Making a Difference – One Pair of Shoes at a Time

Ideas come in many shapes and designs and are as unique as each person. For some, it is seeing or perhaps hearing something that triggers a random thought. Such is the case for Iona’s Shoes for Water project. Several years ago, I was in Ohio and went to a local church one Sunday morning. There was a very large box in their gathering space overflowing with old shoes. I looked at the signs that were on the box and remembered the information probably because of the visual impact. Later, I went online and read a bit about the organization, WaterStep, and their work to provide clean/safe drinking water. WaterStep states, “875 million people live without access to clean water every day. Without clean water, disease spreads more rapidly. In fact, 80% of all sickness in the world is attributable to unsafe water and sanitation.”

Safe drinking water is something we take for granted. It is as simple as walking to our kitchen sink and turning on a faucet. In some areas of the world, women and female children spend more than 200 million hours each day collecting water from distant and (often) polluted sources. The United States is one of the top five nations, by percent of the population, with access to clean water. The bottom five nations are Chad, Niger, Madagascar, Ethiopia and Sierra Leone. Diarrhea, typhoid, cholera and malaria are some of the dangers of limited water access. Diarrhea is currently the global leading cause of sickness and death, with 88% of the fatal cases due to inadequate water access.

Over 2.2 million people could be saved this year just by having access to safe drinking water. WaterStep recognizes that many of the world’s problems could be cured with access to clean water. By providing water treatment systems, offering health and hygiene education and training people who are going into areas with unclean water, WaterStep is providing more people with access to clean water and sanitation.

I have a friend who said to me that she doesn’t have what it takes to make a global change in the world. I disagree. WaterStep accepts all types of shoes from high heels to high tops. Shoes that can be re-worn are sold to an exporter and funds received help bring clean water to those in need. Shoes that cannot be re-worn can be recycled. In addition to funding water projects, donated shoes keep hundreds of tons of waste out of our landfills. Therefore, donating shoes, a seemingly small act, does make a huge difference globally.

At Iona, we support WaterStep’s efforts. In 2012, our target was 4,000 pairs because that was the minimum amount required for WaterStep to come to our area to transport the shoes to their location in Louisville, Kentucky. Through the generosity of the community, we collected almost 10,000 pairs of shoes. There were several weeks that we were bringing in over 2,000 pairs of shoes per week. What we found last year was that the bulk of the shoes were donated at places where people regularly go, so churches were the largest part of helping to make this effort successful.

This year, we started earlier, and worked to increase the number of drop off locations. We have added many new businesses, several churches and two public libraries. In 2013, we have 36 different collection sites. Iona manages the Morton sites and the St. Ann’s WATCH (We Are The Church) program manages the participating churches in the Diocese of Peoria. In just the first two weeks of August, we have jointly collected 4,586 pair of shoes, which is over 2,500 more pairs than at the same point last year. This year, WaterStep requires 5,000 pair of shoes in order to transport from our location. We fully expect to go beyond that total before this blog is posted!

With half of the month remaining, we anticipate exceeding last year’s total. To do this, though, we need your help. Donations for Shoes for Water will continue until the end of August. Please say yes by SAVING your old shoes and ASKING others to do the same. Then donate them by August 31 at one of our drop off locations.

Throughout this process, I have had the opportunity to meet many new people who have shared their stories. One woman said that the downturn in the economy has affected her ability to give financial donations to make an impact globally. She feels like she is making a difference just by taking a few minutes to go through her shoes and donate those she no longer uses. One young man from Limestone High School’s Key Club asked for a few of our posters. He took it upon himself to distribute them with his contact information to garage sales in his neighborhood. At the end of these sales, people call him. He then picks up their unsold shoes and donates them to our collection effort. One gentleman said that he is retired and the shoes he wore to work are no longer needed. He did not feel comfortable throwing them away but does want to help others so he donated them to our project. Many people have shared that while they don’t want to have a drop-off location at their business, they will collect at their work places and bring the shoes to one of our collection sites. I attend St. Ann’s Church is the south side of Peoria. This is a poorer area of our community. I have seen so many carry in bags of shoes because this is one way they feel they can help others. On Sunday mornings, parishioners join us in between services to help pair and count the shoes that have been donated, or tell us that they are praying for the success of Shoes for Water.

WaterStep hopes that they will be able to see the day when every person has access to safe, clean water. By empowering ordinary people, using appropriate technology and training, and partnering with volunteers and humanitarian professionals, they are taking steps toward this goal. In our little corner of the world, we are people helping people so far away. Working together, we can and we will make a difference!

**References for specific data contained in this article can be found at

Donate Shoes by August 31 at one of our drop off locations.

Santa’s Helpers

The Iona Group employees joined a local Adopt-a-Family effort again this year.  Grace Church in Morton was contacted last year by the Tazewell County Health Department regarding about 80 families in need.   The church body responded to the opportunity and provided essentials, clothing, and gifts as an expression of Christ’s love. The Iona Group joined in as part of this outreach.

This year, the Tazewell County Health Department recommended to Grace Church over 120 families in our surrounding communities who are in need this Christmas. The Iona Group was assigned a large family of 10 to “adopt.”  We asked employees to donate to this cause, and there was an overwhelming response.  We split the employees into teams who each purchased items for one member of our adopted family.  In addition, Iona agreed to match employee contributions, so there were additional funds spent to purchase “Pack ‘n Plays” for several other families on the list.  This is a wonderful way to share our blessings with those less fortunate in our own communities.

Iona’s Steve McNair serves in Africa

From June 8th to the 24th Steve McNair, founding partner of the Iona Group, and a group from his church went on a missions trip to Mombasa, Kenya.  The purpose of the trip was to set up a computer lab in a local Bible school where they did some teaching.  They also assisted in the construction of a home and church in a nearby rural village to encourage the church members.  They hosted a Bible school for elementary school children and also had the opportunity to speak at a rural government school where the student teacher ratio was one teacher to every 70+ students.  The team spent time at a rural church whose focus is ministering to HIV/AIDS orphans.  This is a very serious problem in Africa.  The group brought solar powered flashlights as gifts for many who they met.  Consistent electricity is still an issue in many of the rural areas along the coast. This was the second year in a row a group went to serve this area of Africa and it was a great success.

Giving Back This Christmas Season

This year, as our company Christmas gift, we thought we would continue our charitable history but bring it a little closer to home.  The economic challenges are great this year and each of us are aware of many families who are struggling to provide for their basic needs.  In keeping with the importance of both family and community, Iona decided to Adopt-a-Family this Christmas.Matt Forcum wrapping a gift

Realizing that the need is great, employees contributed personal funds to the company allowance knowing that joining together, we would make this Christmas a little brighter for a local family.  Working with Peoria Friendship House, employees divided into teams that had the responsibility to shop for one family member.  This program targets families with children in 8th grade and younger to provide a new outfit and one of the toys on the child’s wish list.

It was a great effort as everyone pitched in – from shopping for their person, to donating additional monies to go to the family shopping, to helping wrap the gifts.  Our front hallway was lined with 11 very large, very filled bags.  They contained toys, electronics, clothing, coats, boots, hats, scarves, gloves, cleaning supplies, games and hot cocoa.  They are filled with our Iona family helping out another family that needs help.

We are all blessed in so many ways.  What a great way to share those blessings with others and a nice way to celebrate the true meaning of Christmas.

BJ Aberle, Jeremy LeBeau, Mark Tovey, Matt Forcum and Jeff Idleman wrapping gifts

BJ Aberle, Jeremy LeBeau, Mark Tovey, Matt Forcum and Jeff Idleman wrapping gifts

Economic Development Web Communications Done Right

The Iona Group has launched the redesigned Morton Economic Development Council website, marking a major milestone for this group. The site uses high quality web design and development coupled with great images shot by V-Gallery to inform users about the excellent opportunities available in Morton for business owners.

The website’s search engine friendly structure and easy-to-navigate information architecture are wrapped in a pleasing design sure to impress visitors. The content management system ensures that the Morton EDC Staff will be able to update the site often and with little difficulties. Advanced analytics, CRM capabilities and integration with Google maps are among some of the features employed in making the site a best-of-breed example of what a small community can do to enhance its business development efforts.

The rapid development timeline was made possible through the employing of best practices based design, stressing web standards and separation of content from presentation, a major focus of Iona’s web development process. Open source technologies power the backend of the site, ensuring a wide array of supporting modules and extensibility options, paving the way for easy future enhancements to the site’s features.

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