One O’Fallon woman has put others before herself for years, and on Tuesday she was recognized for the slew of selfless acts.
Carol Beeman was presented with the 2016 Women of Achievement award. Founded in 1955, the St. Louis Women of Achievement Award is the oldest, ongoing program in the area whose sole mission is to honor and recognize the volunteer service and volunteer leadership of women.
“I really became quite involved with various groups in earnest after retiring from SBC, formerly Southwestern Bell, in 2002 when my husband, Ken, and I moved her from San Antonio, Texas to be closer to our family,” Beeman said.
In addition to all of her advocacy and civic and spiritual volunteer endeavors, she is also a wife, mother and very proud grandma of six grandchildren — keeping life’s plate full to the brim.
But that’s just how she wants it.
Very much behind the scenes, Beeman has humbly dedicated her time and energy toward being a community volunteer and leader for many years, without any desire for the spotlight.
“Volunteers are the backbone of our community and nonprofits, and each year we take great pride and joy in honoring women volunteers who have selflessly dedicated their time, energy and efforts to helping others,” Women of Achievement President Joni Karandjeff said.
Selected from nominations from the St. Louis metropolitan area, including metro-east Illinois, the annual honoree class nominees are those who have demonstrated outstanding commitment to the betterment of the region through voluntary contributions, leadership and a significant breadth of a volunteer career impacting the areas of, but not limited to, education, arts, health and human services, youth and family, philanthropy, social justice and advocacy, according to the organizations 2016 Chairwoman Pam Toder.
“...To see the smiles, the tears and to feel the compassion in the room is very special,” Toder said.
According to Beeman, she wanted to volunteer in a big way, making a significant, tangible, hands-on impact. She quickly became a Court Appointed Special Advocates (CASA) volunteer in 2002, and joined the board of CASA of Southwestern Illinois in 2007. The organization serves nearly 500 children in St. Clair, Monroe and Madison counties.
“Just before retiring, a United Way spokeswoman came to talk of CASA, and I was inspired to join. To be in good health with freedom and flexibility in my schedule was truly a real gift, and a way for me to give back what I could,” Beeman said.
Beeman said CASA, founded by a Seattle, Wash. judge, is the only nonprofit the court system allows to come into the courtroom to advocate for children in sensitive cases like kids who have been neglected, abused or victims of trauma.
Nationwide, advocates are trained to independently investigate on behalf of the child to help he or she adapt to a more enriching environment to allow them to reach their full potential in life. Advocates will meet with the child, teachers, parents or family members, neighbors and others involved in his or her lives when the child becomes a ward of the state to investigate the situation and how to move forward in the best interest of the child, Beeman said.
“We are court assigned after being trained, and then we conduct investigations and are not aligned with social services agencies like the Department of Human Services state agencies. Every case is unique, but the one thing we always know for sure is that the something really horrible has happened to the child, and it’s the CASA advocate’s responsibility to see the case through from beginning to end,” Beeman said.
The main end-goal is to get the child into a safe foster home or adopted.
“I learned a lot and met a lot of amazing people along the way. I’m a board member now, and as policy, I suppose to conserve energy so to speak, once an advocate becomes a board member he or she will carry on in a leadership and administrative position, and no longer work in the field,” Beeman said.
“It was very hard at times to hear and see what these kids had been through, but that only made me want to help more, and do right by them — giving them what they deserve and hadn’t been given before,” Beeman said.
In 2005, Beeman said O’Fallon’s Faith Lutheran Church inspired her to commit to answering the call of 13 disaster relief trips.
“Mostly we traveled to Biloxi, Miss. shortly after Hurricane Katrina hit in August 2005, which seeing and hearing about it on the news is a drop in the bucket as compared to actually being there in the thick of it all — it was horrific, so many needed help,” Beeman said. “Faith Lutheran also organized and planned teams to go to Rushford, Minn. for flooding relief, which I also joined.”
“It was heartwarming and an honor to be apart of that group,” Beeman said.
Also wanting to help the homeless by serving free meals once a week, Beeman said her and others started Community Meals at Faith Lutheran in 2011.
“The first meal we served we had seven people we delivered to, and now we have grown that number to anywhere between 35 to 45 meals every Monday night, and even on occasion have served up to 60,” Beeman said. “It’s such a remarkable endeavor.”
Beeman said things opened up so smoothly with the Community Meals program’s inception, and has become a community effort now.
“We are partners with the Food Pantry now. Jersey Mike’s in Shiloh even provides our bread. And, I know when leftovers are scarce they are so wonderful and make an extra batch for us once a week so our recipients have a balanced meal,” Beeman said.
There is no criteria, no questions asked, and is not closed to just Faith Lutheran Church. Weekly Monday evening meals are served to the homeless, food pantry patrons, assisted living residents and others.
“It’s all about what it is to be a good neighbor and provide Christian hospitality. We have been fully embraced by the community, and it’s just a joy to watch it unfold from an idea to so much more,” Beeman said.
Beeman also became a Stephen Leader in 2005 for Faith Lutheran Church and directs the program’s training. They are trained to give confidential support during life’s difficult moments such as grief, divorce or just a need to talk.
“Sometimes we can’t always give the advice people want, but you would be surprised how far a listening ear will go,” Beeman said.
Beeman’s volunteer challenges don’t end there, as she is also active in fund-raising and building homes for the Lewis & Clark O’Fallon Area Habitat for Humanity charter, which was approved in October 2010. The first house was built in 2013. A second started in April 2016 and three additional properties have recently been acquired.
Her husband Ken is the president of the O’Fallon chapter, and sings praises about Carol, not just because she is his wife, but because she’s not your typical volunteer who goes somewhere and logs some hours and is done — she goes beyond that and cares too, he said.
“She does so many things, I can’t just name a few. From helping organize work days with volunteers, fund-raising efforts to painting and helping with the building, she even helps with registration for the chapter’s annual fall 5K run/walk in town,” Ken said.
She is also a member of Masterworks Chorale, as well as a recent board member for the Faith Lutheran Church choir.