Our recent Black & White Gala raised more than $130,000. It’s a stunning total that shows the generosity and dedication of our donors and supporters, and one that makes us feel grateful.
But beyond the numbers at each gala are stories. Kelli Clark’s story is one of them. It’s an inspiring story of a single mom who wanted to help other moms, and found an incredibly creative way to do it.
Kelli moved to Schaumburg in 2014, after a divorce. A single mom in a new town, she didn’t know anyone. She and her daughter began attending Willow Creek Community Church, and met a few people, including Greg and Dawn Haecker, long-time Fellowship supporters. Dawn invited Kelli to last year’s gala as their guest.
“I was interested in the work of Fellowship Housing, I’d heard about it, but I had no idea how I could help or get involved. I’m a single mom, who relocated, didn’t know people. I know what it’s like to be lonely,” Kelli said.
“After going to the gala last year, I thought about how different my story could have been,” she said. “I had people who didn’t have to love me but chose to help me.
“The only differentiator was the love and support of my community,” Kelli said. “I don’t have a lot of family support, so I’ve done a lot on my own, with the help of my community.”
Hearing the stories of single moms at last year’s gala, she could see a part of her own story. She admired both the resilience of the moms in the program, and what Fellowship was doing to help them. She decided she wanted to do something to help out. But what? She wasn’t sure.
“Around the same time, out of my own need for community, I decided to invite some people over for brunch,” Kelli explains. “I had started going to Willow and people would ask me, ‘Oh, do you know this person?’ Or ‘you should really meet this person.’”
Kelli is more than a little extroverted, but claims she’s not really that good at hospitality. But she took a risk anyway.
“So, I just decided to invite all the people I’d been hearing about over for brunch. Hospitality is not my gift or my love language, but I love meeting people. I threw a bed sheet over two card tables pushed together—they weren’t even the same height. I served granola. But at the end of it, people said, when is the next brunch?”
Around those bed sheet-draped card tables, Kelli and her new acquaintances were talking about Elijah, she says. “We were talking about Elijah’s journey, and how God gave him sometimes strange instructions, one step at a time—and he only knew the next step. How that made him dependent on God,” she remembers.
Fellowship Family Advocate Lisa Bohn attended the second brunch, and Kelli ended up sitting next to her. “I wasn’t sure if she was having a good time. But I really enjoyed talking to her. So after the brunch, I emailed her and thanked her for coming, said I hoped she enjoyed it,” Kelli recalled.
“She wrote back and said she wondered if I’d ever heard of Fellowship Housing. And would the brunch group want to somehow get involved with the Fellowship graduation.”
Kelli said she felt like Elijah, getting her next step in perfect timing.
“It was so wild, how my whole desire to get involved with Fellowship came right back to me, with her asking it of me. So, a small group of us helped with the graduation. We wanted to come alongside the moms to honor and celebrate them. We had these envelopes, and we put gifts for each of the moms in them—soap, journals, framed pieces, quotes.”
Kelli and her team wanted to give all the moms in the program a bracelet with a feather on it. She had a donation that would cover $20 per gift. She then found the perfect bracelet, exactly what she wanted, on Etsy, but the price was $25. When she emailed the designer to ask if she could customize it, and also if she could drop the price a bit, from $25 to $20, she said yes, offering a bulk order discount, which actually made the price $20.
“When I got the bracelets, I saw she’d shipped them from Casper, Wyoming. I was born in Casper. So I wrote to her and told her where my relatives live, and she’s just around the corner from them! It was a lot of little things like that, like Elijah’s next step.”
Kelli loved helping others. She felt stirred to help not only single moms, but refugee moms. And she wanted to figure out a way to get the Fellowship moms to help refugee moms, so they could experience the empowerment and fulfillment that comes from helping others.
At the Fellowship Christmas party this year, some of the Fellowship moms and their kids painted canvas bags, which will be given to refugee moms in Jordan this month, when Kelli and a few other women travel to Amman, Jordan. They will host a Mother’s Day event for Jordanians and refugees, on March 21. Each mom there will receive a bag with lip gloss, a scarf, and a note inside.
They’re also meeting with some Iraqi Christian refugees.
“My vision was to provide an opportunity to give back, and we did that. I wanted to figure out: how do you give these Fellowship moms help, but also the opportunity to give help to someone else. It’s dignifying.”
When she returns from Jordan, Kelli is not sure what will be next, but like Elijah, she’s trusting God will make it clear.
“Jesus writes a much cooler story than I ever could,” she says.