Growing by Giving
November 15, 2022
Take a gander and you’ll find signs of healthy Gleaner-involved growth hatching all around Rolling Prairie Arbor in LaPorte County, Indiana:
- At the county fair in July, Gleaner volunteers like June Lenig, Arbor President Jackie Masterson and Jeff Thompson, Chris Kulasa and Shari Ott-Large help guide the LaPorte 4-H Poultry Club youth.
- In March, Jackie and Tom Wheatbrook along with Amy Stanish led an arbor event cooking and serving meals for a veterans’ benefit chicken noodle dinner. It drew 216 guests — many of whom asked how they could become Gleaners.
- Working with groups like Sand Castle Homeless Shelter and New Day Foundation, the arbor brings under its wing families and individuals who can benefit from basic life skills or a GED as well as a place to stay.
- The arbor isn’t chicken to take on scores of other projects including providing meat for Thanksgiving and Christmas food baskets for families in need, Relay for Life teams, the Angel Fund in New Prairie that helps students obtain educations, Meals on Wheels, LaPorte’s Special Education Cooperative, and local schools’ music bands’ needs.
Those are just some examples of members giving time and funding to build a better community and a stronger arbor.
“We do as much as we can. Wherever they call and need help, we're there,” June Lenig says. “I know we don't report everything that we do but we try. But we're not about publicity for it; we're doing it because we want to.”
Another way the arbor gives is by encouraging other local individuals with a Community Volunteer Recognition (CVR) award. They frequently end up joining the arbor. “How do you think I got here?” Jackie laughs.
Her 4-H involvement is a trait many Rolling Prairie Arbor members share. It’s not surprising. June and her late husband Dan helped get the arbor restarted in the 1980s after becoming involved with 4-H in 1971. “4-H is family, just like Gleaner is family,” June says, perfectly describing the Gleaner principle of fraternalism in terms anyone could understand. “It's all about doing together, being a unit, being a team so to speak. That's what this is, pulling together for a common goal."
Jeff agrees. “We’re learning stuff from each other every day, and we get along that way.”
4-H was first embraced by the Gleaner Society in 1958. The poultry program rarely receives the attention focused on beef, dairy, sheep, or swine but the participants learn the same concepts. “The purpose of this program that we're involved with today is to teach kids life skills so they'll be sufficient and be able to go out,” June says. Youths raising birds in the program learn how to fill out a financial report, keep track of inventory from year to year, figure out their profit or loss, how to market their product, work together, adjust their plans, find a better way, and more.
"That’s what we teach them through the whole barn,” Jackie adds.
“This teaches them the cost of putting that food on the table,” June explains. “There’s so many life skills that come as a result. Responsibility — you know, if you don’t take care of it you lose it, right?” The lessons are conveyed with lots of love by June, who was one of 11 children in her family, and grew up learning how to manage and not waste. “We might have been poor but we weren't filthy poor. We had all the necessary things. We raised our own fruits and vegetables, we had chickens so we had our own eggs. We had goats so we had our own milk and made our own butter. We had our own berry trees, fruit trees. We had a huge garden which we all worked hard in, and we all canned.”
June served as club president for just short of 40 years before stepping aside last year.
“She takes really good care of us,” said Keely Qualkenbush, a high school senior whose Australorp rooster won Grand Champion and overall reserve Best of Show. “She showed me how to hold the birds correctly and all the breeding. She made me fall in love with this project.”
Sydney Hill, a 12th grader at LaPorte High School, worked with Jackie to locate a breeder who could help her obtain an uncommon, curly feathered Sebastopol goose. “It’s hard work,” Sydney says. “First you need your animal’s background. You’ve got to learn responsibilities like food and care. They’re like your kids. It’s crazy to see how much you learn just from taking care of birds.”
Now, Sydney is helping pass along her knowledge by volunteering with the Little Peeps Junior 4-H program. It’s an example that offers an antidote to what experts say are growing trends of loneliness, aimlessness, and depression.
"There are so many kids out there that have no direction. It’s sad. They're just out there floating,” June says. “I think there would be less drugs and all the other problems out there if someone could take them under their wing."
While giving time and other resources can be challenging, it gives Rolling Arbor members purpose and keeps them active. June just turned 83 yet her schedule after the county fair included chairing August’s 65th reunion of her high school class, planning her church’s chicken noodle dinner, then the 4-H chicken noodle dinner. Then comes Christmas when arbor members including Jeff gather all the gifts they’ve been collecting for the local Toys for Tots.
Former college football coach Lou Holtz worked the sidelines not terribly far from LaPorte and often said, “In this world you’re either growing or you’re dying. So get in motion and grow.”
Rolling Arbor turns the Gleaner principles of “Protection, Benevolence and Fraternity” into a practical plan for growth. Reaching out, paying it forward, and training up new generations, the growth possibilities are practically endless.