As Jim Cook watched the devastation unfold during the tornado outbreak Nov. 17 that hit the town of Washington, Ill., the hardest, he decided he had to help.
“I felt moved to do whatever I could to reach out to them,” Cook said in a press release. “I’m passionate about making a difference in people’s lives, primarily the lives of children. I wanted to extend a helping hand to them, especially at Christmas time.”
For the last 25 years, Cook has dedicated his career to providing resources, mentoring and peer mediation to kids and teens, most recently by founding the Midwest Sports Academy in suburban Huntley. Serving kids ages 9 to 16 in the suburbs and the Rockford area, the nonprofit organization provides a supportive environment that teaches youth how to build a strong foundation for their future.
Cook’s Midwest Sports Academy mobilized almost a dozen organizations to support a relief effort for Washington residents. Individuals, families and businesses dropped off donations at South Elgin High School, The Einstein Academy of Elgin and Pro Fusion in Geneva. The humanitarian drive generated hundreds of blankets, toiletries, medicine and other critical supplies for needy families.
The outpouring of generosity required a large moving truck to haul the necessities downstate. Students from the Midwest Sports Academy joined Cook and his staff in loading the truck with the donated items.
“Students, families, local business owners — so many folks gave generously to the drive. It was an honor to be part of it,” Cook said.
Cook and Tory Gum arrived Nov. 27 in Washington to present the donations. The volume of supplies that donors gave to victims touched the townspeople so deeply that the Warehouse in Washington asked Cook if the Midwest Sports Academy could lead a Christmas toy drive for children in Washington victimized by the tornadoes.
“There was no way I could tell them ‘no,’” he said. “How could anyone say ‘no’ to such a significant need?”
The Einstein Academy, South Elgin High School and Pro Fusion agreed to serve again as drop-off centers. The same organizations that supported the relief effort enthusiastically signed on to join the toy drive, including the South Elgin Police Department, Wells Fargo Advisory, PepsiCo, T’s N More and the McHenry Community College women’s basketball program.
The toy drive, which ended Dec. 13, resulted in hundreds of donations. Children will receive a variety of gifts this Christmas, from baby and toddler toys to Barbie dolls, stuffed animals, books, art supplies, games, stocking stuffers, DVDs, headphones and gift cards.
Cook and a volunteer drove another moving truck Dec. 15 to Washington to deliver the toys.
“This experience has blessed everyone who contributed to the toy drive and relief effort as much as it’s blessed the families in Washington,” Cook said. “Donating much-needed gifts is helping make the holiday season a little more joyful for victims of the tornadoes.”
Improving the future for children is Cook’s motivation. He established the Midwest Sports Academy in 2012. It offers sports and educational programs that teach youth the core values of a strong work ethic, personal discipline, honesty, respect and inspiration for making positive life decisions.
“I started this program to see children accomplish their dreams,” Cook said. “This program provides me and the community with an opportunity to make a difference for all the children who don’t have the financial means or just the chance at a hopeful future. They learn to develop good citizenship and college readiness skills.”
The academy serves students from a range of communities, including Naperville, Elgin, Aurora, Bartlett, Streamwood, Schaumburg, South Elgin and Crystal Lake.
For more information on the Midwest Sports Academy, visit www.midwestsportsacademy.org, call 847-809-8978 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.