At Chicago Cares, we talk a lot about “being the change”–mobilizing and inspiring people to make a difference through service. And, collectively, our volunteers usher this change. They cook warm, healthy meals for neighborhood shelters to serve the hungry. They provide seniors with a sense of companionship and community. They keep children engaged in their education in a safe environment well past the school day. They help prepare the unemployed to reenter the workforce. In the process, they make Chicago a stronger, more vibrant community.
Our volunteers are at the heart of Chicago Cares. And while it’s great motivation for them to be the change, it’s nice when there’s an opportunity to “see the change” and bring visibility to the important work they do.
ABC-7 recently aired a story that does just this. It highlights information about the breadth of Chicago Cares’ offerings, the resulting impact and the ease of volunteer engagement and mobilization. And, in the process, it shows several of our volunteers hard at work at the Senior Diners Club at Lidia Pucinska Apartments just last week.
This is a reminder of the significant impact our volunteers make on people, programs and the community. Thank you for your service!Read Full Post | Make a Comment ( None so far )
With Thanksgiving just around the corner, most people are making last minute grocery runs and anxiously awaiting the company of family and friends. However, throughout Woodlawn, neighborhood members had the opportunity to celebrate early as a community and Chicago Cares volunteers were there to help!
Last week volunteers assisted Living Room Café in prepping and cooking food for their Thanksgiving Community Meal. This annual event is an all day affair held on the Saturday before Thanksgiving, feeding over 350 community members throughout Woodlawn. Each year, Chicago Cares helps provide turkeys and hams as well as assisting with cooking mashed potatoes and mac & cheese, baking tasty treats, setting tables, and serving meals.
Volunteers helped make Thanksgiving at Living Room Café a grand occasion, filled with laughs, hugs, and plenty of amazing food. That’s the magic of Thanksgiving; it gives us an opportunity to, for just a day, press the pause button on our work life and just hang out and enjoy the company of our loved ones. But what if I told you we could experience that magic all year round? Our hunger program volunteers have been doing just that!
Hunger programs at Living Room Café and the rest of the community agencies we work with are about more than feeding people. They’re about doing so in an atmosphere of dignity, respect and community. Our projects at Living Room Cafe create a fun restaurant style space which, in addition to serving individuals affected by homelessness or poverty, fosters a larger sense of community and fellowship. Volunteers often find themselves coming back to Living Room Cafe outside of the projects with Chicago Cares to serve at neighborhood wide breakfast events and holiday specials, alongside some of the same individuals they were serving earlier in the month. Service strengthens community, and we all can serve; so we can all make Chicago a stronger community.
The spirit of Living Room Café and Chicago Cares volunteers is felt all year long throughout the Woodlawn community. Every first and third Saturday Chicago Cares volunteers cook and serve breakfast for 30-40 community members, in addition to cooking and serving dinner every second Wednesday. Throughout 2012, Chicago Cares volunteers have dedicated nearly 2,500 hours towards meeting hunger needs in the Woodlawn community while serving nearly 1,500 meals.
A donation of $100 through our I Care campaign not only provides Living Room Cafe food to serve nearly 35 clients, it creates an opportunity to keep that holiday magic alive well past this winter. Please consider making a donation to Chicago Cares and helping our hunger programs grow.Read Full Post | Make a Comment ( None so far )
Innovation is one of the guiding values of Chicago Cares, which means that no matter how many projects we already have on the calendar, we’re always looking for new ways to engage volunteers in making a difference in Chicago. Whether it’s opening our calendar to expanded volunteer hours or figuring out ways for people to serve through their unique abilities and interests, we are committed to making volunteer service a natural part of the life of every Chicagoan.
One of the ways we’re accomplishing that goal is by creating new project models in our ongoing programs. Here are just a few of the freshly designed projects that we’re unveiling this summer and fall. Whether you’re new to our site or a seasoned Chicago Cares volunteer, we think these projects will help inspire you to make Chicago a stronger community!
If you’re a Pinterest Pro, this project is for you! Volunteers will meet at the Chicago Cares office and be given the names of different ingredients commonly distributed at local food pantries. Once the star ingredients are distributed, volunteers will use the time to find simple, healthy recipes that feature their listed ingredients. These recipes will then be distributed to guests as they receive their groceries at various pantry programs. When you sign up for Recipe Wranglers, you’re supporting healthy eating habits for individuals and families throughout the city who are facing the struggles of food insecurity on a daily basis. It’s also a great way to meet new people who share you’re interests in providing hunger relief in Chicago.
If Recipe Wranglers piques your interest but you’re worried about how to fit it into your schedule, check out Tasty Bytes! This virtual volunteer opportunity will allow you to participate wherever you are, whenever you are available! Just like Recipe Wranglers, volunteers will be given different ingredients and asked to find simple and healthy recipes for. After completing the recipes on their own, volunteers will send in the recipe slips to the volunteer leader. These recipes will then be distributed to clients as they receive their groceries at our various pantry programs. This program is completed on your own time and not at the date and time mentioned on the Chicago Cares calendar.
Get Up & Go
Too tired to volunteer after work? Then get your day off to a great start by volunteering AND exercising before you even walk into the office! At Get Up & Go, volunteers will run with residents from the Lakeview YMCA and Back on My Feet. Back on My Feet encourages residents of the Lakeview Y to run 3 times per week and offers financial literacy classes to the residents who attend multiple runs. This opportunity is open to runners of all skill levels (and walkers too), so whether this is your first run or you’re an experienced marathon runner, join us to promote physical and financial fitness with our neighbors who are rebuilding their lives, one step at a time!
Math Adventures / Reading Adventures
Each week is a new, fun-filled adventure with students from May Community Academy! Through creative activities, games and crafts, you’ll help build a strong foundation of literacy and math skills for kids in 1st – 4th grade. Volunteers are supporting the work of teachers and staff at May, providing positive role models, supporting social development and engaging students in a variety of learning styles.
You can find these and more than 200 other group volunteer projects each month on our project calendar!Read Full Post | Make a Comment ( None so far )
Finding the right volunteer opportunity usually comes down to something as simple as personality. Choosing a project that matches your interests and character traits will help you find a service opportunity that gives back to others and renews your energy in the process!
Here are a few suggestions to help you find the perfect summer project to fit your mood and interests:
You know that art is more than just a pretty picture. Use your gift to help others at programs like Therapeutic Art at Rainbow House or Arts & Eats at Hansberry Apartments. If you’re more of the performing type, check out Drama Club at Chicago House.
The Green Thumb
Summer in Chicago is the perfect time to practice your gardening skills! Whether you’re a horticulture pro at home or a wishful apartment dweller, dreaming of a plot of your own, you can get your gardening fix at Drake Gardens or the unique Garden in the Sky at Gary Comer Youth Center.
Your closet is already color coded and your pantry is freshly labeled, so take a break and show off your skills at Library Maintenance at Wentworth Elementary or by sorting clothes at the Bottomless Closet Clothing Drive.
No matter what your area of interest or personality, we’ve got over 200 volunteer opportunities every month to help you give back and feel great!Read Full Post | Make a Comment ( None so far )
Each year, the National Conference on Volunteering and Service (NCVS) convenes to celebrate and connect service organizations throughout the country and promote education on civic engagement and corporate volunteering. A key component to each conference is a service project that supports community initiatives in the host city. This year, we were thrilled to welcome NCVS to Chicago and collaborate with Points of Light and HandsOn Network for the 2012 service project, titled Seeds for Change.
Seeds for Change, in partnership with the Mayor’s Office and Chicago Public Schools, supports community gardens at Chicago Public Schools and increases access to healthy, fresh foods. Seeds for Change projects engaged students, parents, school administration and conference attendees in creating garden plots, planting seedlings, constructing greenhouses, benches and more.
In the northern corner of Pullman, in the neighborhood of Cottage Grove Heights, stands Schmid Elementary – or if you ask the staff and students, The “New” Schmid. Since August of 2011, a new administration has been working hard to transform the school, leaving behind challenges left by the school’s former leaders. Schmid faculty are committed to rebuilding the culture and climate of the school, starting with their five core values: respect, persistence, accountability, family, and integrity. As expectations have been raised, the discipline rate has plummeted. In previous years the suspension rate was over 50%, but has now dropped below 20% in less than one school year. Poverty is a major part of Schmid students’ lives, with 93.4% designated as low-income.
Volunteers created a garden space from start to finish, constructing raised beds, assembling a storage shed, mulching pathways, planting seedlings and painting garden-themed murals and signs to inspire and motivate students. Other outdoor improvements included completing general landscaping projects throughout the school grounds and painting plywood murals to welcome the community to the school.
University of Chicago Donoghue Charter School
Located on Chicago’s Near South side, the Oakland neighborhood is a mile-long strip hugging Chicago’s lakefront. Since the Great Migration during the early 20th century, the neighborhood has predominantly been home to African American families. The University of Chicago Donoghue Charter School serves as a valuable resource to the Oakland community, opening its doors outside of school hours for parents and community members to learn and grow alongside students.
Volunteers made an impact at Donoghue through a number of outdoor projects, dramatically improving the courtyard garden area with landscaping and planting to complement Donoghue’s Fresh Fruit and Veggie Program. Volunteer efforts provided space for students to enjoy newly added recess time and give faculty and parents a learning space worthy of the direction they are taking Donoghue.
Wendell Phillips High School
Wendell Phillips High School is located in the Bronzeville neighborhood of Chicago, just 3 miles south of McCormick Place. Bronzeville is not only a historic Chicago neighborhood, but one of the most notable African-American communities in the nation’s history. Founded in the late 1800s and known as the “Black Metropolis,” Bronzeville was at one point home to the city’s most prominent African-American politicians, artists, entrepreneurs, intellectuals and clergy. Wendell Phillips High School mirrors Bronzeville’s rich history and has represented opportunity for a large community, as for years it was the only high school that African-Americans were able to attend in Chicago. Today, Phillips High School continues to be a beacon of opportunity for the Bronzeville community. Offering a variety of classroom and hands-on curriculums such as the Junior Air Force ROTC, a sound engineering program and a student-led veggie farm; Wendell Phillips High School is working tirelessly to provide a learning environment that can fully address student needs.
Volunteers at Phillips had a profound impact on the school and surrounding community by aiding efforts to offer students opportunities to apply their knowledge and skills outside of the classroom through the development of a vegetable farm. Volunteers constructed tables and benches to improve the garden’s learning environment and students and faculty joined the volunteers, painting a variety of garden signs that can educate students and community members about gardening. These projects will help transform Wendell Phillips Veggie Farm into a welcoming place for the entire Bronzeville community.
On-site at the Conference
Following the NCVS opening plenary, all conference attendees had the opportunity to assemble seed packets, seedling and implementation guides to create hundreds of ”Seeds for Change community garden kits.” These kits will be distributed to 500 Chicago Public Schools across the city. By encouraging and supporting a garden in every school with Seeds of Change, volunteers help nourish the whole child and cultivate community connection.
Thank you to the thousands of NCVS volunteers who came to our city as strangers and are leaving as friends. We appreciate your time and dedication in helping us support the future leaders of Chicago!Read Full Post | Make a Comment ( 2 so far )
As Katniss, Peeta and the other tributes battle it out on the big screen today for the premiere of the Hunger Games, we’re reminded that issues of poverty, food insecurity and hunger aren’t just post-apocalyptic fictions, warning us of the future. These are very real issues that hundreds of thousands of Chicagoans must face each and every day.
Studies conducted by the Greater Chicago Food Depository estimate that over 777,000 individuals in Cook County live in poverty. As a result, many people skip meals or cut back on the quality or quantity of food they purchase for themselves and their families. Many families also have to make the difficult choice of choosing to buy food or pay for housing or medicine.
The GCFD Running on Empty report followed the nutritional habits of nearly 500 Cook County students over the course of 24 hours. According to their findings, 45% of the children missed a meal within that 24 hour period and less than 0.7% received the recommended daily allowance for all five food groups.
A study by Feeding America done in February 2010 took a look at food insecurity in America. It found that 30% of client households with seniors indicated that they have had to choose between food and medical care and 35% had to choose between food and paying for heat/utilities. The same study also found that 3.6 million older Americans live below the poverty level and 1.3 million were deemed food insecure.
By working with a wide variety of community partners, we are fighting hunger across Chicago. Our volunteers serve meals, sort and repackage donated food, use local food pantries to ‘shop’ for healthy groceries for people living with HIV/AIDS and tend the community gardens that grow organic, sustainable produce for people in need. When you volunteer at a hunger program, you make a real difference in the lives of men, women, children and seniors across Chicago.
So as you’re enjoying your popcorn, getting ready to be transported to Panem, please don’t forget the very real battle that hundreds of thousands of Chicagoans are facing every single day. Make time to volunteer at a hunger program, and may the odds be eternally in your favor.Read Full Post | Make a Comment ( None so far )
You’re invited to enjoy an evening of art and entertainment, all while helping our partners at Lakeview Pantry stock their shelves for those in need.
On Thursday, February 16, Chicago Cares will host a performance of Jack’s Precious Moment, the latest production from Will Act for Food (WAFF). Since its inception in 1997, WAFF has encouraged its artistic supporters to actively participate in fighting hunger by offering discounted tickets to patrons who donate non-perishable food items. Tickets are available online.
As our guest, you are invited to use the code 16CARES to receive a discounted admission of $13. At the door, you will be refunded $1 for each non-perishable food donation you bring; up to the full price of your ticket! (Click here for a list of Lakeview Pantry’s most needed food items.)
Following the performance there will be a small reception where audience members will have the opportunity to meet the cast and crew, learn more about the work of Chicago Cares and find out how they can help end hunger in Chicago. If you have questions about this event, please contact Melody Burton at ext. 171.
We hope to see you at the theater!
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 )
With Thanksgiving just a day away, most people are making last minute grocery runs and preparing for friends and family to come celebrate. Residents at Mercy Housing Lakefront and Living Room Café, however, had the opportunity to celebrate as a community early and Chicago Cares volunteers were there to help!
On November 17th, nine volunteers assisted in serving families at Mercy Housing Lakefront’s annual community Thanksgiving dinner. Each year Mercy Housing provides a delicious southern meal to residents at their community center, emphasizing the agencies’ mission to provide program-enriched housing for low-income families. This year, Chicago Cares volunteers were welcomed to help at the event, assisting with setting tables, serving meals, and playing with the children once dinner was over. Many of the children also asked volunteers to participate in their “I’m Thankful For…” tree, where colorful leaves noted that many were thankful for family, friends, good health, and a warm home. Residents left happy and full, and volunteers left wanting to come back to Mercy Housing again. In total, 18+ hours of volunteer hours were recorded and more than 100 people were served a fantastic meal.
Volunteers made that dinner smooth and easy for the staff and residents at Mercy Housing, but the opportunity for impact at this agency is even greater. Each Thursday evening Chicago Cares hosts ongoing education programs, supporting 20-30 children in their pursuit of academic excellence at Read-with-Me and Kids Create. Just one short hour each week provides individual attention and support, promoting positive attitudes towards learning and encouraging creativity. Over the course of a school year, almost 200 volunteers are needed to support these young children’s growth at 30+ project dates. The commitment of just one hour a week helps support the small staff at Mercy Housing as they work to improve their student’s grades and test scores, increase confidence and build self-esteem.
Last week volunteers assisted Living Room Café in prepping and cooking food for their annual Thanksgiving Community Meal. Living Room Café’s Annual Thanksgiving Meal is an all day affair held each Saturday before Thanksgiving, feeding nearly 350 low-income and homeless community members throughout the Woodlawn community. Chicago Cares volunteers cook and prep food for the dinner in shifts throughout the week leading up to the dinner.
Volunteers made the 19th a Saturday filled with fun, laughter, and delicious food in a laid back restaurant environment, where guests were able to enjoy a hearty meal and sparkling conversation with one another. The impact of Living Room Café and Chicago Cares volunteers is felt all year long throughout the Woodlawn community. Every 1st and 3rd Saturday Chicago Cares volunteers cook and serve breakfast for 25-30 community members that are homeless or at risk of becoming homeless, in addition to cooking and serving dinner every 2nd Wednesday. At each project, volunteers not only help meet hunger needs in Woodlawn, but do so in a respectful and dignified manner, serving community members in a restaurant style environment. Throughout 2011 Chicago Cares volunteers have dedicated 2,100 hours towards meeting hunger needs in the Woodlawn community while serving nearly 1,200 meals.
Today’s post is by Education Coordinator, Emily Collins and Human Service Senior Coordinator, Thomas Toney.Read Full Post | Make a Comment ( None so far )
When considering that November is Good Nutrition Month, as well as health awareness month for several diseases and causes, you might think that there’s an effort to reverse the bad eating habits associated with Thanksgiving. Despite the irony of a focus on healthy eating near the time when we actually celebrate by overeating, this month is the perfect time to volunteer with a child to help teach him or her the importance of making smart choices when it comes to diet and exercise.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), childhood obesity has more than tripled in the past 30 years in the United States. Additionally, most U.S. youth do not meet the recommended amounts of fruits, vegetables, and whole grains. Forty percent of the daily calories for children and adolescents are coming from added sugars and solid fats. Habits like these often carry into adulthood and can have serious consequences such as cardiovascular disease, high cholesterol, high blood pressure, and scores of other health problems.
The CDC also notes that children’s environments, such as their schools and communities, play an important role in their dietary behavior. Children need opportunities to learn about healthy eating in a supportive environment. That’s where you can make a difference.
Chicago Cares provides several opportunities for volunteers to help children make healthy choices about what they eat. At Healthy Start at Sherwood, Healthy Start at Bethel New Life, and Young Chefs at Young School; volunteers work with students to learn about nutrition and cook a healthy meal. At Cooking Adventures in Pilsen, parents participate in the learning and cooking as well. Volunteers collaborate with both parents and students to help cook a healthier version of a traditional recipe while sharing healthy lifestyle tips. At Girls’ Health & Wellness at LYDIA, teenage girls participate in exercises such as yoga or walking before preparing a light smoothie or trail mix snack.
Students are often apprehensive about trying new foods, such as spaghetti squash or pumpkin burgers, but once they try them, they can’t get enough! Children learn how to make their favorite foods, such as pizza, in a healthy way by substituting nutritional ingredients for those that are not-so-nutritious. They learn the importance of a nutritious meal and find out that eating healthy does not mean sacrificing delicious taste.
Come be a part of the learning (and taste some great food) at one of these programs!
Today’s blog is from Education Coordinator, Martha Renken
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