By Chris Hotchkin

The Obama Legacy Initiative (OLI) was formed in 2015 by Sean Tenner and Fred Greenwood. They wanted to create a way to honor President Barack Obama and First Lady Michelle Obama for their service to our country and for their humanitarian ideals.  President Obama said, “As the wealthiest nation on Earth, I believe the United States has a moral obligation to lead the fight against hunger and malnutrition and to partner with others.”

The Organization

The Obama Legacy Initiative is not a political organization, nor is it affiliated with the Obamas. It is a charitable 501c3 organization inspired by the work of the Obamas. The mission of OLI is to provide healthy, nutritious food to Americans who are impoverished or have difficulty accessing healthy food. OLI partners with community organizations to distribute healthy, fresh vegetables to people who otherwise have difficulty obtaining such food. OLI also has corporate partners such as Home Depot that provide gardening materials. OLI is governed by a Board of Directors. A special feature of OLI is the inclusion of high school interns as a vital part of their team who are directly involved in the planning and execution of OLI programs.

Carrying Out the Mission of OLI  

The Obama Legacy Initiative grows vegetables in raised garden beds in various locations in northern Illinois. It also auctions off beautifully painted and decorated raised garden beds to raise funds for the organization and to encourage those who obtain the beds to donate some of their produce to food banks. OLI employs the talents of local artists who decorate the garden beds in original and individually inspired creations.

OLI has donated garden beds to community areas in Aurora, Joliet, and Rockford. OLI has garden beds in the community gardens in Naperville and they donate the produce from these beds to food pantries such as the Northern Illinois Food Bank, and the Warren Sharpe Community Center in Joliet. OLI also works to educate people in various communities about how to grow nutritious food.

Gold Star Memorial Garden Beds

A special OLI project has been the creation of six beautifully painted garden beds honoring fallen service members. These beds are located in Naper Settlement in Naperville and were recently dedicated in an event held at the settlement on Gold Star Family Day, the last Sunday in September. On Memorial Day 2020 the OLI held a memorable ceremony in honor of PFC Gunnar Hotchkin of Naperville and presented a beautifully painted garden bed to Gunnar’s family for their yard. This ceremony was attended by Congressman Sean Casten and Congressman Bill Foster and a special video of the ceremony included statements from Senator Richard Durbin, Congresswoman Lauren Underwood and Governor JB Pritzker. Three OLI interns participated in the program during the ceremony. I am the Gold Star mother of PFC Hotchkin and I attest this is one of the most meaningful ceremonies I have attended in honor of my son. Each of the Gold Star Garden Beds is decorated with a Gold Star emblem on one end as well as artistic murals on the side panels and has a plaque honoring the fallen hero. OLI plans to create more Gold Star Memorial garden beds to be placed in other locations in northern Illinois, using the talents of local artists. The produce from these beds is donated to food banks and is a wonderful legacy of the service and sacrifice of a fallen hero. The beds in Naper Settlement also help to educate visitors to the settlement about Gold Star families.

If you would like to learn more about the Obama Legacy Initiative, donate or get involved, please visit their website at obamalegacyinitiative.org or visit their Facebook page.