Bloomington, Illinois,
09:45 AM

The Never Ending Promise

When the unthinkable happened, a special group answered the call.

After 11 years of marriage, Stephanie Phillips never expected her husband Mark to have a stroke. But he did. At age 34. In April 2017, Mark and Stephanie celebrated their 11th wedding anniversary. "It drastically affected his left side," she explained. "Mark had to re-learn basic functions like walking, feeding and dressing himself. He couldn't work. Our world flipped upside down."

Until then, life ran smoothly for the Phillips family. Their children excelled in school. They were healthy. There was no shortage of food, warmth and love under their roof.

"Then one day, everything changed," said Phillips.

With their two income household now down to one, the family finances began to dwindle. "Mark began rehabilitation therapy - and we have five children to raise," said Phillips. "I did everything I could to keep this household running. I rationed, cut coupons, shopped at thrift stores. Failure was not an option."

But fatigue was.

Frustration, exhaustion, and feelings of hopelessness swept over the Phillips family. They wanted their world to be normal. They wanted their children to thrive. As their worries deepened...a different surprise came along...Say Cheese! The five Phillips children smile for the camera!“This time it was a good surprise,” smiled Stephanie. “We met the Promise Council.”

The Promise Council is a network of caring adults who assist children and families in central Illinois schools. Volunteers donate their time, talents and resources to ensure families have basic essentials like food, clothing and shelter.The Promise Council focuses on improving academic achievement and reversing the high school dropout crisis through community engagement.

“The Promise Council is positioned to meet the unique needs of students,” said volunteer Garry Hendricks. “If a child needs a    winter coat and hat, the Promise Council provides it. If they need a mattress to sleep on, we’ll get one to the family. If there’s a shortage of food for the weekend, – we’ll send them home with a backpack of healthy items.”

“There are so many needs in front of us – it’s eye opening,” added Promise Council volunteer Reg Washington. “We help with clothing, hotel vouchers, transportation – we even purchased a small refrigerator for a family after learning they’d been filling a sink with ice to keep milk cold for their children. At the time, that’s the only solution they had.”

Both Washington and Hendricks have been Promise Council volunteers for nearly a decade. By day they work at State Farm®. By night they join forces with caring adults across their central Illinois community to help students and families thrive. “Parents and children should not have to face this kind of worry,” said Hendricks. “The Promise Council assists so parents can focus on getting ahead and students can focus on learning.”

A light at the end of the tunnel

As for the Phillips family, the Promise Council gave Stephanie and Mark gas cards to fill up their van. Their children also received food, clothing, classroom supplies and after-school mentoring.

“The generosity helped us immensely,” said Stephanie. “With the gas cards, we could get to doctor appointments, run errands and I could go to work. The clothing and food also eased our strained budget. We started to breathe easier.”

As the weeks went by, Mark began to heal. The kids made honor roll.

As for Stephanie? Stephanie says she's so grateful to the Promise Council and Pepper Ridge Elementary for helping her family, that she became a recess supervisor at the school.

“I became a recess supervisor at the school,” she smiled. “It was my second job, and a way to support the place that gave us so much.”

Today, the Phillips family has made it their mission to give back to the Promise Council. They donate food, clothing and are involved in school activities.

“We want to pay it forward to the Promise Council so it can continue lifting families up,” said Stephanie. “Mark and I tell our kids, no matter what obstacles you face…never give up.”

For this family, the spirit of giving is a lifelong promise.

“And we plan to keep that promise,” said Stephanie.

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