18th annual LemonAid raises funds, and spirits

Hephzibah and Beat the Streets Chicago chosen as recipients

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By Maria Maxham

Staff Reporter

The 700 block of Bonnie Brae in River Forest swelled with music, food and boundless energy at the 18th annual LemonAid block party, a Kids Helping Kids 9/11 fundraiser on Sept. 11. Born out of the desire to commemorate a devastating day with action, LemonAid is organized by more than 80 Bonnie Brae residents, including many children, who work with local businesses and organizations each year to raise money for local nonprofits. And they raise a lot of money.

Donations this year are going to two organizations, Beat the Streets Chicago and Hephzibah Children's Association. LemonAid resident and organizer Dara Keidan said local nonprofits submitted applications to LemonAid, and parents and organizers narrowed the choices to the top four. These groups were then invited to give presentations to the kids, who chose the top two recipients.

"We are honored to be part of this," said Mike Powell, executive director of Beat the Streets Chicago. "We truly feel embraced by the Oak Park-River Forest community." The goal of Beat the Streets, a Chicago wrestling program, is to bring wrestling mats to all Chicago and surrounding area youth. Cathy Yen, director of operations for Beat the Streets, said they focus on underserved neighborhoods, with 26 locations in Chicago and over 1,000 wrestlers, 20 percent of whom are female. Program Director Sonny Simonetti said wrestling is the fastest growing sport in America. The money raised from the LemonAid event will go toward a new van for transporting athletes to events and practices.

Oak Park-based Hephzibah is also a recipient of LemonAid donations this year. Hephzibah is a social service agency that works with foster children through its group homes, foster and adoption programs, and child welfare and family services. 

"It means everything to us to be part of this year's LemonAid," said Executive Director Merry Beth Sheets. Hephzibah was the original recipient of the donations from the first LemonAid in 2002. "It was $400," said Sheets, "and it's amazing to see how far this event has come since then. We are honored to have been selected again." Money raised through LemonAid will go to Camp HepSiBah Summer Sibling Camp, a place where siblings separated and living in group, foster or adoptive homes, have a chance to reunite and spend time together. This past summer, 73 children attended the camp.

The event featured a LemonAid Pitcher Booth where attendees could take photos, a balloon artist, cotton candy, a temporary hair dye station, ice cream from Brown Cow, and, of course, lemonade courtesy of Whole Foods in River Forest.

Elizabeth Strand, an organizer of the event since its inception, said that this year's LemonAid was a green event, with 90% of the waste being diverted to compost and recycling and a mere 10% disposed of as actual trash.

A final number on this year's donations collected isn't available, since contributions are still coming in. But over the past 18 years, the event has raised over $290,000. Visit 9-11lemonaid.com to donate.

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