The Morning Journal – April 5, 2014. When Barb Harrell started the Village Project, a nonprofit organization in Bay Village assisting cancer patients and their families, she never thought she’d end up being one of its clients.
But that’s exactly what happened after her husband, Jeff, was diagnosed with cancer, making her not only the nonprofit’s executive director, but also one of its patrons.
“I never thought an organization I helped found would end up being my saving grace when my husband grew sick with cancer,” Harrell said. “No one knows how difficult it is dealing with the disease until it’s the only choice you have. Although my husband’s cancer-free now, the whole experience just made me more aware of how much this organization is slowly helping people in our community bravely facing the difficulties of cancer each day.”
Harrell launched the Village Project in 2010 with the mission of providing healthy meals and extended care services to local cancer patients and their families.
Formerly called the Village Food Project, the organization is molded after the Ceres Community Project in California, a similar nonprofit relying heavily on teen volunteers to cook and prepare healthy meals for cancer patients and their families.
Harrell said she first became interested in bringing an organization like the Ceres Community Project to Bay Village after visiting California to experience the nonprofit’s mission first-hand.
“The trip was eye-opening for me and absolutely sparked a fire in me to bring an organization like this to this area,” she said. “Just witnessing a community coming together like that for the welfare of others, it touches your heart. I knew almost immediately that this was my calling and was something that I needed to pursue.”
In awe of the mission’s impact, Harrell established the Village Project through the support of several members of the Bay Village community who rose up, eager to support, volunteer and establish the organization.
“We started preparing meals in the kitchen of Bay Presbyterian Church for Bay Village residents,” Harrell said. “We’ve since provided over 6,000 meals to individuals, churches and civic organizations, and have even expanded to a new facility where we are now able to serve families in Avon Lake and Rocky River.”
Apart from cooking and delivering nutritious meals, Harrell said her many volunteers offer clients extended support services such as yard clean-up, dog walking, housekeeping and more.
“People have a wide range of needs, so even though we started off under the same premise as the Ceres Community Project, we quickly grew to offer clients additional services to cater to those needs,” she said. “Since opening, our clients have continually told us how appreciative they are of the Village Project and once they receive all the help they need, many of them give back to us in return. It’s a beautiful thing to witness and be a part of.”
According to Harrell, one of the best things about the organization is seeing young people offer their free time and energy to serve others in need.
“My favorite thing about the Village Project has got to be watching young people selflessly donate their time and energy to the cause,” she said. “We started off with only a few volunteers and now we have nearly 400 volunteers who rotate in helping us prepare meals. In a world where people are more into themselves these days, it’s refreshing to see so many youth willing to participate in a project like this.”
One of those volunteers is Bay Village High School senior Baylee White, who is helping the organization launch Project Pedal, a new multi-generational charitable bike ride to raise awareness and funds for the Village Project.
“I’ve been cooking in the Village Project kitchen since I was a high school freshman,” Baylee said. “Now that I’m a senior, I knew I wanted to do something more fun, active and on a broader scale, to expand our reach with the local community.
“I’m really excited about this event and I hope a lot of people show up to support the Village Project because it’s truly making a difference in the community.”
Project Pedal is scheduled to take place at Bay High School from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. June 14.
Harrell and White hope the event will raise at least $30,000 for the organization.
“Being a nonprofit, we don’t have a constant supply of money coming in,” Harrell said. “So, events like this are vital to our survival as a charitable institution.
“I’m so grateful to Baylee and all our other volunteers who are working tirelessly to make sure Project Pedal is a success. I look forward to expanding our reach in the community and I feel truly blessed to be able to give back.”
The organization also will host a garage sale from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. May 10 at the Village Project’s new location, 27378 West Oviatt Road.
For more information about the Village Project or to register for Project Pedal, call 440-348-9401 or visit www.ourvillageproject.com.