Recently I drove to the north side of the Twin Cities and shared coffee with Jill Geselle of Tree Top Kids. I had asked Jill if I could interview her and learn more about Tree Top Kids, an organization that Jill and her husband, Tony, founded and run. The coffee house was busy with conversations as I set my tape recorder down on the table so as to not miss a word. This was the first time I’d met Jill. She was confident and easy-going at the same time. I liked her right away.
I dove in with questions and asked her to tell me their story. It was a story of a desire that God had given Jill from a young age. She told of a poster of Africa she had attached to her bedroom wall as a young girl, dreaming of being a missionary doctor. She started medical school and enjoyed it, but felt strongly that she should change her major to nursing, and so she did. She and Tony met during these college years. She was a youth leader and he was the youth pastor at the church she was attending. They found that they shared a common heart for the needs of kids.
She told me of the day Tony took a birthday card to the house of one of his students from his church; It was in a mobile home neighborhood. As he drove the narrow roads on that cold October day, he saw a little girl in a red dress playing in the street without shoes or coat. For a moment, it seemed a scene in pictures from other countries. But it was here in his community. He heard a voice within him say, “You don’t have to cross an ocean to find a mission field.” This was the moment that seeded the idea for Tony and Jill to buy a home in that same neighborhood. Soon after, they began taking a car load of kids from the mobile home park to Sunday school with them and, within a short time, they filled both their cars. The amount of kids that wanted to go to church on Sunday morning continued to grow, so they made multiple trips and asked other church families to help pick up the kids from their neighborhood, too. The need for a bus became apparent, thus beginning the bus ministry at Maranatha Assembly of God Church in Forest Lake, Minnesota. Recently a second bus has been added, and on Wednesday nights, they actually feed the kids a meal on the bus, since they found that over half of the kids were not eating before getting onto the bus.
Although Tony and Jill were happy to see so many kids coming to church, they felt they must do more. These kids had more than spiritual needs. As they prayed about what they should do, they ventured out and started an after school program called Everyday Kids. It’s a non-profit where kids get help with homework, eat a healthy snack, and are taught basic life skills in areas of hygiene, conflict resolution, cooking, home care, and more. This has answered a need in the community, and they have grown to two locations with two more locations possibly being added soon.
Tony and Jill are making their world a better place one child at a time, but they have another dream that is slowing growing. They are looking for a farm to purchase to be a working farm for families and youth to come and experience life, faith and family. Through animal care, equine-assisted learning, life-skill training, and family-table time, everyone will be challenged to grow in four quadrants of life: physical, mental, spiritual, and social. This dream has come a long way from its conception. They are now actively looking for that farm property.
After sitting and hearing Jill tell of the path in which their lives have taken them, I was in awe of all they had done in a relatively short amount of time, and I could see the passion they have for continuing to make a difference for children right in their own community.They have many needs at Everyday Kids and also in preparation for the farm. If you would like to donate or to learn more about Everyday Kids and Tree Top Kids go to www.treetopkids.net .