The 2nd Annual Bluestem Earth Festival Award Dinner took place Saturday, April 13th at the University of St. Francis, Joliet, IL. The Bluestem Earth Festival and Joliet Franciscan Sisters presented this year’s award recipient, Gary Cheney, of ShareFest Will County, with an award for his community service and outreach.
Cheney is the founder and coordinator of what began as ShareFest New Lenox in 2007. Seeing a need for assistance throughout Will County, Cheney changed the name to ShareFest Will County, an organization through which volunteers do service projects; collect food, books, and clothing; recycle electronics and much more. His mobile food pantries have provided more than ½ million meals for the hungry.
A room filled with Cheney’s family, friends, coworkers and volunteers celebrated a hard-working, dedicated man driven by the Word of God. Upon introducing Cheney, Kathy Pecora of Will County Land Use Department stated, “I respect him, his mission, his mottos, his faith and I am honored to call him my friend. Gary is truly a leader driven by the Lord. He makes you feel the Lord and makes you feel the work of the Holy Spirit in action as you volunteer.”
ShareFest efforts have brought together more than 600 volunteers for projects to help the Northern IL Food Bank, Township Clean Up Day, building of Community Gardens in Fairmont, Forest Park, Monee, and Second Baptist Joliet. Cheney also brought health services to Recyclepalooza, giving those in need an opportunity to either receive or schedule health and dental services.
Sr. Dolores Zemont, President of the Sisters of St. Francis of Mary Immaculate, presented Cheney with his award as well as a donation from the Joliet Franciscan Sisters to ShareFest. “The Bluestem Earth Festival Award and festival beautifully reflect the Sisters’ corporate stances and charisms on social justice and caring for all of creation,” she commented.
In accepting the award, Cheney expressed gratitude and was humbled by the evening. “This award is not really about me. It’s about the people that make ShareFest possible. It’s truly a joy to go out and love and serve people.”
DeLinda Herod of Fairmont Community Partnership Group Inc., congratulated Cheney stating, “I couldn’t think of a better recipient than Gary Cheney. He has made a huge impact on the Fairmont Community.” Paula Leonard, also from Fairmont, reflected back on one of Cheney’s first meetings. “I recall he stood up, discussed ShareFest and all it could do for the community. Having a background in non-profits, I knew he had a challenge ahead. But he’s able to get all of these diverse organizations and individuals together and he makes something bigger. He’s amazing.”