social-emotional and academic needs of our students."
Norten's Hope Church is providing Target and Walmart gift cards for Lundahl Middle School families.
"We are constantly evaluating and assessing what's working and what can be better," Norten said. "If there's a need at a school that one church can't meet on its own, others can step in to help. Whatever the schools need, that's what we're there for."