March 2023 Update

You may be wondering…

“What is happening with our BWGTM project? We haven’t heard much about it for a while.”

You are correct, not a lot of information about the Union Church Early Childhood Initiative has been shared lately, but a LOT continues to happen! We assure you that active and diligent engagement has carried on. Some confidentiality has been required as work continues to secure a location for a quality, affordable, all-day preschool in the community of Summit. The relationships we have developed within the Summit community remain strong.

“Weren’t we working with First Congregational Church of Glen Ellyn to expand quality early childhood programming in that location?”

Yes! As part of our goal to bring quality early childhood education to a wider community, we partnered with FCCGE and set up preschool classrooms in their beautiful church. This past summer and fall, we welcomed families for an open house and personal tours to promote UCECP’s programming. Outreach and efforts were strong, but response and registration were not. Recently a decision was made to pause our plans for opening in this location to be able to concentrate efforts in Summit.

Stay tuned! We look forward to sharing future updates and fully engaging the congregation in this initiative.

Summary/Annual Report from 2022

In the last year, a core team has continued to diligently work in pursuit of expanding our goal of bringing quality early childhood education to the wider community. We have specifically focused on Summit and Glen Ellyn.

Glen Ellyn
In partnership with First Congregational Church of Glen Ellyn (FCCGE) classrooms for UCECP-Glen Ellyn were set up. We had hoped to open up classes for children 2 through kindergarten this last fall. We did a great deal of marketing and had an open house. Not being successful in enrollment, we widely promoted a limited programs offering Summer Camp, 3s Preschool, and a Mother Child to start in January. While efforts were strong, the response and registrations were not.

A regrouping plan is underway. With FCCGE’s agreement and involvement, we are looking to hire a Director for the Glen Ellyn school and to establish a task force to learn how to effectively reach the community of Glen Ellyn and build relationships to create the best possibility for a successful opening in fall of 2024. Open houses and registrations for the following fall occur in January. Hiring of personnel and promotion of programming for fall of 2023 would be too large a financial risk to take without establishing further inroads in the community. Taking the next year for exploration increases chances of a strong launch and successful program. [Note: After this report was published, we decided to indefinitely postpone our efforts with FCCGE, which has been helpful and cooperative throughout this process.]

The UCECI team is dedicated to continuing to find a physical location for our planned affordable all-day preschool for families in Summit. We have established strong relationships in Summit. Due to the length of time we have been working in pursuit of securing a location, and the many relationships we have formed, we are also regrouping our efforts in this community.

It is planned to establish a second task force to explore alternate options for a possible preschool site. Options include reconnecting with School District 104 leadership who are very supportive of our preschool being established, contacting private businesses/large employers in Summit who may be willing to provide space, and also asking the business leaders and families in Summit to help us find a location for a preschool.

We have learned that, like any entrepreneurial venture, starting new early childhood programming –in any community — takes time.

Citizen Action Matters

Advocating for Quality Education for All

One thread of our efforts in the Union Church Early Childhood Initiative, a.k.a. Before We Get to Mars, is advocacy for quality early childhood education for all. Research demonstrates that the early years are the paramount time to positively influence the trajectory of children’s lives. There is a positive domino effect for society, including financial benefits.

Over the last several months, as we continue to move closer to the goal of opening a preschool in Summit, we’ve also been following proposed national legislation that would greatly expand access to early childhood education nationwide. Although things have been on-again/off-again in Congress, as of today, 1/5/22, conversation on the early childhood component of the larger Build Back Better legislation is still active. This part of the legislation could potentially provide $400 billion to help states build universal prekindergarten and affordable child care programs over six years. Its goal is to ensure that families would spend no more than 7% of their total income on child care. This
was exciting news for the UCECI team whose stated goal is to increase access to high-quality, affordable early childhood education for all.

We encourage you to call the offices of Senator Joe Manchin at 202.224.3954, and encourage him “to support the inclusion of early childhood education funding in any final version of the Build Back Better Act, or other legislation.”  That quote is the key phrase to use. Beyond that, just speak from the heart! You can also send him a message at this link.

You can also contact our Illinois’ senators encouraging them to do whatever is possible to advance the early childhood education components of any proposed legislation. Here is Dick Durbin’s contact page, and here it is for Tammy Duckworth.  Phone calls to their Washington offices are best (you might need to scroll down to find those numbers). Emails / the official contact form are second best.

For now, we all need to keep an eye on this and continue to advocate for badly-needed expansion of early childhood services, not just here in Illinois, but all across the country, whatever legislative form that takes. The UCECI Advocacy team will keep you updated. We’re proud to be part of a congregation with such a strong commitment to early-childhood education!

So Much Happening – March 2021

What’s the latest with our Before We Get to Mars project?

The quick answer is, a lot! We’ve “landed” in Summit, IL. Following study and through strong initial connections, we have chosen to partner with the community of Summit, a largely Latino/a community about 20 minutes from Hinsdale.

Relationship Building – We have begun to establish relationships with Summit’s mayor, the preschool coordinator for School District 104, the Summit Public Library, restaurants, and business owners. Several more connections are coming up!

Tell me again, what is the mission of this project? – We are called to love our neighbors. Our faith and our action are incomplete and inauthentic if we limit our thinking of ‘neighbors’ as those within our bubble. When planning for a meaningful long term and broader community project, our congregation looked inward to our strengths. With our decades long history with a successful preschool under our roof, it fell naturally that our passion for education, particularly early childhood education, would emerge as an entry point for building a larger community. Initial conversations indicate that the Summit community desires additional opportunities for children from birth through preschool and at a cost their families can afford. Quality education at this extremely important time in development has a life-long positive impact on children.

Sounds great, but how can I participate? – The possibility of establishing an opportunity for quality early childhood education in this community is a way to open the door to building relationships with our Summit neighbors. So much more can evolve. There will be social opportunities with great food! There will be fun and fundraising events. Look for more information about books for the community’s young children and even the possibility of an antique car show right here at Union Church to fund our early childhood work in Summit. As relationships with our neighbors grow, we will learn many ways that we can
enrich each others’ lives. What exciting opportunities await as we widen our
community and open our hearts!

For more information contact our BWGTM team Chair, Mary Sue Honigschmidt at marysue at red-works dot com.

November 2020 Update

Before We Get to Mars…We Are Getting to Know the Community of Summit!

The little matter of the global coronavirus pandemic has slowed us down this year, but we are moving well again!

Remember how before the pandemic hit you had travel plans and then…they were changed? The original plans for our Before We Get to Mars project have changed as well. After some good research and initial relationship building with people in the Willowbrook Corners community, we decided it wasn’t a great match for our BWGTM project. We are now carefully considering another community that we hope will be a good match for our long term BWGTM commitment.

Summit, seven miles (or about 20 minutes) to the southeast of Union Church, looks to be a community where we can form long-term relationships and partner with the community in promising ways. Summit’s population of 11,000 is 63% Latinx and 24% (non-Latinx) White. Pre-coronavirus, the unemployment rate was very low, but per capita income was still also very low at just $19,000, about 60% of the average for Illinois. Many work hard at one, two or three minimum wage jobs to support their families. There is a small UCC congregation along with several other active churches.

Through the process of study and discernment, our congregation chose to work in the area of education, with the particular focus being early childhood education. The early years of a child’s life are when quality engagement can make the most impact. To begin a relationship with this community, we would initially explore the possibility of setting up a preschool to serve the 0-3 year old population, which is currently greatly underserved. We plan to work side-by-side with community members and initially establish this connection which could open the door to broader opportunities. A community that is working to care for their families at the poverty level also has needs in the areas of unemployment, food insecurity, English language learning, and more.

The BWGTM team is very enthusiastic about this new focus. Would you like to join in this life-changing effort? Meetings are currently held via Zoom. Many skills are needed! Especially fluency in Spanish! This is a great group and this is a perfect time to become involved, as our congregation moves forward to make a real impact in the lives of others as well as our own…before we get to Mars. Please contact Mary Sue Honigschmidt (marysue at red-works dot com), chair of BWGTM, if you would like to join us. Thanks!

December 2019 Update

The Before We Get to Mars team has been working steadily to help the congregation make a decision about where to focus our work. We recently had two meetings for the congregation to discuss our primary options, Maywood and the Willowbrook Corner area in Willowbrook. We have begun building relationships in both areas, and been studying the needs in the realm of education. We will soon be making a decision about which location to focus on at the beginning of our BWGTM project, although the other area may well come into play in the future.

With the support of the congregation, the team is focusing in on early childhood education. Research shows that early childhood education makes the greatest impact on life outcomes for kids (see the Resource Page for more on that), and it is a great fit for the interests and skills of our congregation, given our wonderful Union Church Early Childhood Program.

As with any focus on education, our area of work will likely need to be multifaceted. Jennifer Keldahl recently quickly summarized some ways our congregation could get involved with a focus on early childhood education in a specific area:

  • Health Care – most of these kids have limited access to health care. There could be doctors who are willing to give their time for check-ups and immunizations or we could find a partner agency. Eye exams and hearing tests are a HUGE gap for these kids.
  • Dental Care – same as above but, much worse. Some of these kids never see a dentist.
  • Mental Health – there is a need for parents and children. These kids have seen a lot and been threw a lot. Again, could use a partner or someone within our community.
  • Parenting Support – people are overworked and tired. They are often drained and need healthy ways to cope and to be a good parent.
  • Grandparents – In many communities, the Grandma is running the show and could use support!
  • Meal planning and meal preparation. For example: a Sunday gathering where about 15 families would come together in the late afternoon and prepare their meals for the week. We would have the food all there, they would dice etc. and put them into pans for easy prep for the week. How amazing would it be if this included an uplifting religious piece while they prepare the meals.
  • Maintaining housing, employment etc – there is paperwork involved in so much of these peoples lives. Taxes, state health care forms, maintaining their housing status…paperwork is challenging! This could be something we offer on a monthly basis.
  • We could have a new baby crew that comes in and helps a family before their new arrival. It could be with formula, diapers, painting the room….etc.
  • Resume preparation and preparation before an interview. This could include clothing.
  • Running the laundromat.
  • All of this and more is related to early childhood education!


Special Guests on June 26 – Join Us!

All are encouraged to join us on Wednesday, June 26, at 7:00 p.m., in the Chapel:

The Before We Get to Mars Steering Team invites everyone to join us as we hear from two people with extensive experience in the Maywood community. As we seek to form relationships and learn the true “lay of the land” regarding education, we hope to help everyone be more educated about the communities near us.

We will be talking with Amy Luke, PhD, a professor of family medicine with the Public Health Sciences department at Loyola, and the Director of Research for the Center for Community and Global Health, and Lena Hatchett, PhD, who is the is Director of Community and University Partnerships in the Stritch School of Medicine, Loyola University Chicago. She leads the institution in health equity research and education through program and policy development. Amy has lived in Maywood for many years, and they both know the community intimately. Join us at 7:00 p.m. on Wednesday, June 26, in the Chapel.



On Saturday, February 2, 2019, we had a great all church retreat dedicated to our Before We Get to Mars focus on education. We learned some about the education issue, how to accomplish real change in the public realm, and planned our next steps. About 75 people were there to learn, contribute, and collaborate.

In summary, our BWGTM focus fits well with, and should always keep in mind our four core statements as Union Church:

· God is real, and we take time to get to know God better.
· We have power, and we use that power, with others, to make the world more like Jesus wants it to be.
· Other people are great, and we take time to get to know them better.
· We love children and youth, and as they grow, we help them develop personal, curious, generous, and socially engaged Christian faith.

The congregation settled on education as the focus area because it fits well with our interests and skills, and because it is so important in making a lasting difference in people’s lives. Education is so important, in part, because it allows people to be more in control of their own lives – to be self-determining (not simply self-reliant).

We spent a good deal of time in a “mini-seminar” on community organizing – thinking about the practices of making a difference in the public realm. We thought about the three primary public “sectors” of our U.S. form of democracy: civic institutions (broadly defined), government, and business. In the U.S., the business sector seems to be influencing more and more of our lives, especially the younger you are. Civic groups (including church, family, neighbors/local communities, fraternal groups) are having less and less influence on the overall public sphere. Broadly speaking, that’s not healthy for our society, and makes change difficult. The goal of community organizing is to develop and organize the power of the civic sphere to accomplish the things people want. This is critical to the issue of education, where the government and increasingly business sectors have so much power.

Building power in civic institutions begins with relationships – simply getting to know people, what motivates them, what gifts they have, and what concerns/problems they have. So we spent time talking, one-to-one. It’s so important, but we don’t do it enough in the world today!

We then looked into some of the dynamics of education in our region. You can get too far thinking about education without facing the reality of racial inequality in education. We watched two short and excellent videos on this. The first video explores the source of so much of the racial dynamics of the Chicago region – redlining  – and the second video talks about how this connects to education specifically. They are short and great – watch them!

This is changing some with recent state legislation, but at least at the start of 2018, Illinois relied more heavily on local property taxes to fund education than any other state. That’s great in one sense, because local communities like having greater control over their schools. However, it also means that the racial discrimination in housing of the past (and its continuing effects) more strongly affects education today.

The United States in general, when compared to other “advanced” economies, under-invests in early childhood education in particular – although Illinois has actually been one of the best states at funding early childhood education. It’s interesting to look at how they handle this issue in Canada, for example.

We highlighted over and over again that we in Union Church need to build relationships and partnerships, getting to know the people for whom quality education is a constant battle. Lasting change will require relationships and engagement and building on the experience and skills of others, not on providing a fix to someone else’s problems.

We did a SWOT analysis of our situation with regard to education, and we listed:

Strengths: congregational interest, UCECP, financial resources, connections, people, networks, educators, financial expertise, experience in making things happen, faith-based motivation, concern for social justice, grace

Weaknesses: haven’t walked in those shoes (lack relationships), need a plan, everyone is busy, fear, language (in relating to Spanish speaking communities), apathy, all white, inexperienced in this issue, risk of being too abstract/high level, possible arrogance, no sense of urgency, geography

Opportunities: seeing God, to grow in unity of purpose, there is a need/accomplish change, get out of comfort zone, Willowbrook community, learn about strengths of others, help future generations, form partnerships, create a legacy, grow our church, blur the margins, to create lasting change

Threats: not listening – leads to failure and making worse, failure!, lack of stamina, rejection, internal church politics, unwelcome change in identity, conflict with community, lack of accountability, fear, unaware of our own biases

We then brainstormed possibly needed elements of a two year plan for moving forward: project director, create leadership team, make a plan!, research (what to do? where? scope?), decide on narrower focus, increase congregational buy-in and education, think of parents, develop working paper, decide the best structure for decision making/advancement, develop metrics, think through our congregational systems

Finally, 20 people signed up to be on a short to mid range steering team to develop a plan of action for the next two years of work Before We Get to Mars! That group will be meeting before the end of February.

Final-Area-of-Work Survey Results

We are very pleased to present the results of our congregational voting for the final area of work for our Before We Get to Mars project. The area of work with the strongest support in the congregation is…


In fact, education received both the strongest and broadest support from the congregation, with jobs a reasonably close second, hunger/food justice third, and gun violence fourth.

Choosing this area of work is a huge step in our Before We Get to Mars decision making process. The planning team thanks the congregation for its careful and thoughtful consideration of the issues. Most people have recognized that all of our four issues are closely linked together, and this was really a decision about “where we could best jump into the  circle.” With as much as people in our congregation value education, with our vast experience with early childhood education, with the long lasting impact of education, and with the deep need for greater educational quality for all, it makes good sense that we will focus on this work in the future.

Now that we have narrowed our focus down to education, the next step is learning as much as we can about this issue and forming relationships with a variety of key players. Although our first impulse may be to suggest project ideas, we have months of education and relationship building around…well, education, before we can make an informed decision about what kind of project makes sense – and of course, there will probably be some initial “baby steps” before we get to a long-term, multifaceted commitment. The BWGTM planning team will soon present a more detailed description of the way forward, but in any case, this will be a time for all who are willing to help to contribute through learning and relationship building.

If you have a passion for education and would like to contribute to the next phase of the project, please let Grant Glowiak or Rev. Mike Solberg know so we can make sure you are part of the next step of work.

God bless us all as we undertake this fascinating and important work in education, before we get to Mars!

Before We Get To Mars – April / May 2018 Survey

Quick review:

The Before We Get to Mars project is intended to be a multi-year, all-church focus on one particular challenge faced by those in need. By harnessing the fantastic and diverse resources of the people of our congregation, agreeing on one area of focus, and acting with courage, commitment and patience, we think we can accomplish something astounding for God and other people, by supporting human well-being.

Moving forward:

We are now taking the next important step in our Before We Get to Mars decision making process. Based on previous congregational voting, we have narrowed our options down to four possible areas of work. With this survey, we will select the one area of work for our Before We Get to Mars project. After this, in coming months, all who wish to help will do the research and relationship building that will be necessary for the congregation to select one specific goal/project for this all-church, multi-year effort.

Before voting, if you have not yet done so, please be sure to read the summary paper on each of the four areas:

Summary paper on education [PDF]
Summary paper on jobs/employment [PDF]
Summary paper on gun violence [PDF]
Summary paper on hunger/food justice [PDF]

Also there is much more information, including videos of the presentations about each work area from our all church retreat in early February, 2018.

The question to ask yourself with this survey, is “Which area of work would I like to see our congregation focus on for the next several years?” Or, “What area of work would I be most enthusiastic about?”

This survey has now ended.