A local family has found a way to honor the memory of a loved one, by creating a nonprofit aimed at informing and de-stressing caregivers.

In January Gretchen Sidell, 35, passed away. The Pekin woman had suffered a brain-stem stroke due to meningitis when she was 15-years-old. It left her on a ventilator the rest of her life, and she was quadriplegic. 

After her death, her family and church family wanted to do something in her memory as a way to honor her life. Sidell’s sister, Emmy Thies; mother, Julie Ozog; Heather Robertson, associate pastor of Pekin First United Methodist Church; and family friend Denise Hocker founded Rise Community, a nonprofit organization that offers therapies for those with special needs and respite for caregivers.

From 9 to 11 a.m., on Tuesday, July 2, Rise Community will have an event at Schramm Educational Center located at 300 Cedar Street Suite 1 in Pekin. The event is meant to help special need caregivers relax and get time to themselves while also giving them information that may help them with taking care of the special need person in their life. Caregivers, children with special needs, parents and teachers are welcome to attend. 

Early elementary students will meet in room 125 from 9:15 to 9:45 a.m., middle school students from 10 to 10:30 a.m. and high school students from 10:30 to 11 a.m. Brooke Behm from Communication Junction will provide a Song and Sign Storytime. While students are meeting, adults will attend the Caring for the Caregiver event with Robertson from 10 to 11 a.m. in the Multi-Purpose Room. It will also be a time for caregivers to talk with other caregivers who have been through similar situations.

“When you have a disabled child, a lot of time is devoted to that child,” said Ozog. “It can be stressful. I learned medical things from the nursing staff but not coping skills. There is so much stress, especially at the beginning, when your child is in and out of the hospital all the time. You get frustrated with doctors and nurses because it’s your child. We want this event of getting together (for caregivers) to de-stress and take care of (themselves). A lot of the time you don’t get five minutes to yourself.”

Rise Community is raising money to be able to provide more events for those with special needs and caregivers. Thies said she would eventually like to have a massage table or a manicure station for caregivers to have some time just for them.

Sidell had always liked cooking and baking. She had a food blog and wrote devotionals. Rise Community will have several pop-up bake sales to raise funds. From 5 to 7 p.m. on July 3 and Aug. 9, it will have baked items including thumbprint cookies, salted caramel chip cookies and more for sale at DeWitt HQ at 407 Court St. in Pekin. From 5 to 7 p.m. on Friday, July 26 and Friday, Aug. 23, there will also be a pop-up bakery at Kountry Nook Gift and Craft Mall located at 212 N. Capitol St. in Pekin.

Some of Sidell’s favorite recipes and speeches she made via computer are featured in a cookbook that will be for sale at the bake sales. The cookbook does not have a set price. Instead, Rise Community will be accepting donations. EP!C in Peoria printed the cookbooks. Rise Community is also selling T-shirts for $25 each. 

Another passion of Sidell’s was making sure others with disabilities were able to go to church. She communicated through her computer and gave a presentation in September 2018 at United Methodist Church of Green Valley. She wanted to have them build a wheelchair ramp. They took it to heart and built one.

“As she grew older and made a connection at church, she would say her spirit was healed even though her body wasn’t,” Ozog said. 

“Her message was that there’s hope,” said Thies. “I think she understood her purpose.”

To find up-to-date pop-up bakeries and other events, visit Rise Community’s Facebook at Rise Community Pekin. For more information, people can also email risecommunity35@gmail.com.