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HHS parent reaches out to nearby community


Third-world countries are devoid of living necessities such as running water, heat, and indoor plumbing. Life is not much different for the people in the small town of Pembroke.

This is life for many people in Pembroke Township, Ill. In Hopkins Park, a community within the township that is only two hours away from Huntley by car, the average household income is $26,120, much less than the Illinois average of $55,222.

However, one local Huntley resident is dedicated to making a difference. Kathleen Wiedenfeld started Project Pembroke, a non-profit organization created to try to help the residents of Pembroke, after seeing a special report from Oprah.

“She did her portion on Pembroke and I thought, ‘What can I do?’” said Wiedenfeld.

Wiedenfeld’s mission is simple: she wants to help one neighbor at a time. She has been raising money by selling homemade jewelry and cookbooks at the store she works in Algonquin, Your Best Friend’s Closet, and accepting donations from generous givers. All of the money received goes to the organization.

Her first attempts to make a difference were by spending about one year contacting the mayor and dozens of other government officials, but she never felt satisfied with the responses she received. The officials said there was nothing that could be done, and helping the poor people of Pembroke was not a priority.

“It’s one of the poorest communities in the nation,” said Keith Wiedenfeld, son of Kathleen.

“I was down there. They need help,” said the elder Wiedenfeld. But instead of giving up, Wiedenfeld decided to take matters into her own hands.

She sent letters to the thousands of households in Pembroke Township, asking who needed help. Postage was paid by Wiedenfeld so responses could easily be sent.

A construction business founded by two brothers who grew up in the community responded to Wiedenfeld with an interest in helping fellow residents. She discovered that the business, Pembroke Hopkins Park Construction Outreach Program, is a non-profit organization that teaches the unemployed residents how to do construction work.

PHPCOP and Wiedenfeld have been working together to help residents, such as a woman named Carla, a 39-year-old with a young daughter. In October of 2010, Carla’s well went dry and was told that no one could fix this problem until the spring of 2011.

“She would travel ten minutes every day to her sister’s house and get water to do things like wash dishes,” said Wiedenfeld. After learning of Carla’s problem, Wiedenfeld knew that she had to try and help this woman before the spring.

Wiedenfeld raised around $800 for PHPCOP to drill a well more than 40 feet deep.  The cost of this project came to be more than the amount of money raised, but PHPCOP was able to cover the rest of the expenses. Today, Carla has the running water many of us take for granted.

“You deserve running water, you deserve to be able to flush your toilet,” said Wiedenfeld. “If you’re a resident of the United States, you deserve these things.”

Another woman Wiedenfeld helped was Betty, a 69-year-old grandmother that lived in a mobile home. In June of 2010, a devastating tornado struck Pembroke Township, damaging Betty’s home and cutting off her sewer and water.

Wiedenfeld raised $8,000 to get Betty a replacement trailer and hook up her sewer and water again just before Christmas in December of 2011.

“I remember I told Betty, ‘I don’t know who’s more excited about this, me or you!’” said Wiedenfeld.

Workers at Your Best Friend’s Closet are very supportive of Wiedenfeld’s hard work, especially the store owner Marianne Evans.

“She keeps my feet on the ground,” said Wiedenfeld. “Sometimes I get crazy ideas and she tells me, ‘One step at a time, Kathleen.’”

The organization is currently involved in an online contest sponsored by Citgo and its Fueling Good Program. The charities with the most votes will receive $5000 in gas cards, which could help the residents pay for the expensive propane used in Pembroke.

“These people are not content, but they’re not demanding,” said Wiedenfeld. “They are kind people that don’t know what to do.”


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