Last week, an excited group of students stood on the freshly painted sidelines of their new soccer field. As they patiently waited for the ribbon cutting ceremony to begin, you could almost see the plans that they had for this expansive play area, a safe refuge in an often difficult neighborhood.
Columbia Explorers Academy is one of the jewels of the Brighton Park community. Columbia serves nearly one thousand students, pre-K through eighth grade. Around 97% of the students are Hispanic and nearly one-third are English Language Learners; just under 10% receive services for special education. Over 98% of the students are considered low-income. Despite these demographics, Columbia Explorers Academy has made huge strides toward success in the ten years it has been in operation.
Under the leadership of Principal Barrera, test scores have steadily risen and the school has become the preeminent location for Brighton Park families to send their children. Student awards pile up by the month, including a recent victory in a rain barrel design contest, multiple selections for the Do the Write Thing anti-violence writing project, and ticket art contest winners in an event held by the Kerry Wood Foundation. They have a renowned track team, winning the city championship five times in their ten-year history. They also partner with the Chicago Bulls and the Chicago White Sox for health programs and a Fatherhood essay contest, respectively.
Columbia must overcome daily challenges to maintain its success. Gang activity is prevalent and students – particularly older students – are pressured to participate. Because nearly all their students are low-income, the school works hard to provide them with the resources they need to be successful. It is the motivation for a safe and nurturing space that drives Principal Barrera and his staff to go the extra mile for their students. “This is an oasis,” says Mr. Barrera of the school property.
In July, during the hottest days of this sweltering Chicago summer, volunteers from Crown Imports spent two days working to create a community park for students at Columbia. They sealed crumbling pavement with fresh, smooth black top, painted line games and a much-anticipated soccer field, assembled new bleachers and created bright landscaping to welcome all members of the community to the park. In addition to all of the outdoor projects, Crown Imports volunteers also made aesthetic improvements with two mosaics, four canvas murals and five sports-themed silhouette wall murals.
Most of the students at Columbia Explorers Academy probably don’t comprehend what it took to make all of this happen. They can’t imagine the logistics that went into the planning, they don’t know what it’s like to seal black top in 100+ degree heat. These students aren’t aware that Crown Imports had to make a choice as to whether or not it was worth spending their time and money investing in the community.
All these students know is that this year, they have a fun, new place to play. A place that was created just for them by adults they don’t even know. A physical reminder that there are people in this city who care about them, who want them to be successful and believe that they are worth investing in. And in the end, isn’t that all they need to know?
To find out how your company can make a difference in Chicago, visit our Corporate Volunteer Programs page.Read Full Post | Make a Comment ( None so far )
“…every anniversary of this tragic day, we will remember. But, we will do more than that – at our best, our nation addresses challenges and tragedy not with a negative response, but with compassion, generosity and action.”
Chief Executive Officer, Points of Light Institute
While September 11, certainly doesn’t share the festive nature of the Fourth of July, it’s difficult to think of one without recalling the other; each event forever altering the course of the United States.
This year, Chicago Cares is choosing to commemorate September 11, with a Day of Service and Remembrance. This intimate event is designed to provide corporate volunteers the opportunity to step away from their usual work day and pay tribute to the victims, heroes, and all those who rose in service in response to the terrorist attacks that changed our nation.
The 9/11 Day of Service and Remembrance is a deeply community-focused event and will help meet critical needs in Chicago’s West Humboldt Park neighborhood. By engaging in volunteer service to our neighbors, we rekindle the spirit of unity that strengthened our nation during that dark time.
Volunteers will begin the day with an Opening Tribute at the Garfield Park Conservatory, featuring stories of remembrance as well as structured moments of silence in memory of those who lost their lives and to honor all those who continue to feel the impact of the events of 9/11.
Following the Opening Tribute, volunteers will get to know this diverse neighborhood as they walk to their project site. Working with a variety of community agencies and schools in the area, we will provide a wide array of interactive volunteer opportunities with residents of West Humboldt Park. The event will come to a close as we continue to celebrate the spirit of community with a neighborhood picnic lunch.
The 9/11 Day of Service and Remembrance is a unique event, specifically designed to take volunteers on a journey from remembrance to hope as we honor the past, look forward to the future and embrace the spirit of unity that defines our nation.
If you would like to find out more about how your company can participate in the 9/11 Day of Service and Remembrance, please contact Liz Allen at 312.780.0800 ext. 147.
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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 ( 3 so far )
In a place as large as Chicago, it’s easy to assume that the city is covered by concrete. With famous architecture, tourist attractions, and about 3 million people, a picture of Chicago is often painted around those main ideas.
What people don’t often think of, however, are the numerous green spaces around the city. Chicago Cares has various volunteer opportunities that work with urban community gardens, and one unique opportunity has been created through our partnership with Openlands and Neighborspace.
Neighborspace is an urban land trust that supports community gardens around the city. Working with Neighborspace is Openlands, a metropolitan conservation organization. Together, Openlands and Neighborspace work in over 80 community gardens around the city, providing local support to these independent green spaces.
The Urban Gardens with Openlands and Neighborspace program is the only environmental program at Chicago Cares that works in a new garden every month. One month you might be in Uptown, and spend the next month in Englewood; this truly allows volunteers to see the diverse gardens Chicago has to offer. At the projects, volunteers work with the specific community gardeners that maintain the site. Every garden has a different history, and the garden representatives serve as a great resource for this information, and are able to explain how the garden fits into the specific neighborhood. Building relationships with the site representatives and understanding how the specific garden works, are key touch points for the goal of the program: to have members of the community work in the garden and to ensure that it is sustainable.
At the projects, volunteers participate in the various aspects of gardening that range along a wide spectrum of activities; some include vegetable gardening, perennial maintenance, tree and shrub planting and pruning, composting and landscape sustainability. While participating in these activities, the volunteers are able to really learn the core work that Openlands and Neighborspace inspires, such as community building, sustainability and the development and preservation of open green spaces. By participating in the Neighborspace and Openlands volunteer opportunity, volunteers are really able to see this first hand through the various gardens that they attend.
If you would like to get more involved with this project, check out the next project in April, when we’ll be working at a community garden in Logan Square.
Today’s post is shared by Chicago Cares Coordinator, Aly Moser
and Chicago Cares volunteer and 20th Anniversary Host Committee Member, Ellen Newcomer.
As program coordinators at Chicago Cares, my coworkers and I often receive emails from volunteers who are interested in a particular volunteer project but are wondering if the neighborhood where the project is located is safe.
At Chicago Cares, we don’t deny that some neighborhoods have a better reputation than others. We do, however, encourage volunteers to step out of the neighborhoods they know and are accustomed to in order to volunteer where the need is. Our community partners count on Chicago Cares programs and volunteers to meet their needs, and we work very carefully to choose partner sites that are accessible by public transportation for volunteers without a car.
If you do sign up for a project in an area you’re unsure about, maybe because you read something about the neighborhood in the news or because your friend raised an eyebrow when you mentioned where you’ll be volunteering, consider taking some of the steps below to ensure that you’ll feel comfortable as you travel to the project site:
- Contact your volunteer leader before the project. Your leader can let you know the best way to get to a project if you don’t have a car, as well as suggest a place to park if you do have a car. Your volunteer leader might even let you know of an opportunity to carpool with another volunteer or meet in a central location to take the train together so you don’t have to travel to the site alone.
- Like anywhere in the city, be aware of your surroundings. In Chicago, it’s always a good idea to stay alert when walking in any neighborhood. That means pay attention to what’s going on around you, don’t text while you’re walking, and put away your iPod.
- Know that every neighborhood is a community. While it can be easy to deem an area a “bad neighborhood” and see only the negative, keep in mind that the clients you might work with at the project live here. This is where they go to school, go to work, and go about their daily lives, and those you meet on the street will more likely be kind and welcoming than anything else.
- Realize that unfamiliar doesn’t always mean unsafe. Take a few moments to learn something about the neighborhood where you’ll be volunteering. You may find out that what you thought was an unsafe neighborhood was actually just an unfamiliar one to you, and there may be much to learn about this area of Chicago.
Chicago Cares offers programs in a variety of locations in the city to accommodate volunteers’ various locations and schedules, but we hope that these tips have equipped you with the information you need to travel to a different area of the city to volunteer.
As staff members, getting to know the unique and beautiful attributes of the diverse neighborhoods within our city is one of the greatest perks our job provides. We hope that you can fall in love with ALL of Chicago through your service experiences!
Today’s post is by Education Coordinator, Martha Renken.Read Full Post | Make a Comment ( 1 so far )
Austin is the home of Columbus Park, a national landmark created by world-renown landscape architect Jens Jensen, and boasts beautiful, 1900s era mansions built by architects such as Frank Lloyd Wright. If amazing food is more your style, Austin is also home to a multitude of delicious soul food restaurants.
Despite all of these great treasures, much of the news we hear about Austin is negative. The neighborhood continues to go through transitions, and our current economy and unemployment rate aren’t helping. Austin, like many other communities across the country, struggles. However, local citizens, dedicated Chicago Cares leaders and volunteers are doing their part to make Austin a happy place for kids to live and learn.
Over the past 20 years, Chicago Cares has been partnering with public schools and local non-profits to create a “clustering”, or group, of programs serving students in the area. Community leaders at schools, churches, and other non-profits embrace the partnership and are quick to lend a hand. The tireless efforts of these leaders has fostered an ever-present positive attitude and fierce dedication to the area. By concentrating the Chicago Cares education programs to a small area of Austin, the impact is both focused and far-reaching. One education volunteer can impact a child, a family, a school, and a community.
In the north Austin area, Chicago Cares volunteers work with hundreds of students each month. We believe that these concentrated efforts will create a ripple effect of positive energy throughout the community. By providing a safe, positive environment of enrichment activities to local kids, we are able to create a small band of thoughtful students who, hopefully, will become conscientious and involved adults. These students go off to high schools across the city, motivating their fellow classmates to have a positive attitude about school and be involved in their community; our Chicago Cares students are agents of change, too. It’s the positive interactions these young students have with volunteers at Chicago Cares programs today that will plant the seed for tomorrow.
The art project you enjoy at Brunson Elementary encourages students to pursue their creative interests, possibly leading them down the path of other local artists and musicians like Lupe Fiasco; the book you read together at Mercy Housing teaches students they can be doctors, teachers, police officers, and astronauts. And who knows, you may be playing basketball at St. Joseph Services-San Miguel School or Young School with the next Derrick Rose.
Whatever you choose to do with these students, know that you’re not only impacting that one child, but you are showing hope and respect to the whole Austin community. Get involved and be the change.
Today’s post is from Education Coordinator, Emily Collins.Read Full Post | Make a Comment ( None so far )
Today’s post is from Chicago Cares Education Program Coordinator, Martha Renken
Chicago’s south side Englewood neighborhood has seen its fair share of abandonment. The area has lost nearly 20,000 residents in the last decade according to the Chicago Tribune, and vacant homes and lots abound. On top of dwindling residents, Englewood is consistently in the media, showcasing the kind of stories that create negative perceptions of this community for the rest of the city. While the media depicts the neighborhood as a dangerous place filled with empty lots and boarded up homes, most Chicagoans never get to see what I have seen; the many positive interactions and fully-engaged learning happening on a regular basis in Englewood schools.
At Henderson, Sherwood, and Guggenheim Elementary Schools, assistant principals arrive early on Saturday mornings to open the doors to students and Chicago Cares volunteers. School staff at these Englewood schools understand the importance of providing a place for students to participate in enriching, educational, and safe activities, and they welcome the support of volunteers.
Henderson Elementary has been hosting Chicago Cares education programs since 1996 and boasts one of the highest student attendance rates of all Chicago Cares’ partner schools. Students often arrive early to programs at Henderson, and many parents show their support by lending a hand as volunteers. Sherwood and Guggenheim are more recent Chicago Cares partners, with Guggenheim hosting their first programs just this past spring. At all three of these schools, volunteers are making an important impact on students’ learning.
Chicago Cares volunteers have the opportunity to impact Englewood students’ attitudes about their community and about learning. Saturday programs create a positive environment where learning is fun and residents from outside the Englewood community are excited to visit Englewood to give students more individualized attention. The positive interactions students have with volunteers at these programs demonstrate to the students that someone wants to invest in their community, in their school, and in their education.
Englewood projects are largely accessible by the Red Line for those taking public transportation and the Dan Ryan for those driving. If you are interested in carpooling to a program, contact the program’s team coordinator to find out if the option is available. Be part of the recognition of the Englewood neighborhood and show students that their community cares by signing up for a project at Guggenheim, Sherwood, or Henderson Elementary.Read Full Post | Make a Comment ( None so far )
Englewood came to life at a time when the rest of Chicago was literally blazing. After the Great Chicago Fire of 1871 destroyed much of the city, many residents moved to the outskirts of downtown, making Englewood the new home of many fleeing Chicagoans. Englewood quickly became the host of the Chicago Junction, a merge of several rail road lines that ferried goods and passengers to and from the city, as well as across the country. With such a quick and prosperous start to the new community area, Englewood was seen by many as the “it” spot of Chicago.
Soon after the railroads emerged in Englewood, the shops and markets arrived. In the 1920’s Englewood was the second busiest shopping district in Chicago, topped only by the loop itself. By the 1960’s, Englewood even boasted a pedestrian mall. However, the mall did not bring in the people, money, or neighborhood revitalization the community had hoped for. By 1980 the mall was abandoned and classified as a “failed project,” and for many of the shops it was too late to relocate. Although trains services were still in operation, a steady decrease of commuter train traffic sealed the fate of Englewood. A once fast-paced and highly desirable shopping location for so many turned into a desolate community lacking resources it needed to thrive.
In the late 90’s, Mayor Daley publicized a revitalization plan for Englewood. The plan, estimated to cost $256 million dollars, included a new police station, affordable housing for residents, and the multi-million dollar relocation of Kennedy-King College to the heart of Englewood. With the new plan in place and revenue coming into the community, the forsaken Englewood saw a glimmer of a brighter future. New businesses and nonprofits moved into the neighborhood, offering the residents greater economic stability, and more importantly, the services and programs that will help to foster community growth.
In late January of this year, Englewood found itself in the limelight yet again for a $133 million renovation plan to build the Englewood Flyover on Chicago’s South Side, a Chicago Region Environmental and Transportation Efficiency (CREATE) project. The project is expected to bring approximately 6,000 jobs to Englewood and surrounding communities.
However, many vital human services and community needs in the Englewood area still need to be met. In the past ten years Englewood has seen the benefits of the 1999 revitalization plan, with new parks, community gardens, and after school programs bringing life back to the community. Let’s not stop now! Chicago Cares and other nonprofits offer many programs to help rejuvenate and restore the Englewood community. Henderson, Hinton, and Sherwood schools are home to many after school and weekend programs offered to students through Chicago Cares. With the help of volunteers we are able to offer meaningful and dedicated programs for many of the under-resourced children of the Engelwood community.
If you would like more information on Chicago Cares programs in Englewood, or to learn how you can make an impact and be apart of the Chicago Cares presence in your community, e-mail email@example.com. You can also donate to help support our critical after school programs.Read Full Post | Make a Comment ( None so far )