Shriners working to help children in need

GIBSON CITY — For the past 18 years, Eric Tjarks has been giving back to an organization that changed his life forever.

Almost four decades ago — when the 41-year-old Gibson City man was just 3 years old — Shriners International provided the surgery Tjarks needed to fix the “clubfeet” he was born with. Using his grandfather Ray Tjarks as his sponsor, the nonprofit group stepped up to fund Tjarks’ trip to the Shriners Hospital for Children in Chicago, along with the surgical operation he underwent there.

The operation gave Tjarks newfound confidence, in addition to improved physical mobility. It also gave him a sense of thankfulness for the Shriners, a brotherhood of men dedicated to providing care for children and families in need.

“The doctors and nurses basically corrected my feet, regardless of our family’s ability to pay,” Tjarks said. With the corrective surgery, he said, “it just gives you a lot of confidence to be who you are in the community.”

With a desire to give back, Tjarks eventually joined the Gibson City-based Corn Belt Shrine Club in 1999, and he now serves as the club’s secretary. Tjarks is also now a member of the board of governors for the Shriners Hospital for Children in Chicago — one of 20 Shriners hospitals in the U.S. and 22 in the world.

About Shriners hospitals
The Shriners opened their first hospital in 1922 in Shreveport, La., to help treat children inflicted with polio, Tjarks said.

“Then, once the vaccination for polio was developed, they moved on to orthopaedic treatments and other things,” Tjarks said.

The hospitals each have a specific area of focus, such as orthopaedic conditions, burn care, spinal cord injury rehabilitation, and cleft lip and palate reconstruction.

The Chicago hospital deals with all of those areas except for burn care.

Also, Tjarks said, “Nearby, we have one in St. Louis, which is an orthopaedic hospital, and then we have a burn hospital in Cincinnati.”

Back when Tjarks received his surgery in Chicago, children in need of care needed to be sponsored by a member of a Shrine club to receive free treatment at the hospital. But today, Tjarks said, that no longer is the case.

“Nowadays, you don’t need a sponsor to get care at one of our Shriners hospitals,” he said.

The hospitals are equipped with state-of-the-art EOS X-ray machines that are used to provide low-dose radiation treatments. There are also prosthetic labs that provide prosthetic arms and legs and braces for patients. There are motion-analysis labs, as well.

“And our St. Louis hospital has a floor dedicated to metabolic research,” Tjarks said.

Tjarks is proud of the direction that Shriners hospitals are headed. He noted that just recently, Charity Navigator, a charitable organization evaluator, awarded Shriners Hospitals for Children with its prestigious Four-Star Charity Award for its sound fiscal management and commitment to accountability and transparency. Only 25 percent of the evaluated charities received the award.

And that was the third time that Shriners Hospitals for Children received recognition in the past year for its philanthropy. Shriners Hospitals for Children was ranked the 91st largest charity in the world by The Chronicles of Philanthropy and the 53rd largest charity in the U.S. by Forbes magazine.

$40,000 raised last year
Tjarks is also proud of the work done by the Corn Belt Shrine Club. Tjarks noted that the club last year raised more than $40,000 for the Shrines hospitals in Chicago and St. Louis, using a variety of fundraisers to do so. The fundraisers included the club’s annual cash bash in Gibson City, the annual golf outing in conjunction with District 21 Illinois State Police and a 5K Run/Walk in Bloomington.

“Those are the big events that we raised the majority of that money from,” Tjarks said.

Tjarks, of course, hopes the club can raise even more funds this year, through a number of events on tap, including:

— A cash bash on April 22 at the Kruse Center in Gibson City. Tickets for the drawing are sold out, but the public is still welcome to attend the event, which will feature the band Triple Dog Dare performing from 8:30 p.m. to midnight. There is a $5 cover charge, and doors open at 8:30 p.m.

— The Illinois high school Shriners football game on June 17 at Illinois Wesleyan University in Bloomington. Gibson City-Melvin-Sibley High School football coach Mike Allen will lead the East squad in the game.

— A July 8 charity concert in downtown Gibson City featuring Brushville, a country music group based in Bloomington.

— The District 21 Illinois State Police golf outing on July 14 at Lakeview Country Club at Bayles Lake.

— The Shriners Golf Cart Poker Run on Aug. 12 in Gibson City.

— The annual Kids Day at Gibson City’s North Park on Aug. 20.

— The Snyder Shriner 5K Run/Walk on Oct. 21 in Bloomington.

Tjarks said sponsorship opportunities are available for all of the upcoming events. For more information about sponsorship opportunities or the events themselves, people can contact Tjarks at 217-781-2400 or

Club seeking more members
The Corn Belt Shrine Club is always looking for new members, Tjarks added. The club, chartered in the 1950s, has about 50 members today.

“In order to become a Shriner, you have to first be a Master Mason,” Tjarks said, meaning one has to petition to become a member of a Masonic Lodge. There are Masonic lodges in both Gibson City and Paxton, and Tjarks is a member of the Gibson City-based Lodge 733.

The club’s president is Shaun Adkins, while its vice president is Kevin Davis, its second vice president is Steve Sturm and its treasurer is Harry Groom.

For more information about the club, people can visit its Facebook page. For more information about Shriners Hospitals for Children, people can visit

Categories (3):News, Living, Social Services


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