WATERLOO, Ill. (KSDK) - Five On Your Side is committed to featuring people who are making a difference in the community. When a woman from Monroe County, Illinois, reached out to the news team, describing her friend, Kelly Lerch, Five On Your Side just had to meet her.
Lerch is the wellness coordinator for the Waterloo School District. Her job involves connecting students and their families with a variety of resources, including grief support, food pantries, and mentoring programs such as Big Brothers Big Sisters.
"I was very fortunate about 20 years ago to be given the opportunity to have that job," Lerch said.
At that time, she says, there was a wellness coordinator at all school districts around southern Illinois. Now, she's the only one left. She'll be retiring in May. With statewide funding cuts, it's unlikely her position will be replaced by someone new.
"I'm happy to retire because I know that the school is going to be just fine," Lerch said.
That's because, even though Lerch is retiring, she isn't really done working. In 2015, she helped start a non-profit called House of Neighborly Service. The organization pairs people up with resources just as Lerch does at school.
"Needs don't stop and start at eight and end at three when the school day ends," Lerch said, "and when the school year ends, the needs don't stop."
One of the non-profit's biggest projects happens during the holidays. The group collects toys from the community for families in need.
"We actually had so many people wanting to help that we were waiting for people to call us for help," Lerch said.
The City of Waterloo lets the organization use an old fire house as its workshop. House of Neighborly Service also has a main office on Main St.
Right now, group members have so many toys, they'll be able to help families the next holiday season. They'll also use the toys as birthday gifts throughout the year for families who can't afford birthday parties.
Lerch is quick to point out that she doesn't do it all alone.
"I prefer being in the background," she said.
Bobbi Walters, a volunteer, says Lerch has helped create opportunities for people with disabilities.
"Kelly actually called us and asked us to help give back to the community," Walters said. "We've learned lots of new skills."
She says some people improved their abilities to find addresses while delivering the toys.
"People were happy and they were crying when we showed up," volunteer Rachel Draves added. "It means we're doing a good deed."
Lerch says she'll keep helping others for as long as she can.
"I'm not that old," she said. "So for a while."
House of Neighborly Service is in the process of starting a lunch cafe for high school students with disabilities, which would involve cooking and meal planning. The group also plans to host a prom for people with disabilities this April.
The non-profit is accepting donations to help pay for utilities and rent for families in need. If you'd like to help, you can mail a check to P.O. Box #367, Waterloo, IL, 62298, or visit the House of Neighborly Service website to make a donation online.
If you live in Monroe County and are in need of assistance, call the Monroe County Help Phone Line at (618) 939-8680.