Not only is volunteerism the engine that drives our communities, it’s also our heart and soul.
When we heard the story behind the “Be Kind” signs that were popping up in yards all over Sterling and beyond, it was hard to keep from smiling the rest of the day. That was why we were compelled to pass it along to our readers.
The red-and-yellow signs were a project of the Church Women United of Sterling-Rock Falls, and the idea of the local organization’s president, Leona Dirks. This story gave us a golden opportunity to profile the good works of Church Women United and the tireless efforts of Dirks, a member of The Big Red Church in Sterling.
The idea came to Dirks while visiting family in Tennessee. She saw the simple but impactful message on a large billboard and decided she wanted to spread it throughout the Sauk Valley.
The message became more important last fall when the organization learned of several suicides in the area – some were young people who had been bullied to the point where they felt they couldn’t go on. It became clear that the “Be Kind” message couldn’t wait, but they had to find money to make it happen.
Dirks, ever determined, learned of a new grant program through the state CWU organization. She had no experience in writing grant applications, but she got some pointers from other volunteers who had done it before. She also leaned on the state CWU treasurer for advice, and last fall the local group learned they had been awarded $2,500 to cover the cost of producing 500 “Be Kind” yard signs.
The signs arrived the first week in November and word spread quickly. The local CWU group has representatives from 16 Sauk Valley churches. The members started passing out the signs and it wasn’t long before people were coming to The Big Red Church’s office asking for them. The local chambers of commerce even fielded requests and started keeping some at their offices. The signs are even springing up outside the Sauk Valley, making their way to smaller towns in the area and heading east to the suburbs.
Dirks has written more CWU grants this year, bringing home about $65,000 that has funded sending kids to Camp Benson, stocked local food pantry shelves for the holidays, bought books for a children’s literacy program, and brought international college students here for the holidays.
The “Be Kind” campaign continues to spread and the women are trying to find more money to build on the message that has been so well-received. While most people are by nature kind, we live in times that make us forget to practice it. We work too much, are worn down by stress, and technology has us constantly plugged into devices – ironically making us feel more distanced from others on the most basic human levels.
It’s more important now, more than ever, to bring human kindness and compassion back to the forefront. Thanks to organizations like Church Women United and volunteers like Leona Dirks, we might have a real shot at keeping our fingers on the pulse of what really matters in life. At the end of the day, we need to remember that we’re all just walking each other home.