By Kelly Youngblood
Champaign-Urbana is a city full of helping hands and big hearts.
It’s home to countless numbers of inspirational women who are finding a way to give back, help others and make this community a better place to live, grow and raise a family.
Their causes may be different but their passion and motivation are the same. They decided to turn a little dream into a big reality that’s impacting the lives of thousands of children and families, both locally and globally.
Here, we feature just a few of these dedicated and amazing women, who are inspiring others by serving others and living a life of purpose.
Beth Wendling, Orphan’s Treausure Box
Beth Wendling of Champaign is the founder of Orphan’s Treasure Box, an outlet and online used book store that gives 100 percent of its net proceeds to vulnerable children.
Wendling, a former licensed therapist and mother of a seven year old son, first started the Orphan’s Treasure Box in July of 2011. The outlet store, located at 826 Pioneer Street in Champaign, opened in April of this year.
In the last three years, Orphan’s Treasure Box has given away about $50,000 to local and global causes involving vulnerable children. Last year, the organization helped educate orphans in South Africa, care for 20 Ethiopian teens in need, assisted older youth in Peru, renovated homes of local foster moms, provided adoption grants for local families, and much more.
This year, Orphan’s Treasure Box plans to help 10 local and global missions including Restoration Urban Ministries in Champaign and Feeding Our Kids.
Wendling said the idea for Orphan’s Treasure Box came to her after reading a book called Radical, which pushed her to think about how she was living out her faith. After selling some leftover books from a garage sale online, Wendling started to wonder whether she could sell more books and give the money away. She started playing around with the idea of opening up a consignment store for used books but ultimately decided to learn how to run her own online book store.
Now she’s selling about 200 used books online per week. At an average of $6 a book, the profits have been phenomenal. And they’ve all been given away to help children in need.
Wendling said they have about 15,000 books in their online collection but she would like to see that number increase to 150,000 in the next two years. “So we can do 10 times as much for kids locally and globally,” she said. Currently, they offer an additional 10,000 books in the outlet store, all $1 or less.
Not surprisingly, Wendling is very humble about her part in making a difference.
“There’s nothing special about me. I just see the good that we’re able to do,” she said. “We’re able to take a resource (and) turn it into really special things for kids like medicine and food.”
There are many ways to get involved with Orphan’s Treasure Box. You can donate books or money at the outlet location, volunteer in the store, or just support the cause by purchasing used books from the online or outlet store. (Mention you read this article and receive two bonus books with a purchase at the outlet store!)
For more information about Orphan’s Treasure Chest, visit their website.
Ceara White, Backpacks of Love
Ceara White was inspired by a disaster. After tornadoes struck Oklahoma in May of 2013, White was part of an effort to collect backpacks for the children who were affected.
That experience motivated White to start her own local organization called Backpacks of Love, which focuses on filling backpacks with toys for children who have been displaced from their home due to a disaster.
White is giving these children much more than toys though. She’s giving them comfort, hope and a sense of familiarity that children desperately need during a stressful time.
“It’s so important for kids to remain kids,” White said.
According to White, the main goal of the group is to advocate for children. They do that by considering the child’s point of view in an emergency situation.
White, who used to work at Cunningham Children’s Home in Urbana, recognizes parents and children cope differently in stressful situations. While parents are rightfully concerned about food, shelter, and clothing, children may be worried about their toys and belongings. They also may not know how to express their concerns verbally, according to White.
“The goal is to get kids to realize, we see (them) too,” White said. “We approach (the situation) at the child’s level.”
Backpacks of Love became official in January of 2014. But the group was already working hard to fill and disperse backpacks in 2013. White estimates the group has helped over 500 displaced children since last May, giving away backpacks and toys to those affected by the Oklahoma, Gifford and Washington tornadoes.
White says her dream is to be able to reach every single child who has been displaced from home. “I want to consistently be able to give kids backpacks as needed,” White said.
To donate supplies or funds to Backpacks of Love or to learn how you can volunteer, go to the Backpacks of Love website.
Carolyn Morris, His Kid’s Closet
Carolyn Morris of Champaign has started His Kid’s Closet- a local, not-for-profit organization that collects children’s clothing and then, with the the help of school staff, gives out the donated items to students in need. See more about Morris and her mission.
Jenelle Keen and Ann Kirkland, Feeding Our Kids
Jennelle Keen and Ann Kirkland started an organization called Feeding Our Kids. Its purpose is to send easy and portable weekend food home with children who are in need. Learn more about Feeding Our Kids.