The last few winter months are the perfect time to start planning for the launch of our many environmental programs. Each winter, we help put gardens to bed across the city. In the spring we get to help bring these beautiful spaces back to life as they continue to sustain thousands of Chicagoans by providing natural green spaces and much-needed food.
Community gardens have many benefits:
- It’ll help you connect with the community.
- Help provide fresh food to those in need.
- More access to healthy and nutritious food.
- Preserve green space in your neighborhood.
- You’ll get outdoors and enjoy some fresh air.
If you’ve been daydreaming of warmer days, perhaps this is the time when you should consider starting a community garden in your area! Our friends at Create the Good have put together a comprehensive fact sheet that can help you get started.
Of course you’re always welcome to come and help out at the many conservatories and local gardens that we work with at Chicago Cares. Beginning in March, you’ll see these programs blossom beyond what is offered during the winter, with wonderful opportunities to get outside and help others while enjoying all the beauty that Chicago has to offer!Read Full Post | Make a Comment ( None so far )
Make A Difference Day is celebrated annually on the fourth Saturday in October and connects people with opportunities to serve, increases the strength of communities and promotes civic engagement.
In Chicago, you can celebrate Make a Difference Day on October 22 by volunteering your time at one of more than 35 projects throughout the city. The Mayor’s Office is hosting a special Make a Difference Day event at Douglas Park, where volunteers will participate in environmental revitalization efforts and be treated to a complimentary lunch.
Of course, there are many wonderful service opportunities in Chicago, so here are a few areas where you can Make a Difference!
Education: Help chronically homeless adults build valuable job skills as a Math or English tutor at The Renaissance Collaborative. Or, work with younger students as they use fun, interactive games to practice building character and good citizenship at Henderson Elementary.
Hunger and Homelessness: Share a Meal at Interfaith House, a housing facility that provides quality respite care for ill or injured homeless adults. You can also increase your impact by volunteering at The Greater Chicago Food Depository, where in addition to providing on the ground service, volunteers earn $5.00 for every hour served, which is donated to other local food banks.
Health and Wellness: Groceryland South is a great place to make a difference if you love to shop! One of the four grocery centers across Chicago that cater to the specific dietary needs of people living with HIV, volunteers will be provided with a client grocery list and use the food pantry to shop for their items. Healthy Start is an interactive program that teaches healthy cooking techniques and kitchen safety to students in 6th-8th grade.
Environment: Winter is coming, which means that many of our environmental projects need your help to get ready for the change of seasons! Urban Gardens with Openlands provides volunteers with the opportunity to learn new skills as they help support community gardens throughout the city. While volunteers at Ginkgo Organic Gardens provide nonprofit organizations with fresh produce they might not otherwise be able to afford.
Senior Services: The Women’s Wellness and BINGO Group is an opportunity to have fun playing games with low-income seniors, while sharing important health information through lively discussions; October’s health topic is breast cancer.
We hope to see you this Saturday as we all work together to Make a Difference in Chicago!Read Full Post | Make a Comment ( None so far )
As the weather gets cooler in Chicago, outdoor work shifts to raking leaves, harvesting vegetables, and eventually shoveling snow. It’s also the time to give your garden some TLC by putting it to bed.
Putting a garden to bed refers to the work you do in the fall to make sure your garden is healthy and ready for growth in the spring. Chicago Cares community partner Openlands shares the following valuable information about how to put your garden to bed.
Draw a map
- Think about what worked well and what did not work well. Then you know what to plant and where to plant it next year.
- Move plants around each year so that nutrients stay balanced throughout your garden.
- Since annuals will not live over the winter it is best to pull them out of the ground completely, roots and all.
- By removing the annual plants you are also removing any bugs and diseased plants as well.
- Use everything you removed from the garden to build up your compost collection. Add in raked up leaves and kitchen vegetable scraps too.
- When the spring comes you’ll have compost ready to use.
- Contact Openlands at 312-427-6250 to get your own compost bin.
- Use your existing compost or purchase fertilizer and spread it over your garden.
- In the spring you can mix the fertilizer and compost in with the soil to provide nutrients for your new plants.
Steps to take for perennials (Perennials are plants that return year after year) :
- Remove dead and excess material from the plants.
- Add compost to the area around the plants
- You can dig up mature plants and divide them into multiple smaller plants.
- Then spread them around your garden and replant them or give them to a friend.
- Plant new perennials and spring flowering bulbs
If you don’t have a garden of your own join Chicago Cares at one of our last few outdoor environmental projects of the season. You’ll help put gardens to bed and make sure the areas are safe and secure for the long winter. Check out Urban Gardens with Openlands this Saturday, or on October 22.
You can also visit Gary Comer Youth Center’s rooftop garden and urban farm, Gingko Organic Gardens, Drake Gardens, Fulton Flower and Vegetable Gardens, Growing Station Garden, Newberry Elementary School’s garden, and Kilbourn Park Organic Greenhouse. Take advantage of the warm weather, visit our volunteer calendar and search for “Environment” projects now!
Today’s post is by Wendy Neuert, Director of Human Services and Community Service PartnershipsRead Full Post | Make a Comment ( 2 so far )
You’re ready to make a difference, but you’re not quite sure where to start. There are all sorts of wonderful organizations doing amazing things across the city, but which one is right for you? What if you haven’t ever volunteered anywhere before, would an organization still want you?
Have no fear, we are here to tell you that there are vibrant communities throughout the city of Chicago who are looking for people just like you, and getting involved isn’t as difficult as you might think!
1. Do What You Enjoy. Volunteering doesn’t have to be a chore, in fact, we think it should be the highlight of your week! Whether you’re interested in hanging out with students, helping to serve low-income seniors, building sustainable community gardens, or even volunteering with your pet; we’ve got a place for you. Volunteering can be hard work, but if you choose an activity that you enjoy, it can also be incredibly fulfilling.
2. Find a Friend. Serving together is a great way to meet new people. At Chicago Cares, we have special projects called, “Just for Starters.” These projects are specially designed for people who are new to the organization and maybe even new to Chicago. There is a trained leader on-site who will help you with every detail of the project and will also be able to answer your questions about Chicago Cares. Consider joining one of these, “Just for Starters” groups to meet other people who share your interest in service.
3. Don’t Give Up. It’s true, an uncomfortable experience can leave a bad taste in your mouth, and volunteering is no exception. Maybe you didn’t enjoy the activity, or maybe the leader wasn’t quite the right fit with your personality; whatever the reason, don’t give up! There are hundreds of projects available every month, which means you can experience serving with community organizations all around Chicago, without having to commit to just one. Don’t be afraid to take time to find the project, client, organization or leader that you love; it will be worth the wait.
Plenty of people regret that they didn’t do more, but have you ever met someone who wished that they had done less? Stop thinking about volunteering and get out there and do it!Read Full Post | Make a Comment ( None so far )
Tomorrow marks National Public Lands Day (NPLD), the nation’s largest, single-day volunteer event for public lands in the United States. While the scale of the event is large, the goals are simple:
Educate Americans about critical environmental and natural resource issues and the need for shared stewardship of these valued, irreplaceable lands
Build partnerships between the public sector and the local community based upon mutual interests in the enhancement and restoration of America’s public lands
Improve public lands for outdoor recreation, with volunteers assisting land managers in hands-on work
This year, NPLD has included a partnership with the Let’s Move initiative, helping parents find fun and creative ways to get kids active. Children need at least 60 minutes of active play each day, and one of the best ways to meet this goal is by playing outside.
Here are two simple ways that you and your family can take part in National Public Lands Day and enjoy the benefits of playing outside!
1. Volunteer at a NPLD site. We have six sites registered for National Public Lands Day, and there are many more across the country. Volunteering will include the physical labor of weeding, planting or removing trash, but it also has the added benefit of teaching your children the importance of giving back. Leading by example will not only help to build healthy exercise habits, but will also lay the foundation for good citizenship for the future.
The NPLD website has a fun list of 10 ways to get your kid active while celebrating NPLD day!
2. Go Enjoy a National Park. A great way to celebrate our nation’s public lands, is to get out there and enjoy it! On September 24, all National Parks are offering free entrance to celebrate NPLD. Tomorrow is also the Worldwide Day of Play, so getting out there to enjoy all the beauty our country has to offer makes perfect sense.
Remember, even if you can’t participate tomorrow; you can always find opportunities to volunteer and improve our environment at www.chicagocares.org.
Now, let’s go outside and play!Read Full Post | Make a Comment ( None so far )
Think you have to travel for hours to get in touch with nature? Think again. Visiting a natural environment can be simple, and doesn’t require extensive travel out west to Yellowstone or east to the Appalachians.
Illinois may be known as the Prairie State, but that doesn’t mean we don’t have our fair share of natural beauty. So whether you want to spend just a few hours on an autumn afternoon, or take off for a day trip, here are 5 great hikes you don’t want to miss!
1. Chain O’ Lakes Park is located in northwestern Illinois near the Wisconsin border, about 1 ½ hours from the city.
There are a variety of terrains available for hiking. The trails wind through Grass, Marie, and Nippersink Lakes, in addition to linking with the Fox River, which connects to 7 other lakes in the area. There are trails ranging from a ¼ mile for those with limited abilities, up to 8 miles for those who are looking for more of an extended hike. The grounds are generally made up of marshland and grassy hills left behind by the glaciers.
2. Starved Rock State Park is located in western Illinois, about 2 hours southwest of the city.
Starved Rock State Park is a change from the prairie land area of Chain O’ Lakes area. There are 18 canyons to explore throughout the park, and after a heavy rainfall there are numerous waterfalls to see. Native species include whitetail deer, bald eagles, otters, and herons.
3. Morton Arboretum in Lisle, about 30 minutes west of the city.
There are 9 miles of paved trails available for biking and 16 miles of manicured trails that will take you through prairies, marshes, and peaceful woodlands. Numerous paved paths, accessible for everyone, take you through a variety of places, including: a maze garden, lakes and rivers, and the Children’s garden.
4. Chicago Botanic Gardens in Glencoe, is located 30 minutes north of the city.
Looking for something a little closer to home? Check out the Chicago Botanic Gardens. This place is home to a variety of plants, with paved walkways making it a great trip for people of all abilities. The facility offers seasonal walks, so be sure to check out the autumn colors. There are 4 different natural areas and numerous gardens: Japanese, Rose, and Waterfall are just 3 of the gardens open for viewing.
5. Palos/Sag Valley Forest Preserve: Cap Sauers and Swallow Cliff Loop, located near Downer’s Grove, about 30 minutes west of the city.
One of the best features of this hike is near the end where there is a section that runs along the top of a ridge, known as an esker. There is also an 80- to 100-foot-high bluff known as Swallow Cliff, formed by the melting of a glacier about 12,000 years ago.
All of these places have one thing in common, they are all considered public lands. This means they are here for our use. They are used for everything from resource management (mining, drilling, and lumber), to wildlife refuge, recreational use, and to preserve untouched wilderness areas. Land management agencies work all across the country to protect and maintain these areas. Public lands don’t just consist of the national parks out west, they encompass all public land, including national, state, city, and non-park land. Many people don’t realize that the National Mall in Washington DC, which houses countless museums, is a national park!
September 24 is National Public Lands Day, the single largest volunteer event for public lands. This is the event’s 18th year and in that time, it has increased from just 700 volunteers to nearly 200,000. This is a day when people like you, come out and help maintain and protect the public lands. Worn hiking trails are repaired, invasive plant species are pulled, trash is picked up, and trees are planted. These are just a few of the tasks that are done to help keep our public lands safe. There are multiple projects open throughout Illinois, including 6 projects through Chicago Cares.
So whether you’re hitting the trails or spending the morning with a leisurely walk through a garden; take care of your public lands, so that each of us can continue to enjoy their beauty and benefit from all they have to offer!
Today’s post is by Service Events Coordinator, Violette Green.Read Full Post | Make a Comment ( None so far )
Today’s post is written by Kyle Mahoney, Human Service Coordinator
A nation of just over ten million – mostly farmers and service workers –Bolivia is preparing to pass a controversial new law, granting the earth protected status similar to that of human beings. “The Law of Mother Earth,” would grant nature eleven new rights including: the right to life and to exist; the right to clean air and water; the right to continue natural processes free from human interference; the right to balance; and the right to be free of genetic modification.
According to the UK’s Guardian, Bolivia’s vice president, Alvaro Garcia Linera, said that the law “Makes world history,” and that “It establishes a new relationship between man and nature, the harmony of which must be preserved as a guarantee of its regeneration.”
The law draws heavily from the indigenous Andean spiritual belief that all entities are equal in the eyes of Pachamama, a deity whose name literally translates to “Mother World.” The Guardian quoted Bolivia’s Foreign Minister as saying “Our grandparents taught us that we belong to a big family of plants and animals. We believe that everything in the planet forms part of a big family. We indigenous people can contribute to solving the energy, climate, food and financial crises with our values.”
With the launch of the Chicago Cares environmental season, I’ve been reflecting on the extraordinary implications of this codified deep ecology. Many of the comments I’ve seen on various news forums and social media sites say the same thing: this is nice, but it will never work. And perhaps they’re right. But isn’t it inspiring that a nation considered to be one of the least developed in the world is standing on the precipice of the most forward-thinking law humanity has seen in over 200 years? Isn’t it encouraging knowing that an entire nation is taking a long, hard look at its philosophical roots and truly putting those foundations into practice?
Every major paradigm shift has to start somewhere; so what if many of these rights will be virtually impossible to uphold? What Bolivia is really providing the world is moxie: they’re proving to everyone that you can put your money where your philosophical mouth is.
So what does this mean for us, a community of Chicagoans committed to making a difference? It means that even when a problem seems too great to solve, there is honor in working toward the answer. It means that the decisions of a few can impact the beliefs of many. And, most importantly, it reminds us that we’re each responsible for the impact that we make on the world around us. I think we can all learn from that.
Get involved in Chicago Cares environmental projects at
“It was 17 years ago this summer a group of volunteer growers and environmentalists approached us with a bold and exciting opportunity – organic produce for people living with AIDS,” recounts Lori Cannon, Co-Founder of Vital Bridges, an organization with a mission to help people impacted by HIV and AIDS to improve their health. “Knowing full well the challenge of being immune compromised, these terrific volunteers devised a program to grow nutritious and healthy fruits and vegetables for distribution to our clients all summer long.”
These volunteers were the founding members of Uptown’s Ginkgo Organic Gardens, whose goal was to turn the surplus produce of urban gardens into donations for local non-profits that otherwise couldn’t afford organic foods. Twice per week during the spring and summer, volunteers come together to plant, maintain, and harvest the nearly 1,500 pounds of fresh fruits, herbs, and vegetables that are donated annually to Vital Bridges – they even deliver the produce themselves using bicycle trailers.
When Lori calls being immune-compromised a “challenge,” she’s being modest: the dietary needs of a person living with HIV/AIDS are incredibly complex. The AIDS virus attacks T Helper cells, a type of white blood cell that provides direction to our B cells (those that actually produce antibodies and antigens). Numerous studies have shown a direct link between increased consumption of vitamins A, C, and E (“ACE”) and T Helper cell health and quantity; thus, harvesting ACE-packed produce for three hours at Ginkgo is like harvesting three more potential hours of good health for Vital Bridges’ clients.
Today, Vital Bridges is able to serve over 2,000 clients annually and the produce they receive from Ginkgo is a major factor in this outreach. “The families, clients, and care givers all delight in the magnificent selection and the gracious growers and volunteers: the passion and excitement grow with every harvest,” Cannon Says. “We consider ourselves so fortunate to be partners with this unique and important program –it’s proven to be one of the many life-lines needed to combat this dreaded disease.
Chicago Cares currently runs three programs with Vital Bridges year-round: Grocery Land South on the South side, Shopping on Lake on the West side, and Shopping on Broadway on the North side. Volunteers help in the pantry by “shopping” for and packaging the items clients select from the list of available goods. We bring volunteers to work in the gardens at Ginkgo on Saturday mornings April – October.
For more information about Vital Bridges visit www.vitalbridges.org. Information about Ginkgo Organic Gardens can be found at www.ginkgogardens.org or you can check out their blog at http://ginkgogardens.blogspot.com/. To volunteer with Chicago Cares at either location, please go to www.chicagocares.org/calendar and contact the Team Coordinator for your desired project date.Read Full Post | Make a Comment ( None so far )
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