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MARION — Church service projects can take on many shapes. Often, they are as simple as one person helping another in a one-on-one interaction, but sometimes service efforts are much larger. Marion’s Cornerstone Church is planning a service event, the size and scope of which is on a grand scale.

“We are looking to have 400 people that are going to go out and serve at 50 different sites in five counties all at the same time,” said Cornerstone member T.J. Cowan, who is coordinating the service effort. “Our goal is to have an impact on the communities in Southern Illinois, period.”

The event, set for Saturday, May 6, is called Serve SoILL, and is designed to allow members of the church use their talents and gifts to benefit others across the region.

“We’ve always been very service-minded,” said Cornerstone Operations Pastor Jason Thrash. “We’ve been trying for the last several years to figure out a way to get out and serve. For example, last year we raised money and built a home to give to Habitat for Humanity, but this is the first time we’ve gotten out to serve lots of communities in one fell swoop.”

Cowan said the church is trying to identify potential projects in Franklin, Jackson, Johnson, Saline and Williamson counties. He said the group wants to tackle “significant projects” and has been soliciting suggestions from area mayors, not-for-profit groups and others who say “we’d love to have you guys come do this …”

“We already have identified projects in Harrisburg, Carrier Mills, Creal Springs, West Frankfort and Benton,” he said. “We are doing a lot of things for parks, we’re doing things for counties, lots of projects where an entity may have the material, but not the necessary labor.”

Thrash added that several school districts have projects on the church’s list.

“We’re looking forward to being a blessing to a lot of school districts that have projects, but not the money to do them,” he said.

Cowan said he welcomes suggestions for projects from individuals who are authorized to have a project completed and said that church leaders will meet and scope out the potential work to be done before sending a crew on May 1.

“We have a handful of good quality projects right now that will make an impact in communities. That what we want — to make as big of an impact as possible,” he said.

Thrash said not only will Serve SoILL benefit the region, but it benefits those who serve as well.

“It helps our people realize that we are all gifted and there are lots of ways to use our gifts. Service doesn’t have to be to our own church family or in the church, but we can go out and help our communities.”

Cowan said church volunteers include skilled tradesmen as well as laborers.

“I expect we'll be doing some electrical work and pouring some concrete that day,” he said. “We have a lot of skilled people who will come in and use those skills.”

He said one team of volunteers will staff a food truck that will make the rounds to all of the service sites, providing food and refreshments to the volunteers. He added that Cornerstone would be happy to assist with other churches who already have service projects set for the day.

“We really are open to partnering with other healthy churches that are serving out in their community. This isn’t just a Cornerstone thing; it’s a God thing. If there’s a healthy church that is doing something on that Saturday, we’d be happy to help. This is not proprietary with us and we don’t have a corner on serving,” he said.

Cowan said leaders will prescreen all of the potential projects and then assign volunteers accordingly, reminding them that there is no ulterior motive to the day of service.

“We just want to show up on the scene of any circumstance no matter how dirty, no matter how laborious and say we just want to serve and we’re not passing out fliers, we’re not signing them up for anything, it’s just a labor of love. We feel that especially right now this is what we are called to do,” Cowan added.

Thrash said that if May 6 goes well, Cornerstone may look to continue similar large outreach efforts.

“I think if Serve SoILL goes well, we’d love to continue to do it," he said, "maybe multiple times a year on a smaller scale.”

Cowan said authorized organizational and civic leaders are welcome to call him with potential projects at 618-944-1612.


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