Bishop Jesse R. DeWitt Child Advocacy Award
Rev. Gregory Gross, The Night Ministry (2020)
The Rev. Gregory Gross is the former Director of Mission Fulfillment for the Night Ministry in Chicago. In that role Gregory provided housing, health care, spiritual care and social services to families and individuals experiencing poverty and homelessness, particularly youth. His work with “The Crib” is particularly notable. This overnight emergency shelter for young adults, ages 18-24, many of them LGBTQ, has become a model for youth shelters across the city and state. In addition, Rev. Gross has worked as a youth minister in several congregations in Northern Illinois and has served faithfully on conference committees. Throughout his ministry he encourages and lifts young voices, working to create a church that is as welcoming to young persons as it is to older, lifelong members. Gregory uses his many gifts and graces to ensure that programs which serve the most vulnerable among us—from youth who are homeless and also experiencing racism or discrimination because of their sexual and gender identities, to adults and families with significant unmet needs due to housing and financial insecurity—create opportunities for human connection and fulfillment.
Rev. Dr. Norval Brown, Christ UMC Deerfield (2019)
The Rev. Dr. Norval Brown has been an elder in the Northern Illinois Conference of The United Methodist Church for more than 30 years. During this time, he has advocated for the unique needs of children in a variety of leadership roles within the congregations he has served and within the greater Chicagoland community. Over the years Rev. Brown has served as president of the board of directors for United Voices for Children, as a board member of ChildServ, as a camp counselor for children at Camp Reynoldswood (1978-1986) and as the director of Chicago Southern District Campus Ministry at University of Chicago and University of Illinois Chicago (2003-2007). Rev. Brown consistently supports the youth members and children of his appointed congregations with appearances at concerts, contests and plays. Currently he serves as the vice-chair of the board of directors of MYSI and as dean of the Maceo D. Pembroke institute for Ministerial Recruitment and Leadership Development. He is the pastor of Christ UMC in Deerfield, Illinois. This award honors Rev. Brown’s lifelong commitment to bold leadership and cumulative service with children and families.
Deacon Wesley Dorr, United Church of Rogers Park (2018)
When Deacon Wes Dorr arrived at United Church of Rogers Park ten years ago, he posted a notice of a free after-school program. Immediately dozens of neighborhood children showed up to participate. Over these years Deacon Wes has worked diligently to provide a safe and healthy space for children to learn and grow in this eclectic urban neighborhood. He founded a Peace Center and developed partnerships with Chicago Public Schools, Loyola University, Northwestern University, the Chicago Food Depository and several United Methodist congregations. Today more than 80 children participate in the Peace Center’s after school program—still free! Two years ago, Deacon Wes directed the dismantling of an old house on the church property and established a Peace Garden where children learn about cultivating plants and food. The high visibility and community involvement with the Peace Garden has resulted in a significant reduction in gun violence at Ashland and Morse avenues, a “turf intersection” among several gangs. Furthermore, no child participating in the after-school program has been a victim of gun violence. Deacon Wes has spoken passionately in different forums in the community and in the church, advocating for safe and healthy opportunities for children in the city to develop. He has made significant personal sacrifices to channel resources into services for children and youth and to live out a commitment to peace and justice.
Lorena Cory, First UMC Arlington Heights (2017)
Lorena Cory is the founder of Pinwheels, a support group for families with gender creative children. Lorena started Pinwheels in March 2011 out of her family’s needs. Since then, this unique support group has steadily grown to more than 100 members meeting monthly in two locations. Parents who have experience with a gender creative child gather with parents who are new to this journey to build relationships, share resources and offer support to one another. Lorena facilitates the meetings with dedication and reaches out to the members with compassion. Her advocacy work for trans children and their families goes beyond the church walls. Pinwheels is the only known faith-based program of its kind—though people of all or no faiths are welcome. The focus is on love and acceptance and learning to advocate for trans justice in the schools, community, and nation.
Rev. Dr. William Lenters, Rosecrance (2017)
Bill Lenters serves as chaplain at the Rosecrance Griffin Williamson Campus in Rockford. Each week Bill leads spirituality, grief and loss groups for teens and young adults seeking treatment for substance use disorders. And he meets one-on-one with young clients who have questions and concerns about faith, or who are struggling with various challenges during treatment. Additionally, Bill counsels young adult and adult clients at Rosecrance Lakeview, a substance abuse recovery home and outpatient clinic in Chicago. Bill also writes quarterly recovery-focused columns titled “Bread for the Journey” that are distributed to clergy and lay leaders throughout Northern Illinois. The columns are written on behalf of all who suffer from addictions to help church leaders better understand the disease of addiction and how they can help. Bill pens monthly “View from the Pew” email musings about spirituality and recovery and provides content for a special Twitter account called “Rosecrance 12 Tweets,” modeled after the 12 Steps.
Rev. Chris Pierson, Northern Illinois Conference (2016)
Director of Connectional Ministries
While serving as a Director of Connectional Ministries for the Northern Illinois Conference for the past nine years, Chris Pierson has worked tirelessly on behalf of children and youth. He has assisted in the building of coalitions and teams such as the Children’s Table and the Urban Strategy initiative, which work to understand and address root causes of poverty, violence, and educational disparity. Chris has sought to educate and highlight the injustice of mass incarceration, working to interrupt the school to prison pipeline. He has been in the background and at the forefront of efforts to ensure our most vulnerable children, particularly children and youth of color, are protected and valued. Chris has been a pivotal leader in helping lead this Conference in meeting the needs of children on the margins. His voice and his experience have deepened conversations, which have led to actions, which have led to changed reality. Chris has served on many committees and boards, advocated for grants, supported local churches, preached, taught, led, engaged in provoking and speaking up when it’s mattered most. The impact of Chris’ ministry may be hard to measure, but its reach is far and wide and deep—and we give thanks!
Alicia Tellez Vega, Wesley UMC Cicero (2015)
Q-YES (Queer Youth Exploring Spirituality)
Alicia Tellez Vega has been active in many areas of ministry since joining Wesley UMC in Cicero, Illinois. She has a heart that has been given to service and ministry for young people in the church and on her job at Boys & Girls Club of Chicago. Alicia saw that services for LGBTQ (Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Queer/Questioning) youth was nonexistent. She carried the need to her church as an opportunity to minister to youth. Her vision was to create a safe space for LGBTQ youth to engage in leadership development, service learning and job training while enhancing spiritual development and self-love. In spring of 2013, church members began program development for an LGBTQ and Ally Youth Ministry Program. Wesley UMC recognized LGBTQ youth suffer disproportionate levels of discrimination, bullying, suicidal ideation and homelessness. In addition, many LGBTQ youth are shunned from their own church communities. Through these collaborative meetings, a vision for the LGBTQ and Ally Youth Ministries Program was born. This program provides LGBTQ youth a place where they feel comfortable and safe to practice their spirituality and reconcile with their faith(s). Q-YES validates the identities and opinions of these youth and supports them through this difficult time in their life. With this support, youth will have a stronger identity and have a healthier transition into adulthood.
Rev. Lynn Mikels (2014)
First UMC Arlington Heights
“FUMC of Arlington Heights, led by Rev. Mikels in her role as Pastor of Faith Formation, has an impressive list of nontraditional support for families in a suburban community (or any church community) that has undoubtedly been the result of intentional capacity-building, focused care for those who are not usually included in the ministry of a church,” stated Bishop Sally Dyck, in a letter supporting the nomination of Rev. Mikels. Night Owls (Night Out with Loving Sisters) is a monthly program where parents bring their special needs children to church for dinner and planned activities, while the adults have a three-hour evening to themselves (long enough for dinner and a movie!) Many church volunteers lead activities, help as greeters/hall monitors, buddies and program aides, as well as cook and serve dinner. “This work is not just about me,” explains Rev. Mikels. “From the Board of Trusteess to our Night Owl volunteers, this is a church that values children.”
Cindy Horton (2014)
Christ the Carpenter UMC Rockford
The Rockford Community is healthier because of the years of dedicated service to children and youth from Cindy Horton, an active member of Christ the Carpenter UMC of Rockford. Cindy’s 20 years of volunteer service and advocacy for children in church and community programs support the spiritual, academic and personal development of children. Cindy can be found serving wherever children and families are. Sunday School, 4H Club, after-school programs and Vacation Bible School are all places Cindy is willing and able to humbly ensure that children have every opportunity to reach their God-given potential. Cindy can also be found serving breakfast and lunch through Rockford Shelter Care Ministries and Grounds for Life Soup Kitchen. Three years ago, Cindy’s advocacy for children became painfully personal when her daughter and two grandchildren became victims of domestic violence. Shortly thereafter, Cindy founded a Walk for Justice in partnership with other domestic violence groups in Rockford. The walk has been held each of the three years since the tragedy. Cindy has turned grief into an even stronger advocacy effort on behalf of children and families.
Rev. Donald Baker (2013)
Rev. Donald Baker, a retired clergy member of the Northern Illinois Conference, was the founder and long-time director of Youth Organizations Umbrella (Y.O.U.) in Evanston, serving over 15,000 youth who were living on the margins of the community. Rev. Baker began working with “kids on the street in Evanston” while a seminarian at Garrett-Evangelical Theological Seminary. It began as a field project, and he became especially concerned with youth that had become disconnected from their families, schools, churches and the community in general. In 1971, Don joined a task force in Evanston to assess the needs of adolescents, inventory available services and develop and appropriate and effective response, Out of this work, and with Don’s leadership, Y.O.U. was born. Today Y.O.U. is viewed as the most respected youth organization in the city of Evanston, providing a range of services from after-school enrichment programs, tutoring and mentoring, clinical counseling and crisis intervention, working closely with both the youth and their families. In addition, Don has not only influenced the lives of 15,000 Evanston youth, but also over 100 social work and divinity school students have been supervised by Don in graduate internships and field education placements. The result of this commitment to graduate professional development has been a wonderful multiplying effect on those who are called to work for and with children.
Dorothy Paige-Turner (2013)
Ms. Dorothy Paige-Turner, a retired music teacher and arts integration specialist, has impacted the youth program at Christ the Carpenter UMC, from being almost nonexistent to a major excitement for all involved. Children’s Church has grown from 2 to 20 children, and twice a month children make relevant and rigorous presentations during regular Sunday services. Ms. Paige-Turner believes that all children can learn better, retain more, and develop confidence through the arts. As an arts-integration specialist, her ministry to children extends far beyond the local church. The Kantorei Singing Boys Choir is a passion, teaching underserved boys from grade school through high school graduation songs of different cultures using props indigenous to the country of origin. In 2012 alone, Mr. Paige-Turner volunteered over 410 hours for community affairs, many of them were associated with children. Dorothy has training in cultural arts, cooperative learning, music therapy, music for special needs populations and more and uses them to bless Christ the Carpenter UMC and the entire city of Rockford. God’s ambassador to children, Ms. Dorothy Paige-Turner has made our world a better place for God’s children.
Rev. Dr. Kwane John and Mrs. June Porter (2012)
Rev. Dr. Kwame John and Mrs. June Porter, parents of six, grandparents of thirteen and great-grandparents of two have been servants and advocates of youth across many venues. Early in their careers, they were active in the Young Life Ministry. Many know Dr. Porter as a civil rights advocate through his work with Dr. M.L. King, Jr. and the former pastor at Christ UMC (CUMC), now Greater Englewood Parish, for 25 years where both successfully promoted ministries that reached children, including youth in gangs, youth whose parents were incarcerated or on drugs or those who lived in poverty. While at CUMC, Mrs. Porter served as Sunday School Superintendent for many years. Mrs. Porter is a long-time member of the UMC Connection including serving as president of United Voices for Children. She has and continues to serve as director of adult literacy at Literacy Chicago, Chicago’s oldest adult literacy organization. Even now at her home church, the United Church of Hyde Park, Mrs. Porter is busy organizing educational ministries for children and youth. Perhaps their lives are best summed up by their LOVE for children, youth and families.
Refugee Resettlement Ministry (2010)
The Refugee Resettlement Ministry is a cooperative ministry at Baker Memorial UMC in St. Charles which supports refugees from the Karen region of Myanmar, who are victims of abuse, forced labor, and other hardships by the ruling military junta. The Karen families are provided with housing on the church property which is partially subsidized by church giving and fundraisers. Volunteers help individuals with legal issues relating to refugee status and U.S. citizenship, while others work to help the families transition to a new culture and schools. All of these provide a critical grounding for the children and families they support, and serve as a foundation for successful, healthy, faithful lives.
Aurora Shalom Ministries (2009)
Aurora Shalom Ministries, formed in 1992, is a covenant of six Aurora churches which includes First UMC, Nueva Vida, Fourth Street UMC, Wesley UMC, Bethany of Fox Valley UMC and the Warehouse Church of Aurora. Their mission is to plan, develop and initiate programs that empower economically disadvantaged individuals through spiritual renewal, skills training, and community development. From adult programs like “English as a Second Language” to the “Kid’s Zone” and “Shalom Zone,” Aurora Shalom Ministries strives to bring God’s peace and justice to a community in need.
Laura Dean Friedrich (2008)
Laura Dean Friedrich has been a tireless advocate, working on behalf of children who live in the margins. She is a gifted trainer, speaker and writer who understands the issues affecting children and their families and puts that knowledge into action at the local, state and federal levels. In both her professional and personal lives, Laura Dean’s passion and commitment to ensure that all children receive the services they need to grow up in a safe and nourishing environment are immeasurable. As her nominator reminds us, she is well-known throughout the Conference as the “go-to” resource for child advocacy.
Nancy J. Beard (2007)
Nancy J. Beard serves on the Board of Directors of the Pediatric Oncology Treasure Chest Foundation. As part of her service on the board, Nan Beard sets up collection boxes and delivers new toys to children and youth undergoing painful tests or treatment. Each week she sorts, labels and packages toys for children and youth living with cancer. Having lost both of her daughters and her husband to cancer, Nan is devoted to helping these young people. She is an active member of the Grace United Protestant Church in Park Forest where she serves as the Communion Steward on the Worship Committee. Nan has also volunteered with Companions for the Journey to drive children to visit their incarcerated parents in the Illinois Corrections Systems. When asked why she works tirelessly on behalf of children, Nan always replies, “It brings me joy!”
Dana Thomas (2006)
Dana is the elected Child Advocate of Maple Park UMC in Chicago and has been an outspoken advocate for children for many years. She is also the Coordinator of the Dance Ministry at Maple Park. In teaching children liturgical dance, Dana “reminds them that they are dancing and giving praise to God.”
William and Debbie Miller (2006)
As long-time youth volunteers at Lanark UMC, William and Debbie Miller have ministered to youth through mission trips teaching them what it means to be in servant ministry. They have built porches on trailers in Kentucky, completed projects in South Dakota and traveled to Milwaukee for a week to work in soup pantries and homeless shelters. The Millers have helped youth “learn what it takes to walk with the poor as well as bring help to the poor.”
Neighborhood UMC, Maywood (2005)
The Tutorial Program of Neighborhood UMC is a new program that has demonstrated outstanding success working with neighborhood children.
Day Care and Preschool, United Church of Sandwich (2004)
The United Church of Sandwich Day Care and Preschool was brought into being, the Day Care in 1996 and Preschool ins 1998, to meet the needs of the growing number of teenaged mothers in the area. These ministries find programs to help financially, physically and spiritually. The Preschool presently has an enrollment of 36 with a waiting list. Meanwhile the Day Care as ministered to children and parents in a variety of ways, including caring for young children, financially overseeing children in need and providing Christian-based learning possibilities daily. This program truly is an inspiring ministry to recognize.