Rep. Brian Stewart Weekly Column: Governor’s Hometown Awards & Independence Day

***No act of kindness is ever wasted. Aesop*** 

On a quiet street in the city of Lanark, Illinois sits a quaint white building.  The bell and sign in the front herald the Lanark First Brethren Church.  This small community congregation has a history of serving Lanark for 130 years even raising funds to send a team of volunteers to minister in Alaska until 2015.

In 2016, the Church was at a crossroads.  The congregation chose to try a different sort of ministry project right in their own backyard.  They called it Workation – giving volunteers an opportunity to take a week to volunteer right in their own proverbial backyard while still having the opportunity to sleep in their own beds every night.

Organizers wanted three things.  First, they wanted to provide the opportunity to volunteer to more people.  Second, they wanted to help more people.  And third, they believed Workation should be non-denominational.

They estimated that Workation would attract 8 to 10 volunteers and conduct 10 to 12 projects a year, estimating roughly 200 volunteer hours each year.  They were wrong.  No one anticipated that it would develop into the single largest community service program in the Churchs history.

Workation had 30 volunteers its first year, completing 31 projects and logging 930 volunteer hours.  In 2017 it had 32 volunteers working on 52 projects for 1100 hours.  And in the first week of June 2018, 58 people volunteered for Workation completing 47 projects totaling 1350 volunteer hours.

Workation days start at 7:30 am at the Church.  Hot breakfast is served and the volunteers are assigned to their respective projects.  By 9 am, volunteer teams are in the field.

In 2018, Workation Co-Chairs Stephanie Schultz and William Iske led between five and six different teams to their respective works sites each day ensuring smooth and efficient operations. Sometimes, projects were larger than anticipated, and the co-chairs managed any necessary changes on the fly expertly.

They also conducted a joint project with the Eastland Council of Churches Home Improvement Task Force.  That effort included a new roof, replacing insulation and windows, and re-siding the project home.

Water is delivered by a volunteer to each project site.  This year, over 530 miles were driven to hydrate Workation volunteers.

There are two requirements to sign up as a Workation project.  The first is to contact the Church and sign up.  The second is to eat lunch with the volunteers and hopefully, get to know them a little bit.  Sack lunches are provided by the Church for volunteers and project recipients.

Workation, with its added emphasis on community, prompted the Brethren Evangelist publication to praise the project as a volunteer program designed to unify the community, bring people together through neighbor helping neighbor and build community spirit.

The effort puts truth to the words of President George H. W. Bush, Service is never a simple act; its about sacrifice for others and about accomplishment for ourselves, about reaching out, one person to another, about all our choices gathered together as a country to reach across all our divides.

Workation is considered the primary catalyst for Lanarks selection as one of the 14 Illinois Project Winners of the Governors Hometown Award.  Lanark Mayor Ken Viglietta said, I believe the program remains a flagship in public demonstration that this is a caring community that values cooperation and consideration for all who are now here or are seeking a different homestead.

Workation will be incorporated with the Lanark Community Service Week, and plans are that it will continue annually the first week of June.  The Lanark Area Community Foundation Chairman, Floyd Roberts, said, The story is not in the numbers, its in the lives of the people who are helped and are helping.

Very soon, we will be celebrating our nations birthday on the 4thof July.  There are many days we could choose to recognize as our nations birthday.  We could have chosen April 19th, the day shots were fired in Lexington and Concord.  We could have chosen September 3rd, the day the American Revolutionary War officially ended.  Or we could have chosen June 21st, the day our Constitution was ratified.

Instead we chose July 4th because it is the date on the Declaration of Independence.  Many of our national holidays are military, and on those days we hear the reminder, Freedom isnt free.

I think that phrase extends beyond military service.

I think it extends to volunteerism as well.  Acts of service like Workation are proof that we do not need central bureaucrats telling us whats best.  Most of the time, if we follow our heart and do whats right, we can figure it out for ourselves.

If you have any additional thoughts or ideas, you can reach me or Sally at 815-232-0774, or visit my website at and use the form to send me an e-mail.

Brian Stewart

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