The Grundy County Housing Authority may be home to nearly 160 low-income elderly and those living with disabilities, but it has been a place filled with children during this holiday season.
Residents of the GCHA have witnessed kids of all ages volunteering to help ... and they couldn’t be more pleased.
"Spreading Christmas cheer comes easy for the children who have volunteered to help us this holiday season," said Jennifer Olson, vice president of development for the GCHA. "I’m confident these generous children and families will be back, too.
"We need help all year round, not just this time of year, so I’m hopeful to see these kids again and recruit some others to spread joy throughout the year for our residents."
Avery, age 10, and Addy, 5, Kneller spent hours cleaning and painting an apartment with their father, preparing the unit for a new tenant. They are the GCHA's youngest Home Makers to date.
"Our Home Makers program allow individuals, families or businesses to volunteer, paint and clean our apartments so we can move the next low-income elderly or disabled resident of Grundy County into the apartment," Olson said. "With scarce dollars, these volunteers couldn’t be more important to us."
The Kneller girls wanted to drive to the East Coast and help families affected by Hurricane Sandy, but, like it is for most families, traveling so far would have been difficult. Once the girls found out how they can help within their own community, they were thrilled to get started.
"This isn’t the last time we’re going to see these girls," Olson said. "They were proud as peacocks after they completed the apartment. We can’t wait to have them come back."
Olson’s own children, Kyle, 12, and Macey, 11, along with friends Blake, 12, and Taylor, 10, Breyman and Anja, 10, & Aric, 6, Huettemann spent an evening together coloring and decorating Christmas cards for the residents at Saratoga Tower.
"When Kim Breyman contacted me about me having the kids get together to make the cards, I was thrilled," Olson said. "My kids love volunteering and telling their friends about GCHA."
"It’s fun to help and I can’t wait to deliver them." Taylor Breyman said.
Macey Olson, Nicole Guth, Haley McDonald, Jocelyn Wren, Emily Miracle and Heather Wasko, all sixth graders, also spent an evening together. They had donated Christmas cards they used to make handmade ornaments.
These girls heard about the Grundy County Housing Authority's program to donate a buck to help provide a meal for the residents and came up with a plan to make the ornaments and sell them for $1 each.
Jennifer Olson contacted Apple Butter / Shugie’s and, on Friday, Dec. 7, during Midnight in Morris, they had planned to sell the ornaments. To their surprise, however, a donor walked into the store and purchased all 100 ornaments before the event officially began that night.
"The girls were thrilled, as was GCHA. Its generous people like our secret donor that make it possible to provide not only housing to our residents, but also special meals like our Christmas dinner," Olson said.
On Friday, Dec. 14, GCHA resident were able to enjoy a holiday meal together. The meal was provided by many donors who responded when GCHA encouraged people to donate a dollar and help provide a meal for their residents.
With the overwhelming amount of support, GCHA was able to provide the meal not only to Saratoga Tower residents, but also – for the very first time — the residents in Gardner and Mazon as well.
"And it’s because of kids like Macy, 6, and Madelyn, 3, Shell, who, when they heard about the meal, told their mom we have to donate because it will make the angels sing," Olson said.
These girls also baked brownies for the residents to enjoy.
Just as generous are Matthew, 11, and Bryan, 7, Kindelspire, who also donated.
"Only they donated their very own birthday money so that our residents could enjoy a meal," Olson said. "The generosity of kids is simply overwhelming and we are all so grateful."
Some students at Premier Academy were also in the giving mood. They, too, heard about the Christmas meal and took up a collection to help provide a meal for the residents. They not only donated their own money, they also volunteered to do some general cleaning at Saratoga Tower.
"This was perfect timing for them to come and help us," Olson said. "Some of the residents have family coming for the holidays and they are very proud of their homes, even the common areas, so this extra help in making it sparkle is very important and needed."
Additionally, Morris Community High School Redskins Speech Team performed a Christmas celebration at Saratoga Tower on Thursday, Dec. 20.
When Brianna, 16; Madison 11; and Brenden, 5, Mahnke found out, they wanted to make cookies for the big night. They also attended the festivities, served the sweet treats, and visited with the residents.
To end the December month of celebration at Grundy County Housing Authority, the residents enjoyed a pizza party provided by Quality Inn and Sams Pizza. The Elliot children — Brandon, 12; Korynne, 10; and Coleton, 7 — stopped by to make crafts with the residents after the pizza party.
"With our government funding being cut, finances are tight, so financial help is extremely important," Olson said. "But just as important as financial help, volunteers are also important. We have lots of things that need to be done. Our house is like your house. Volunteers allow us to save scarce dollars. We have many programs to choose from and will find a program that works best for our donors."
Call Jennifer Olson at (815) 600-2907 for more details on how you can help support the low income elderly and those living with disabilities at the GCHA.