Katherine B. Greene Child Worker Award
Beth Palmer, Epworth UMC Chicago (2016)
Inspired Youth Tutoring Program & Inspired Youth Singers
Beth Palmer began acting out her deep compassion for children thirty years ago. “Ms. Beth,” as she has been affectionately called by so many children over the years, has provided tutoring for students from the nearby Goudy School. She has helped improve the academic and social lives of students in this economically deprived and ethnically diverse community. The school principal notes that she greets children several days a week outside the school and whisks them off to the library for assistance and also consults with the school administrators regularly on the children’s progress. Beth has reached out to Loyola University and other community groups to recruit tutors who meet regularly with these children. Dozens of tutors and students meet Saturday mornings at a nearby community center throughout the school year. Beth is also the music director at Epworth and in that position involves children in singing and musical activities. One of Beth’s most outstanding contributions is an Annual Youth Choir Fest in which her own singers participate, but she also invites churches from around Chicago to showcase their youth’s musical talents. This event affirms and builds up all of the children who participate and its positive impact ripples into the lives of families and into the community.
Connie McCleary and First UMC DeKalb (2015)
Summer Lunch and More Program
The members of the First UMC (FUMC) of DeKalb have intentionally stepped out of the walls of their local church to embrace the diverse community surrounding it. Almost 60% of children in DeKalb are on free or reduced lunch programs during the school year. The question was asked, “What can be done about hunger in the community during the summer months?” In response, child advocate Connie McCleary organized the Summer Lunch and More Program (SLAM) and serves as its program director. After attempting to use government resources to run SLAM, the decision was made to partner with Schnuck’s, a local grocer and bakery, and hire Kathy West as the cook. Over the next four years, the summer lunch program evolved into more than just lunch for approximately 120-150 children and families. Vicki Boone organized a tutoring program where church members and Northern Illinois University education students volunteered as tutors every Wednesday during the school year and daily during the summer. Under the direction of David Smith, youth are taught to build garden boxes for the community gardening program. The vegetables grown in the boxes are used in the daily meals and given to the community. SLAM has redefined how the church does mission and ministry. Members are creating new ministry opportunities and building relationships with children and families in the community. Participants in the program have taken ownership by paying it forward and offering their gifts and graces to the church. The character of FUMC of DeKalb has been changed in a good way. Its desire to feed the children has transformed the community and the church.
Rev. Rodney Walker (2014)
Grace Calvary UMC Chicago
Rev. Rodney Walker, pastor of Grace Calvary UMC in Chicago, worked tirelessly for over three years to build a strong partnership with the Cook County Juvenile Justice Department and the Cook County Violence Prevention/Youth Employment Program to build the very successful Saturday Sanction Pogram. On Saturday mornings, Justice Department-trained mentors worked with youth through activities that are highlighted by the Culinary Arts Internship Program. In 2013, 90% of the youth completed the program and two have even secured permanent employment with businesses they interned with over the summer. Rev. Walker declares, ‘While working to reclaim the youth God has entrusted us with, we at Grace Calvary have reclaimed ourselves as Easter People.”
Julie Sgarlata (2013)
In her role as Christian Education Director at Sycamore UMC Ms. Sgarlata has been an innovator of many programs for children. Julie has the amazing ability to remember each child’s name at Sycamore UMC. Her temperament, enthusiasm and commitment to God, our children and His Kingdom’s principles are uncanny. Julie’s ministries reach across the church and out into the community. “Christian Kids”, an after-school enrichment program, connects children with seniors in local nursing homes. Children play games with the seniors or present Bible-based dramas and musicals. Children also assist at the Sycamore Food Pantry and often create get-well and congratulatory cards for SUMC members and for members of the military. Julie acts as a child advocate in the public schools and in the DeKalb County legal system. She will often meet with parents and children in the public school district to ensure special needs are met. She has gone to family court to be a voice for children during custody hearings. Mrs. “S” (as she is called) has demonstrated the personality, sincerity, creativity and heart that speaks loudly to Katherine B. Green’s faithfulness and God’s mandate to “let the little ones come.”
Kandy DeWitt (2013)
Kandy DeWitt started “Study Club” and has served as a volunteer director since 2008. Study Club is a community-based homework assistance/tutoring program for elementary-aged children. Study Club is a partnership with Woodview Elementary School which serves ad diverse population with approximately 50% of the students living in poverty. As a retired teacher, Kandy understands the importance of an individualized, caring and supportive system that nurtures a child’s academic achievement and holistic well-being as well. Kandy has been the heart of the coordination, planning, recruiting of volunteers and solicitation of funds to sustain and grow Study Club at Friendship UMC. Once a child is recommended by the school staff, Kandy works closely with the family to ensure that the child is able to participate. Kandy then recruits church members as tutors for each child. As described by Pastor Shin, “Volunteers bond with children and it changes their own lives as well. Their faith and love in Christ has been strengthened and they have become strong witnesses for others who desire to make a difference in our community and beyond.” Kandy DeWitt is changing lives within Friendship UMC, at Woodview Elementary School and beyond. She is truly a shining example of God’s love modeled by Katherine B. Greene.
Debra Kelly (2012)
As director of Marcy-Newberry’s Community Children’s Choir, Director of Special Youth Programs among others, Debra Kelly’s commitment to children and their needs goes far above that of an employee and it can truly be noted that she changes lives. Children under Debra’s leadership develop self-discipline, self-confidence, self-worth and the ability to work in teams. Their leadership skills, respect for all and independence are nurtured through the ability to participate in numerous choral productions across the Conference. These opportunities would not be possible without Ms. Kelly’s commitment to excellence and to children. The encouragement, love and discipline and dedication Debra brings to her ministry raises up and empowers children leaving a positive mark, not only at Marcy-Newberry, but across the Chicago neighborhoods from where the children come.
Cheryl Soderstrom (2010)
Cheryl Soderstrom, a member of Grace UMC in Lake Bluff, left her lucrative career to stay home with two adopted daughters from China, and eight years ago began working with the children at Grace Church. Under Cheryl’s leadership, she has inspired the members of her congregation to see the great need of their neighbors and to consistently collect school supplies, warm clothing, blankets and other necessities for children and infants in North Chicago and Waukegan. She works closely with Lake County ChildServ to organize Christmas-giving programs, intentionally including the children of the congregation as they also respond to the opportunity of sharing generously with other children in need. Cheryl has a genuine fondness for every child she encounters, works effectively and lovingly with children, and continues to address the needs of children regardless of gender, nationality, or conditions within their homes.
Catherine Petersen (2009)
First UMC, Park Ridge
Catherine Petersen has made service to children an integral part of her life. A Children’s Ministries Coordinator at Park Ridge UMC, a certified Teacher and Family Educator, a Girl Scout Leader and NIC Child/Youth Leader and Trainer, Catherine takes advantage of everyday moments to acknowledge and encourage children in a positive way. Through each of her many roles, she works tirelessly to lead children on the path to becoming disciples of Christ, by using direct instruction, but more importantly, leading by example. Catherine puts children front and center and encourages them to share the awe and wonder of their young faith as they move to adulthood.
Shelby Bordner (2008)
Shelby Bordner has faithfully advocated for children throughout her lifetime in her roles as a teacher, youth fellowship advisor, Sunday School teacher, mother, neighbor and friend. In her efforts to help children know and love Jesus Christ, Shelby has introduced youth to mission work through organizing and leading mission trips, initiated several after-school clubs at her church for children who live in the community, delivered meaningful children’s messages on Sunday mornings, and provided a home for children in need. As was written in her nomination, she is always willing to speak her beliefs, defend what is right, prevent what is wrong, and lead the way to God.
Rev. Sandra Sagehorn (2006)
For the past eight years, Rev. Sagehorn has served as Permanent Deacon at the Gary Memorial UMC in Wheaton, Illinois. She has been an inspiration to church members by putting her faith into action with inspiring and unique children’s sermons and by challenging children at Gary Wheaton to help children globally.
Linda Lowery (2005)
Linda Lowery serves as Director of Lay Ministries at Cornerstone UMC in Elgin and has been active in children’s ministries for over 25 years.
Susan Griffis (2004)
Susan Griffis was nominated for her excellence in being a child advocate. Her skills in teaching Sunday School for more than 15 years and for being the Superintendent of Sunday School brought her up for nomination. She is a very creative teach in the Sunday School at Poplar Grove UMC. She also teaches kindergarten during the week. Her classroom in Poplar Grove is inviting with brightly colored posters, an “art gallery” for students’ special works and a birthday wall listing each child’s special day. She is very consistent in her work and is organized and professional in her capacity as a teacher in Sunday School.