Working together, volunteers address a variety of needs
by Ashlee De Wit
LANSING, Ill. (October 10, 2019) — At a church on the east side of Lansing, there’s a member who gives lessons in English for those who want to learn. Word is spreading, and soon there are too many students for her to handle on her own.
In the heart of downtown Lansing, another church has been doing construction projects all summer. Their volunteers are running out of steam, but the project requests keep coming in.
Meanwhile, other churches around town are full of talented teachers and laborers who would be willing to help—if they knew about the opportunities.
Now there’s a group that endeavors to bring all these volunteers—from different locations and different denominations—together. They go by the name “Love for Lansing.”
Love for Lansing started as a ministry of First Church PCA, and has now developed into an umbrella term for projects done by a collective of local churches. The members of this group aim to support, encourage, and assist each other in their efforts to serve the Lansing community.
This is not a formal organization, and the members prefer to keep it that way. After all, each church represented already has its own active volunteers, leadership, committees, and systems. But they find value in meeting together: offering assistance, learning from each other, and filling in gaps where needed.
Collaboration began when the First Church Love for Lansing volunteers found themselves in need of a few extra workers—they already had their hands full with construction projects when an urgent need for a wheelchair ramp came up.
Jerry Zeldenrust—a First Church member, a volunteer, and a Village Trustee—reached out to Arie Van Ek of Bethel Church for help. Van Ek and a team from Bethel had been doing projects of their own, and they had both the skills and the time to take on another. Their construction of the wheelchair ramp was covered in The Lansing Journal (Building relationships, (January 2019 article), and things snowballed from there.
“That got the word out there,” Zeldenrust said. “I got a lot of emails to my Village email address from churches in town, offering their help.”
Zeldenrust reached out to everyone who contacted him, and they started meeting every other month at First Church, on the corner of Ridge Road and Burnham Avenue. Right now, the group includes representatives from First Church and Bethel, along with Oak Glen United Reformed Church, Cornerstone Church, and New Hope Church.
“It’s an open invite to whoever is interested—this is not meant to be exclusive at all,” Zeldenrust said. “There are other churches who do other things, and we don’t want to step on any toes. But anyone is welcome to get involved in what’s going on here…the more hands the better.”
Many of the project requests that come to the churches come through the Village. As a Trustee, Zeldenrust has been serving as a point person between the Village and his own church, and he has adopted that role with the expanded Love for Lansing outreach as well.
“We’ve been very blessed in the last couple of years, having a good relationship with the Village and good volunteers in our church, and other churches, who meet needs and do it well,” he said.
Part of the driving force behind the collaborative Love for Lansing efforts is the desire to not only serve the community, but to do it effectively and skillfully. Volunteers want their work to have a lasting impact.
“It’s more than just hammers and nails; it’s a ministry to meet the needs of people on a personal, relational basis,” Zeldenrust said. “This is what the church has always wanted to do. We’re building trust by meeting needs and doing a good job.”
For their relationship with the Village, “building trust” means doing the work properly: getting all the permits and meeting inspection requirements. For their relationship with those they’re helping, this means finding volunteers who are capable, dependable, and generous with both their time and talents.
On their part, the church is looking to help people with true needs—that’s one reason that their relationship with the Village is mutually beneficial.
“When we first sat down with the Village, we said we want to meet the needs of people who are really in need, not just people looking for convenience,” said Zeldenrust. “The Village is talking with people who are issued tickets and seeing where the real needs are. This kind of vetting is crucial.”
Zeldenrust also meets with families before committing to new projects. Volunteers can easily burn out if the list gets too long.
“It’s a matter of available manpower,” Zeldenrust added. “If we [First Church] don’t have the volunteers, we can’t help—that’s where it helps to have a network [of other churches] to fall back on.”
Making a difference
In their last meeting, representatives from the five churches gathered to share what each of their volunteers had been working on, and discuss new events and projects for the future.
Roseann Dykstra, a retired Lansing Christian School teacher and a member of New Hope, shared an update on the English as a Second Language (ESL) program that she coordinates with Lois Ooms, a member of Bethel. It started when Dykstra attended an ESL workshop at the Lansing library. She has tutored a number of people, and eventually, she found that she could use some help.
“It seems like everyone who started [learning] knows somebody else—they have connections and they are bringing [students] to us,” she said.
Rich Smits, another member of New Hope who had been part of the Love for Lansing group, brought up Dykstra’s efforts at a meeting. Suddenly, she had 12 others who were willing to teach. The program now has 22 students, and they’re expecting more. At September’s Love for Lansing meeting, churches agreed to put out a call for more volunteer teachers.
“It’s really been exciting—I can’t believe how this has grown is such a short time,” Dykstra said. “Teachers and students just seem to really hit it off. I just love [my students]; they’ve become like my family.”
“This is something God has placed in my heart, and having so many other people involved has been fun, too,” she added.
Another project that started small was some construction work for a house on Henry Street. First Church answered the call, but as things progressed, they called on Van Ek for some assistance.
“It was a great project that just kind of grew. We were first there just to fix the porches, but the siding was a little rough in spots, and windows were falling out,” Zeldenrust said. “Thanks to Arie [Van Ek] and his connections, we were able to come up with a couple donated windows, and he showed us how to put them in. It just all came together fast at the end. It looks like the house has been totally rebuilt.”
Progress reports were shared and celebrated for a number of other items as well:
- A new wheelchair ramp was built for a woman who had been homebound for two years—now she can go outside and enjoy her yard.
- Volunteers did some work priming and painting in the Patti Leach Youth Center, as part of a remodel for that building. Smits, a retired architect, has been working with the Center’s new director on the remodel. (See “Upgrading the Youth Center,” June 2019 article.) He brought a set of blueprints to give the group a visual aid as they discussed possible next steps for the project.
- Susan Eberly of Cornerstone invited other churches to join their volunteers doing homework help at a daycare center. Two new volunteers from Bethel have already gotten involved.
- Oak Glen opened up their formerly church-focused barbecue event to the community, serving grilled lunch to more than 200 people this summer. They also reached out to The Gate, a church in Hammond, to offer help for their huge annual back-to-school event. Through both hosting and helping, they continue to improve on their efforts to meet the needs of the community. “There’s a blessing in serving, but there’s also still a lot that we can learn,” said Marilou Ooms, a member of Oak Glen.
Three new requests came up for discussion at the meeting. An elderly couple needs help repairing their deck; Van Ek claimed that project for Bethel. Nearby, there’s a small forest of trees on the edge of a retention pond that need to be removed; volunteers from Oak Glen have already taken care of that. The group decided to wait for more information on the third item: another family’s request for a wheelchair ramp.
None of the churches would have been able to handle all of these projects on their own. But together, they can coordinate help for each one. This is the kind of cooperation that Van Ek has spent a long time looking for.
“I’ve tried to get something going like this before, get some churches together,” he said, noting that he’d even approached the Lansing Ministerial Society about it. But now the timing happened to be just right.
“This is an answer to my prayer,” Van Ek said.
People who are interested in joining the Love for Lansing network on future projects are invited to contact Jerry Zeldenrust via email or First Church PCA via phone:
First Church PCA is located at 3134 Ridge Road in Lansing.
And Arie Van Ek says that people who are interested in joining Bethel work teams on future projects around town are welcome to call the church office and ask them to give him a message:
Bethel Church is located at 3500 Glenwood-Lansing Road in Lansing.