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Gerald Brand introduces HEIDI to Rotary

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Gerald Brand explains who HEIDI helps and what the mission statement says.

The Area Rotary met in a regular meeting on Tuesday, January 3rd at Toni’s Restaurant in Benld. Gerald Brand, the founder of HEIDI along with his wife, gave information about what exactly HEIDI does along with how and why it was started.

Gerald Brand and his wife Sandy, who are the co-CEO’s of HEIDI, were both born and raised in Gillespie. Brand enjoys the small town life as he mentioned HEIDI would not be what it is today with the support from the small town community. “We would not get this kind of support if we tried to start it in any large city,” Brand opened.

First time speaking in public about the foundation, Brand explained that HEIDI was named after his daughter Heidi who was a special needs person. Heidi had a brain tumor removed when she 6 years old and everything that happened from the surgeries from there on out qualified her to be a special needs person. “We went through numerous hardships,” Brand explained, “As I am sure you realize.”

The main hardship faced by the Brand family was getting their daughter an education. The school districts around here are not set up for special needs people, so Heidi’s education was not going to come from Gillespie or even Benld. Heidi was bused to Staunton, Mt. Olive, Bunker Hill, and eventually Bethalto where she graduated from Civic Memorial. The main dilemma faced by Gerald and his wife was, “why a person with special needs that has issues getting from point A to point B has to get up earlier than all of the other kids, ride on a bus to get there and then ride on a bus on the way home and get home an hour later than all the other kids.”

After graduating high school, Heidi went on to live by herself. Being the hardest decision Gerald has ever had to make, he decided to let her go and live her last 10 years in Springfield at Near North Village. Living in the area for 10 years, Heidi could never land a job. According to Gerald, she took resumes with her everywhere she went, but no one would hire her. Heidi, who could talk and use the right side of her body, was referred to as the “Ann Landers” of the building.

Heidi was always trying to get involved in everything that was going on and was very active in the Citizens Coalition for Disabled Individuals along with a member of Springfield Center for Independent Living. Both organizations tried to improve the lives for disabled people. When Heidi lived away from her parents, the Brands tried to stay in touch as much as they could with their daughter, but they never realized how involved Heidi was until she passed away in May of 2011.

One letter Brand shared with the Rotary was from the Near North Village. There was a fire on the 5th floor at the Village while Heidi was living there. Heidi was living on the 8th floor, but the entire building was evacuated. Lacking an evacuation plan, Heidi went to a meeting and expressed her concern about the lack of evacuation plans. The Brand’s received a letter stating that there is a “mandatory law in the City of Springfield that any building over 2 stories must have an evacuation plan” after the death of their daughter Heidi. The primary reason for this law was because of Heidi Brand.

Being confined to a wheel-chair because of her weight, Heidi relied on Access to be mobile in the City of Springfield. Heidi lacked metabolism due to the countless surgeries she experienced, but had no problem getting around in the wheel-chair. Access is a transportation company designed for disabled people that ran until 6:00pm. Heidi went to the meetings and expressed her concerns about the time cut-off and now, because of Heidi, the buses run until 9:00pm.

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During the last couple months of her life, Heidi came home and visited with her parents for weekends at a time. “It was always about what she could do for other people,” Gerald explained, “It was never about what anyone could do for her.” As they were sitting in the living room night as Heidi did her bead work, Gerald started playing around with her name. Questioned by Heidi, Gerald told her there has to be some thing we can do with your name to help other people and get it bigger than we thought we could do. “Being the most selfless person I knew,” Brand finally came up with something for her name.

Heidi in the blue longsleeve shirt visited her parents on the weekends during the last 2 months of her life.

HEIDI, which stands for Helping Every Individual Develop Independence, remains the same as it did then. “Heidi loved it, but it never got off the ground,” Gerald went on to say. The mission statement for HEIDI is “helping special needs people.” As the organization has had to turn away some people, they have to focus on the specials need people that fall through the cracks and “do not have the national support.”

Every one was busy at the time, but after Heidi passed away the Brands decided it was time to lift HEIDI off the ground. Having to start somewhere, the Brands put all the donations from the funeral into a bank account and started calling close friends and explaining his new idea. “Everyone agreed to help, I have not came across one person that has said they do not have enough time,” Gerald noted. HEIDI has a “fabulous group of people involved” which consist of 9 board of directors and 5 trustees. John Ronald is the president while JO Kelly is the vice-president.

HEIDI, which meets on occasion, works entirely upon donations. The first fundraiser was at Dorchester Picnic where the group raised close to $1,000 after 3 days. The second fundraiser was at Fall Festival where the group raised more money than Dorchester in just one day. The third and most recent fundraiser by HEIDI was a dinner, dance, and silent auction where the group raised almost $10,000. At the dinner, HEIDI gave away their first computer to the local special education program where the computer benefits close to 12 children.

Just recently, HEIDI with the help of Ace Hardware in Carlinville donated $700 worth of tools and material to Illinois Valley Rehabilitation Work-shop in Gillespie. The donation occurred after receiving news that the work-shop would not exist without some help of supplies and tools. The workshop, which creates yard decorations for any holiday, received hammers, sanders, drills and countless other items necessary for their daily work.

HEIDI is a lot bigger than what they expected. After experiencing most of their “growing pain”, the group has an attorney and CPA that both are donating their time as they try to set up a 501c3. The nonprofit organization is still looking at incorporating.

“It is unreal how a living room idea has turned into this,” Brand closed, “It just boggles your mind, it is unreal. It all comes down to the small town people who donate time and time again. There is no other place I would rather do this.”

Gerald explained that right now, HEIDI is just CUSD #7 wide and eventually plans to move on to growing into county wide with hopes of reaching state wide and maybe even nation wide at one point in time. Gerald did say HEIDI is growing a lot faster than he had imagined.

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School board deals with personnel issues during special meeting

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Stephanie Bray

Meeting in special session Monday night, members of the Community Unit School District 7 Board of Education accepted “with regrets” the resignation for purposes of retirement of Stephanie Bray, one of the district’s three technology integration specialists, effective June 4.

The board called a special session to deal with the apparently unexpected resignation before the board’s regularly scheduled monthly meeting later this month. However, board members tabled action on approving a revised job description for the Student Information System/Data Integration Specialist position, pending further discussion.

The board also tabled action on posting the newly created vacancy and tabled posting a district-level secretary’s position.

In February of 2022, the board accepted “with regrets” Bray’s announcement of her retirement “no later than the end of the 2025-26 school year.” There was no indication of why Bray moved her retirement date up by two years.

On a motion by Weye Schmidt, seconded by Amanda Ross, the board voted unanimously to accept Bray’s resignation. The action followed a 50-minute executive session to discuss personnel issues behind closed doors. The public portion of the meeting lasted less than 10 minutes.

In other action, the board voted to renew the district’s One Room contract to offer a remotely taught Spanish class to fulfill the district’s foreign language requirement for the 2024-25 school year. This will be the second year an off-site teacher will teach foreign language at GHS, using remote communication technology. Supt. Shane Owsley said the district had no applications for the vacant teaching position last year. This year, an applicant from Brazil explored the possibility of teaching in Gillespie but ultimately accepted a tutoring position at Greenville University. Owsley said hiring the applicant could have become cumbersome because she was not yet certificated to teach high school Spanish. He said he recently changed the job description from Spanish to foreign language to expand the pool of potential applicants.

In other personnel action, the board approved the maternity leave request of Amber Allan, BenGil Elementary physical education teacher, effective Aug. 28 through Jan. 20.

In separate actions, the board accepted Nathan Henrichs resignation as Gillespie High School freshman football coach, posted the position as vacant, and appointed Henrichs as a varsity assistant football coach. The board also voted unanimously to appoint Alex Jasper as an assistant freshman football coach. The board unanimously accepted Wayne Ireland’s resignation as a volunteer assistant football coach, and voted unanimously to appoint Jarrod Herron and hire Trenton Cleveland as volunteer assistant football coaches.

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The board voted unanimously to hire Michael Rodriguez as a high school volunteer assistant women’s basketball coach.

On a motion by Schmidt, seconded by Kelli Vesper, the board hired Alexis Ollis as a head cook and kitchen staff member, pending documentation of certification and a background check. The board also Brittany Hughes as a district kitchen staff worker, pending documentation of certification and background check.

On a motion by Vesper, the board voted unanimously to post a vacancy for a one-on-one paraprofessional aide.

Board members voted unanimously to accept the resignation of Jessica Kelly as a middle school assistant track and field coach and voted unanimously to hire Jay Weber as the high school head track and field coach.

The regular monthly meeting of the board is set for 6 p.m., Monday, June 24, at the district’s administrative office.

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Americana festival set for July 4 at Benld Park

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Jess Barker, The Lodge Brothers, and The New Prairie Drifters are set to take the stage at Benld City Park on Thursday, July 4 as part of the Americana Festival.

The music festival intends to celebrate the birthday and spirit of America with thriving local culture of music, food, and art. It is scheduled to begin at 12 noon and end at 6 pm.

Food will be available for purchase from The Barracks American Table, a new Gillespie restaurant, and skincare products will be available from Nature’s Bliss, a Benld gift shop.

The park is located at 305 North Main Street in Benld. Admission is free.

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Macoupin County Fair underway until Sunday

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Rides, tents, food trucks, music, animals, and plenty of other offerings fill the grounds at the Macoupin County Fair for the 172nd year. The fair is held June 4 through June 9 at the Macoupin County Fairground north of Carlinville.

The oldest county fair in Illinois, the Macoupin County Fair welcomes thousands of guests to the area and unites agriculture, family, and community. The fair continues through Sunday with highlights every evening.

The fair also meets the needs of families on a budget, for just $10 per person you get parking and all-access to the carnival rides. The cost-friendly fun draws in visitors and locals who get to embrace the county’s namesakes.

Tracy Lawrence and Walker Montgomery are set to take the stage Thursday evening, June 6, at 7:30pm. Friday evening features the tractor and truck pull, and Saturday evening is the crowd-favorite demolition derby.

The fair opens every morning at 8am and closes at 12 midnight. For a full list of schedule of events or to pre-pay for entry, visit the fair’s website here.

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