“We don’t see need until we need,” Terri O’Neill-Borders said as she explained how losing her father led her to create an organization focused on community outreach.
In November 2005, O’Neill-Borders attended her first family Thanksgiving dinner without her father. She said she saw the sadness in her mother that year and realized Christmas would not be the same.
She looked for places where grieving families could come together for fellowship during holiday meals and, at the time, could find only two options in or near Lemont, she said. It was then that O’Neill-Borders said she saw a need and decided to fill it as best she could.
The Hope and Friendship Foundation began as O’Neill-Borders quietly engaged in small acts of kindness, she said.
“After a while people started reaching out to me, saying, ‘I know this family that needs this,’ so we started outreach programs and the community showed up,” O’Neill-Borders said. “What you need might be what someone else has, and our job is communicating that. It’s the community that shows up.”
Focused on relieving local need in Lemont, the organization partakes in outreach projects spanning from food and clothing drives to financial aid and takes on projects big and small. Recently, the organization even helped coordinate the removal of a tree from a yard whose owners could not afford to have it professionally removed.
O’Neill-Borders said people often think of Lemont as not having a lot of families in need, but just because the percentage of need appears smaller does not mean those in need are less important.
“We are a community of pride, but just because you need does not mean you’re undesired,” she said.
Bill Thompson, who sits on the board of the foundation and handles its finances, said the foundation could not do what it does without its volunteers. Thompson has been involved with Hope and Friendship since its infancy and said he continues to be part of it because of the fulfillment in seeing the difference they can make.
Thompson credited two things to the success of the outreach of the Hope and Friendship Foundation: O’Neill-Borders and the community. He said O’Neill-Borders is incredibly passionate and has a talent for pulling people together, and the community is willing to give.
“I believe in what the organization does, and it’s nice to see very specifically what our work translates into,” Thompson said. “We live in a great community – they give their time, financial support and anything else they have – it’s our job to connect that with the need.”
Michelle Nevin, the board president of the organization, agreed with this testament. Nevin began volunteering with the foundation around six years ago and has been board president since January.
People come out to volunteer and get drawn into what the organization does, often coming back for more, she said. Nevin said that’s exactly what happened for her. She fell in love with what the project does.
“The people coming out are 100% invested in helping others,” Nevin said. “You see the good and it draws you back.”
O’Neill-Borders, who works a full-time job and uses her spare time to propel the Hope and Friendship Foundation forward, said for her the goal is to have the project continue long after she is gone. Slowly, she sees this happening as people have begun to take the lead on some of the organization’s outreach projects, she said.
“When people step up and say, ‘I’ll run this event,’ then I know [the foundation] will continue and we can step forward as a community,” O’Neill-Borders said. “That way, if I’m not here tomorrow, this goes on because the need will continue whether we do or not.”