Jesus said, “Let the little children come to me …”
Can a playground save a life, bring hope, change the future of a community? Yes. And not only is it possible, but it’s very probable in the cases of these five playgrounds the Willow 5K proceeds will help build.
The playgrounds will be constructed in some of the most impoverished communities our partners serve—where children are at high risk of being trafficked, many drop out of school at a young age, some are victims of abuse and neglect, and others are homeless and working on the streets. The playgrounds, built on church property, will provide a safe place for these kids to go. A place where they can escape the stress of their everyday lives and just be kids among people from the church who care about them.
One of the five playgrounds will be located in a rural community in Yamasa, Dominican Republic, at a church that is home to a school built in 2014 with our congregation’s generous support from Celebration of Hope. This small church school called Ovejitas de Jesus, which means Jesus’ little lambs, started with very little means but a lot of heart. Church leaders realized many children in their community were being left home alone without basic needs when their parents went to work and couldn’t afford daycare. And when children are left alone, they are vulnerable to predators.
“I dream of having a facility that can be a safe haven for all of the children in my community, and a place where they are protected from the abuse they are constantly exposed to when left home alone,” says Ana María Laureano, pastor and director of Ovejitas de Jesus.
Over the past five years, Willow South Barrington, Willow South Lake, and Casa de Luz have come alongside this church as they work to provide education and meet basic needs in their community. They now serve more than 300 children on a daily basis, but there are more children in the community to reach. And when Willow asked what we could do to help, a playground was at the top of their list.
“These playgrounds don’t just represent an opportunity for recreational fun—which alone is not a bad thing in the lives of these children who have little access to basic needs. But they represent safety, protection, care, and an opportunity to be children in an environment that is relentlessly trying to steal their innocence,” says Felix Nieves, Willow’s global field manager for Latin America.
These five playgrounds will open doors for church leaders and volunteers to share the love and hope of Christ and offer help to kids and families who desperately need it and might not otherwise visit the church. And if they can change the lives of children, they can, in turn, change the future of entire communities.
To make this all possible, we’re partnering with a local nonprofit organization right here in Illinois called Kids Around the World. They are playground experts who refurbish old playgrounds and relocate them to communities in need. This is helping us be good stewards of God’s resources—and saving reusable playgrounds from the landfill.
If you want to be a part of this effort, sign up for the Willow 5K today to take advantage of the online rate—you’ll also get a t-shirt (and who doesn’t love a t-shirt?)! You can run, walk, jog, or stroll. And if you can’t make it on Saturday, but you’d still like to offer your support, there is an option to donate. Go to willow5K.com and click on “learn more” for details or “register” to sign up.
See you Saturday!