Turning lemonade into LemonAid

Annual event is one of the village's major fundraisers

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By Deb Kadin

They say it takes a village to raise a child, and in River Forest, it takes a village for the children to fundraise.

For the past five years, teens have taken on the job of organizing the Bonnie Brae 9/11 Charity "LemonAid" Stand, which has become one of the town's most popular charity events since it began in 2002.

This year, Madeline Strand and Riley Edmunds — both juniors at Oak Park and River Forest High School — are making sure every detail of the popular event is attended to.

From 3 to 7 p.m. on Wednesday, Sept. 11, the 700 block of Bonnie Brae will be filled with food, people and all sorts of other things as the community once again celebrates the importance of giving back — or as Strand called it, "a social event with a message."

Children have always embraced this event and made it their own. They help set up the block, make posters and bracelets, pour the lemonade, serve up the popcorn and other snacks and perform myriad other tasks.

Adults want kids engaged in helping the community, but when this event got started, they were mostly too young to lead, recalled Patty Henek, one of the event's founders.

"As they got older, we wanted them to learn more about the process of organizing and leading an event such as this one. At that point [when they started coordinating], most had been engaged for seven years."

As leaders, Strand and Edmunds are heavily engaged in pre-events. They make sure to get the word out about the project, whether it be handing out yellow yard signs or contacting local schools and groups, or booking the bands to play during festivities. They solicit other organizations to donate items, such as Whole Foods Market, which will once again supply the lemonade. And the night before, the duo help set up tables and get the banners up and ready.

Both teens are no strangers to community service and leadership. They've been engaged in service projects through OPRF and have stepped up as counselors at different church camps.

Strand helped build homes in Kentucky and painted houses in the Austin neighborhood of Chicago.

And she's been involved in this fundraiser since it began in 2002. This is her third year coordinating the day's events.

"When I was little, the LemonAid Stand seemed more like a block party. Kids got together to do really cool things, like make posters and bracelets," she said.

But this is different from all the other projects she's been engaged in. She sees direct results of something she's worked on benefitting her community — now and in the future.

"It's been so much fun, especially the actual day. It brings everyone together in a nice environment. People aren't thinking about what happened on that day but what's going to happen to make a difference in other people's lives. Doing work like this for others is something I want to do when I get to college."

Edmunds is new to LemonAid. At the Oak Park-River Forest Food Pantry, he helps clients carry out their boxes and stocks the shelves with food. He always takes time to talk with clients about how they're doing and what they're doing. He served as a role model to younger kids and spoke with them faith and other topics on a service trip to Georgia.

But being a part of LemonAid is different.

"Before I've participated in a group led by someone else," he said. "Now I'm coordinating it and guiding others on what they should do. It's preparing me for bigger possibilities."

Organizations benefitting from the money raised during the event are child-oriented. This year's beneficiary is Oak Leyden Developmental Services, a longstanding community asset that aids both adults and children with developmental disabilities. Funds raised from the event will be used to build a new playground for their Children's Services Program.

Since its inception in 2002, the event has raised more than $73,000 to aid non-profits in the Oak Park and River Forest area.

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