Gratitude Generation: Deerfield nonprofit inspires 'tiny ripples of hope'
It began with a simple Facebook post from a Deerfield mother looking for ways to help her daughter appreciate the joy of giving more than receiving.
Four years later, a handful of like-minded moms have turned Gratitude Generation into an indispensable resource for those in need.
None of them could have anticipated the way their mission has resonated with the community. Gratitude Generation's message has spread beyond the borders of Deerfield and into the surrounding suburbs and Chicago.
From providing families with personal care products and school supplies to donating meals for veterans and plastic sleeping mats for the homeless, the organizers and volunteers at Gratitude Generation are determined to address the many needs not met elsewhere.
The five founders -- Erin Kerpel, Jill Rivkin, Lisa Sanders, Allison Silver and Nicki Sutherland -- have come a long way since meeting on Facebook, throwing a handful of dollars in a pile and scavenging items to donate from their basements and garages.
In 2018, about 2,600 people participated in or benefitted from a Gratitude Generation event. That number exploded to nearly 28,000 in 2021, showing the nonprofit organization has only scratched the surface with its reach.
"It was five people who were very passionate about the idea and came together," said Rivkin, Gratitude Generation's director of community outreach. "We just naturally fell into our roles. It was a magical combination."
Gratitude Generation held its launch party in April 2018, just a few months after its first event when 50 volunteers read books to elderly people in a nursing home. With six to nine events per month, the organization now supports about 100 nonprofit groups.
In 2021, Gratitude Generation donated 49,000 meals, 1,300 hygiene kits, 25,000 diapers and a long list of other items and services.
"From the little idea we had of creating some service events, it's kind of exploded," said Kerpel, the director of service events. "We're working with groups now that weren't even in our mindset at the beginning. We're now doing corporate events and private groups for Girl Scout troops and birthday parties and working with women's organizations."
The core mission of Gratitude Generation -- information on the organization can be accessed at gratitudegeneration.org -- is to inspire gratitude in future generations through education and service.
The idea is for families to shop together for items to donate, or work together to create items like the plastic mats for the homeless. It's an effort to help volunteers better understand the situation faced by those who struggle on a daily basis.
When organizers gathered 550 bags of groceries for the Midwest Veterans Closet in North Chicago, they asked for donations of canned goods with pop-tops so the veterans who were houseless didn't need a can opener. Birthday Bags not only include frosting and cake mix, but also a $5 gift card so the recipient can purchase eggs and oil.
The practical and educational element of Gratitude Generation extends to the classroom. Organizers created a third-grade curriculum focused on their mission that's currently taught in about a dozen classrooms.
"You could buy something on Amazon and ship it to us, and that's great," Rivkin said. "But we would rather you go to the store with a kid or a family member, and have these moments where you learn how hard it is to make tough choices when you don't have the money."
The growth and support has been so tremendous that a capital funding campaign allowed Gratitude Generation to recently open a headquarters, known as G2HQ, at 815 Rosemary Terrace in Deerfield.
It's helped Gratitude Generation expand its services and open a free on-site Personal Care Closet. People can sign up and shop for three families once a week for shampoo, soap, toothbrushes and other items that aren't in food pantries or covered by food stamps.
A Teen Board has blossomed to about 30 members, and they've spearheaded events like Deck the Dorm to provide necessities for students heading to college. One of the reasons the number of volunteers continues to grow is because past Teen Board members have returned to continue working with Gratitude Generation.
"The response from the community, the support we receive from volunteers and donors and businesses ... it's all been amazing," Kerpel said.
In terms of the future, don't be surprised if Gratitude Generation eventually branches out elsewhere in the suburbs, throughout the state and even around the country.
The need isn't going away, and neither is the dedication.
"Where we'll be in the future, I couldn't say," Rivkin said. "But I know we'll be something bigger, better and more impactful."
How you can helpWhat: Golfing FORE Gratitude
When: 7:30 a.m. Monday, June 13
Where: Hawthorn Woods Country Club
How much: $250 per golfer and $1,000 per foursome, which includes continental breakfast, buffet lunch, beverage cart, open bar, giveaways, games and raffle prizes. Proceeds benefit Gratitude Generation.
Good to know: Register by June 6. Locker rooms available.
Info: firstname.lastname@example.org; gratitudegeneration.org/golfing-fore-gratitude