LATTE: a gift born out of one person's grief
For Sheri Zimmermann and her family, the news that the baby girl she was pregnant with could not live outside her womb due to anencephaly, was a life changing moment. For the next four months, Zimmermann was greeted in her daily life with well meaning-strangers asking normal questions, 'When is your baby due? Is it a boy or girl?' All of which she stoically and politely answered, knowing full well Grace would only live a few moments after her birth. Grace was born in 2002.
The journey for Sheri and her family included a lot of support offered by her friends and fellow parishioners from Faith Community Church.
"They were amazing," said Zimmermann. "The support was overwhelming and there were amazing bonds formed."
A couple of weeks after Grace's birth, Zimmermann realized that, while there was nothing formal about all the support and help given her family, there was probably a need for other women to form friendships and share life's moments, good and bad.
"I approached Lynne Bates after church and said we need to pray about this," said Zimmermann. After a couple months of praying and doing research on other women's ministries they came up with LATTE, an acronym for Ladies Achieving Togetherness Through Encouragement.
"We didn't want it to be formal," said Zimmerman. "We wanted it to be like walking into a good friend's living room."
The first meeting of LATTE was held in January 2003. It was a hit. Zimmermann and her fellow organizers spent the next several months planning and honing concepts.
In September of 2003 the group was officially launched, meeting the first Sunday of each month, September through May at 6:30 p.m. Today, they have between 60 and 150 volunteers at each meeting.
"Our church was behind us," said Zimmermann, who is credited with founding the organization and serving as its co-director.
"Sheri chose to direct her grief into giving back to the Lord," said Michele Arndt, who serves at co-director of LATTE with Terri Nanda.
"Women have enjoyed it," said Arndt. A prayer team takes on the anonymous requests each month. "There is a shared feeling of a communal ministry." LATTE also sponsors special events, brunches and panel topics.
The organization recently launched a unique Bible study program, which includes 16 groups of women from 10 different churches in the St. Croix Valley, and uses Lisa Whelchel's book "The Busy Mom's Guide to Bible Study." Whelchel, once a child star playing Blair on the television show the 'The Facts of Life,' went on to perform in movies and on stage. She homeschools her three children and earned a Grammy nomination for the Best Inspirational Album for her debut vocal album "All Because of You."
As a wrap up to the Bible study LATTE, along with Faith Community Church, is bringing Whelchel to Hudson, Feb. 27. (See below for more details.)
"We didn't want to make it about one church," said Arndt. "Too many people see religion as a club."
This was a way for LATTE to reach out beyond the four walls of their church.
"We just touched a need in our society," said Zimmermann. In the years since Zimmermann and Bates prayed about the need they knew existed, LATTE has come to offer a place for sharing stories of difficulty and hardship as well as thankfulness. Hundreds of women have over the years have gotten involved to make the experience comfortable and welcoming for regulars as well as newcomers.
"God has been made more personal," said Arndt.
Joining Arndt and Nanda, in overseeing LATTE, are Kristen Holmes as the secretary/treasurer, Sara Kessler who handles publicity and Anna Holter who serves as the hospitality chair person.
LATTE presents Lisa Whelchel, who starred as Blair in 'The Facts of Life.'