Faith steers philanthropist
By Amy Lavalley Post-Tribune correspondent February 28, 2013 4:00PM
Kouts High School senior Megan Gauler (left) and sophomore Olivia Birky speak about the Bo Foundation they founded to raise funds to purchase iPads for autistic children. | Michael Gard~For Sun-Times Media
Go to www.birkyfarms.com and click on the “South County Love Your Neighborhood” link for more information on the nonprofit. Its next fundraiser will be an Easter dinner theater April 3 at the Porter County Expo Center, with proceeds going to First Contact of Valparaiso.
Updated: April 2, 2013 6:13AM
Chris Birky founded the nonprofit fund-raising organization South County Love Your Neighborhood a few years ago, after getting some words of wisdom from someone he had a lot of respect for.
“He said we were losing men of old who respected their community and gave back to their community, and it left an impact on me,” said Birky, owner of Morgan Township-based Birky’s Family Farms Country Gourmet.
With those words in mind, Birky started South County, which held its first event, a barbecue cook-off, about three and a half years ago.
A pie bake-off came the following year, with more events coming over time.
“What we did when this started taking off is, we started doing dinner theater,” he said, adding those events are held in conjunction with Christmas, Valentine’s Day and Easter.
His church, Hopewell Mennonite Church in Kouts, serves as an umbrella organization for the nonprofit, which continues to have the barbecue and pie contests, along with the dinner-theater events.
“Since September of 2009, we’ve given away more than $15,000,” he said.
Recipients have included the local schools and fire department; Special Olympics of Porter County; and the Women’s Center in Valparaiso. Some money is set aside for discretionary use, in case a family has a fire or other crisis.
“It all goes back to my faith,” Birky said. “I’m supposed to love God and also love my neighbor, and this is another way of giving.”
The Valentine’s Day dinner-theater program was a fundraiser for the Bo Foundation, started by two Kouts High School students to provide iPads for special-needs students.
Senior Megan Gauler, 17, and sophomore Olivia Birky, 16, became friends through the volleyball team.
They soon found they had another common bond — Olivia’s nephew, a kindergartner, and Megan’s brother, a high school student, both had autism. They also discovered that both boys, students in the Kouts schools, did better academically when using an iPad instead of traditional teaching methods.
“We realized that iPads are becoming a new teaching tool, especially for special education,” Olivia said.
The teens want to start with the Kouts schools, and branch out from there.
“We know the needs are there for the technology,” Megan said. “We want to spread out past Porter County as far as we can.”