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United Voices for Children Year in Review

Posted: October 28 2021 at 12:51 PM
New Uvc Logo Final

Going into 2021, United Voices for Children (UVC) was determined to continue advocating for at-risk Illinois children and their families and raising awareness of its affiliated agencies Kids Above All, MYSI, Inc., and Rosecrance. The events of 2020 had exposed systemic issues that placed vulnerable populations at risk; for children and families in the crosshairs of poverty, violence, and inequality, the pandemic was a disaster. 

Board members understood their work was more critical than ever, but rising COVID-19 infection numbers and restrictions on gatherings meant that virtual events and Zoom board meetings would continue.  

Focusing on a comprehensive virtual event

Undaunted, the board organized “Raising Our Voices,” an online event August 11 celebrating its affiliating agencies, honoring its 2021 annual award winners, and thanking supporters. They enlisted the technology expertise of Rev. Chris Griffin to assist with behind-the-scenes work and “day-of” Zoom administration.

During the event, seven NIC child advocates accepted awards for their extraordinary work in advocating for children and families in Illinois (see sidebar). Deaconess Catherine Inserra, Kids Above All Manager of Faith and Community Relations, notes that these awards can be life-changing. “When I received my UVC award in 2019, it confirmed God’s calling in my life and where I wanted to devote my energies and skills,” she said. 

Four heroic leaders also joined the Aug. 11 event to share their insights for advocacy moving forward. Deacon Kathy Wellman (Naperville: Wesley) from the NIC Disabilities Ministry inspired the audience with her passion in caring for ability-challenged individuals during the pandemic. Rev. Fabiola Grandon-Mayer, Prairie North District Superintendent, prayed for the needs of children in agencies while a “new normal” was developed. Dr. David Gomel, President and CEO of Rosecrance Health Network, shared his perspective on what the future looks like for the children served by his organization. Rev. Norval Brown (Cary UMC) inspired attendees to answer God’s call to serve children and join forces with agencies, partners and UVC. 

An unveiling and vision casting

In spring 2021, UVC considered a redesign of its logo, one that would acknowledge its 42-year history while looking to the future. The original design featured four childlike figures and colors representing the original four agencies supported by UVC: Marcy-Newberry Association, Rosecrance, Methodist Youth Services, Lake Bluff/Chicago Homes for Children. 

Over the years, some names changed: Lake Bluff/Chicago Homes for Children became ChildServ, then Kids Above All; Methodist Youth Services became MYSI, Inc. After 130 years of service to at-risk children and families, Marcy-Newberry Association closed in 2013. The three remaining agencies were committed to the UVC coalition, with a board liaison attending meetings and participating actively in board activities, but it was time for a fresh look at the UVC logo. 

After several design iterations and prayerful evaluation, the board unanimously approved the final design at their June meeting and the result was unveiled at the Aug. 11 “Raising Our Voices” event to a virtual drumroll. The logo contains three childlike hands in primary colors representing the three agencies, with the palms of the hands in the shape of hearts representing God’s love in action. A cross still stands in place of the “T” in United, highlighting UVC’s ministry and mission.  

Blessed by faithful support

Since 1979, UVC has raised more than $1 million through the 5th Sunday Appeal. In 2021, the board was heartened by and grateful for the faithful support of congregations and individuals despite pandemic-related challenges. In late summer 2021, UVC provided $3,000 grants to their affiliated agencies Kids Above All, MYSI Inc., and Rosecrance. 

In late September, UVC learned that the people of Berry Memorial UMC would be donating $5,000 over three years as a part of their tithe from their building sale proceeds.  In her September 27 email to Rev. Timothy Biel, UVC Board President, Berry Memorial Lay Leader Joy Thorbjornsen-Coates noted that the church was making donations to organizations that fit within their Justice and Joy missions. “We are thrilled to be able to help support the work of United Voices for Children and the organizations within,” she wrote.

5th Sunday Appeal giving remains the cornerstone of UVC’s fundraising, although individual donations through UVC’s direct giving links at bit.ly/giveuvc and unitedvoicesforchildren.org/donate have increased since 2020. For 2022, 5th Sunday Appeal months are January, May, July, and October. To help congregations promote the 5th Sunday Appeal, UVC provides dated bulletin, website, and social media promotional material at unitedvoicesforchildren.org/links/resources. Congregations may request giving envelopes by sending an email to unitedvoicesforchildren@gmail.com. UVC thanks you in advance for your support!

Board members reflect

The UVC Board is a diverse, committed group of leaders who aren’t afraid to ask questions and explore new avenues for advocacy and fundraising.

Board member Chamus Burnside-Savazzini, director of Children’s Faith Formation (Naperville: Grace) notes that being part of the UVC helped her stay connected during the pandemic. “Each time we gather, I feel inspired, supported and appreciated.  When our meetings end, I look forward to the next one,” she says. “I pray that we will continue to grow, evolve and continue to make a difference in all the areas we serve.” 

Rev. Grant Swanson, Recruitment Coordinator for Garrett-Evangelical Theology Seminary, notes that the greatest joy of his time on the UVC board has been building a deeper relationship with UVC’s three partner child-serving agencies: Kids Above All, MYSI, and Rosecrance. “These incredible organizations are doing invaluable work in our communities to ensure the flourishing of our children and their families. Each partner agency has an amazing representative on the board who reports about their agency’s business at each meeting. Being able to learn about the vital ministry work going on in our city through these agencies and discover the ways in which we, as individuals, as a board, and as a Church, can support the agencies in this work, is life-giving and inspiring.” 

Deaconess Inserra added that UVC has persisted with intentional planning and innovative steps given the many challenges and concerns for advocating for children, youth and families brought on by the ongoing pandemic. “UVC’s new logo featuring three colorful hearts in the palms of three hands offers a heartfelt and hopeful message for these times,” she said. 

Are you passionate about child advocacy and the flourishing of Illinois children and their families? If so, United Voices for Children welcomes you to apply for a board position. Please send an email to unitedvoicesforchildren@gmail.com or visit unitedvoicesforchildren.org and click on “Resources” for an application. 

2021 Award Winners
(Note: the Katherine B. Greene Child Worker Award was not given this year.)

Bishop Jesse R. DeWitt Child Advocacy Award 

Co-Winner: Rev. Jeremiah Lee, Naperville: Community

Rev. Lee is a youth pastor reaching out to junior and senior high school students at Community UMC in Naperville. He stepped up when he was appointed to CUMC when Deacon Nick Nicholas had to go on a health leave in late 2019. Rev. Lee is an active and engaging youth pastor going beyond to model serving and helping youth in need. He is involved with the NIC’s Anti-Racism Task Force and he promotes congregational mission and ministry in partnership with Kids Above All in practical and unique ways that seek to make connections to social justice and equity

Co-Winner: Justice Generation Young Adult Leaders: Emerson Jordan-Wood, Jennifer Kirkpatrick, Emma Trevor, Nura Zaki

These four young adult leaders pioneered the Justice Generation young adult leader role during the pandemic, primarily online, with utmost dedication and enthusiasm. Their leadership for this initiative with intent to become an active body for racial justice offers a continued opportunity for young adults to engage in purposeful ministry with great impact. Mixing their professional skills within this forum and their commitment to the UMC has been exciting and inspiring. 

Rev. Margaret Ann Williams Service Award
Co-Winner: Carol Risenhoover, Rockford: Centennial 

Carol directed, managed, and scheduled educators and volunteers for a Saturday Kids Club (SKC) and has been involved with SKC for more than 27 years. She coached, led training, and promoted children's advocacy at her church and in the community of Rockford. Carol advocates for resources and meals for the program; has led fundraisers, planning and implementation of events and activities. 

Co-Winner: Cindy Minju Oh, DeKalb: First

As a high school junior, Cindy was a passionate participant in Justice Generation and serving with their young adult leaders. She assisted in organizing the distribution of 10,000 free masks to low-income families through a Korean company; participated in school as a tutor; and is an Amazing Grace with Peace Movement founder to increase awareness around the Korean border that separates families. She also founded Asiadentity to empower the voices and the identities of Asian children, youth, and community.

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