It’s hard to believe, but Chicago Cares’ Serve-a-thon will celebrate its 20th anniversary this year on June 15. When I reflect back on the communities served and volunteers mobilized since 1994, I’m humbled by all that Chicago Cares—and those who have rallied with and around us—have been able to achieve.
This summer, our children need us more than ever. Many of the city’s neighborhoods have been challenged by violence, and these problems are often magnified in the summer when children no longer have the structure or support of their schools. While many things need to be done to solve these challenges, volunteer service is central to the answer. That’s why Chicago Cares will leverage Serve-a-thon as a natural platform from which to launch expanded programming during the critical summer months and beyond—providing at-risk youth with a safe and structured learning environment, and Chicagoans at large with an outlet to come together and make a difference through action.
Information is forthcoming about all of the ways to get involved but, for now, I encourage you to take the first step by registering for the 20th Annual Chicago Cares Serve-a-thon, showing your commitment through action and financial support.
Together, let’s be the solution!Read Full Post | Make a Comment ( None so far )
This is the last blog post of the year and the gist of it is simple, so I’ll save you some time. We are asking that you make a special gift to Chicago Cares today! You’ve probably already heard a lot about I Care in the other emails you’ve received. In case you didn’t have an opportunity to read them all, I Care is not a hot new product from Apple, though we’d love to have that kind of exposure. I Care is an annual appeal for donations for the projects, programs and the organization you know and love: Chicago Cares.
If you’re reading this, chances are you have a relationship with Chicago Cares. Maybe you’re a faithful long-time volunteer or leader. You could be a loyal staff or board member. Maybe you just Googled “volunteer, Chicago” and you stumbled upon our website. No matter how you discovered this blog today, welcome!
As volunteers, we serve from the heart, but service costs time and money. Your donation to Chicago Cares is crucial and extends to people all over the community.
When you sign up for a volunteer project with Chicago Cares, you want to help – and we make it easy. Chicago Cares provides hundreds of books for children’s programs every week. If you pass a school and there’s a huge map of the United States on the playground, Chicago Cares probably provided the stencil, the paint, as well as the volunteers to get the project done. Maybe you’ve seen an overgrown, unruly garden on Friday that’s tame and beautiful on Saturday? Often, that’s the work of Chicago Cares volunteers. We pride ourselves on living our mission – mobilizing and inspiring people to make Chicago a stronger community. With the assistance of a robust corps of volunteers and leaders we can pull off unimaginable feats of service. Our staff takes pride in the projects we create and manage but we cannot do it without you.
So, return that terrible sweater or that useless kitchen gadget you received just a few days ago, and pay it forward to Chicago Cares. We want to say thank you for your hours of dedication throughout this year; our city and our fellow citizens truly appreciate it. As the year comes to a close and you’re thinking ahead to your goals and resolutions for 2013, please consider a donation to Chicago Cares today. It’s not too late to make a difference.
Senior Officer, Corporate RelationsRead Full Post | Make a Comment ( None so far )
It’s hard to put 2012 in perspective just a few days after 27 people were gunned down in Connecticut (including 20 six and seven year olds), not to mention the dozens of Chicago children killed by violence every year. We start to feel like violence is all around us. I’m sure I’m not the only parent who held my child a little tighter this weekend and wondered what kind of world I was leaving her. It is easy to feel helpless and hopeless when confronted with such evil.
But, every time I feel that hopelessness, I find that volunteering provides a sure remedy. Seeing our volunteers in action reminds me that there is so much good in the world. This Saturday a group of volunteers shepherded dozens of children through the Museum of Science and Industry’s Christmas Around the World exhibit. Others cooked breakfast and played bingo with low-income seniors. On Friday, a group from Discover made blankets for homeless shelters. All over the city, hundreds of volunteers came together in service this weekend.
Our volunteers do more than educate our children, reduce isolation and depression among seniors, feed the hungry and clean up our schools and parks. Every time you volunteer, you create community. And that community gets bigger and stronger every time you join a project. They and them become we and us.
We is a powerful word. WE make a difference. They sit at home and wonder why our schools are failing. We get off our butts and read to children from May Elementary in Austin, helping eight year olds learn to love reading. They look at a vacant lot and shake their fists at the trash. We gather together and turn emptiness into a learning garden like we did at Schmid Elementary in Pullman. They shake their heads at a senior citizen holding up the bus. We laugh and cry at senior breakfast, building friendship and community instead of isolation and depression.
As 2012 comes to an end, I thank all of you for your service to Chicago this year. I urge all of you to re-commit to volunteering in 2013 so we can continue to build a stronger Chicago.
Yours in service,
PS We always welcome your support as a volunteer AND as a donor. Please make a contribution to our work. Your $25 donation buys bingo prizes for senior breakfast club or art supplies for an after school program. Without your time and/or financial support, our programs simply would not exist for the over 270 community organizations we partner with every year.Read Full Post | Make a Comment ( None so far )
A magical evening filled with dancing, music, a photo booth, amazing food, and a rather large assortment of do-gooders. What more could you ask for? This year’s Cheers to Our Volunteers event took place on Monday, November 26th at the Four Seasons hotel. Every year we honor our amazing volunteer community, and we highlight and celebrate those who have gone above and beyond the call of service.
This year we had dozens of nominations. More than I have seen in the last three years that I have been involved with the planning of this event. All together, our nominees have given over 4,000 hours of service to Chicago Cares and our partner agencies. To put that into perspective, 4,000 hours is about 167 days or roughly five and a half months. During this time our nominees have fed the hungry, tutored children, created beautiful outdoor spaces, comforted the lonely, and so much more.
Out of those who were nominated, six were given awards. Winners we determined by a group of staff, past winners, and board members. This year’s winners were: Donna Caranto, Leader Star; Courtney McCormick, Volunteer Star; Ellen Newcomer, Ambassador Star; Chicago Urban League, Youth in Service Star; St. Leonard’s Ministries, Community Partner Star; and Discover Financial Services, Corporate Partner Star. To learn more about this year’s stars, watch our video that highlights the winners.
But this was not just a time to celebrate our Star Award winners and nominees. Every year we at Chicago Cares take one night to celebrate YOU! We celebrate our entire community. From the sites that we partner with, to the corporations and companies we work with, to the students we mentor, to the volunteers and leaders who assist us with fulfilling our mission of service. We celebrate you because it is you who inspires us to keep making Chicago a stronger community.
And for that we want to say thank you and CHEERS TO YOU!
A special thank you goes out to everyone who donated books during our Cheers to Our Volunteers book drive. If you would like to donate a book to support our new Read-with-Me programs, please check out our Amazon wishlist to see the list of requested books.Read Full Post | Make a Comment ( None so far )
Right before the first project of Life Stories of St. Stephen’s Terrace started, you could hear the group of seven lively seniors from outside the building. With the help of Rose Mabwa, our contact at St. Stephen’s Terrace, everyone settled down and we explained to the residents why we were meeting.
St. Stephen’s Terrace is a housing complex on the Near West Side that is now managed by The Community Builders (TCB), a non-profit organization that revitalizes large-scale distressed housing projects in an attempt to build a stronger community.[i] With locations all over the country, TCB plans, finances, develops, and operates high-quality affordable housing.[ii] As part of their new ownership, the entirety of St. Stephen’s Terrace is going through physical renovations during the next two years. St. Stephen’s Terrace has seen a lot of changes around their area, but no renovations have been done to this property in many years.
As St. Stephen’s Terrace undergoes construction, the senior residents have voiced concerns. Since there will be a lot of movement with the residents during construction, many residents feel that they will be giving up the homes they have had for years—even decades—and some seniors feel that they are now unsure of what their home is. Rose was adamant about providing the seniors with a way that they can share their concerns and talk about their lives at St. Stephen’s; Life Stories of St. Stephen’s Terrace was a result.
During the program, residents and volunteers work together to make scrapbooks of St. Stephen’s Terrace. The seven senior participants take photos of their homes, their neighborhood, and anything that they feel is an important part of their life at this facility. With the help of Chicago Cares volunteers, the seniors create scrapbooks of the photos that document these stories. Through this program, the senior residents are provided with a social and creative outlet where they can express their feelings and observations about the changes that are occurring; they will be able to reflect on the experiences they have had at St. Stephen’s and how the changes will affect their future at this facility.
As we had our first session of the project, the residents shared their memories of St. Stephen’s Terrace, and they discussed the transitions that they have been a part of. One resident, Ms. Miller*, has lived at St. Stephen’s Terrace since 1984, and over the past 28 years, she has memories of St. Stephen’s that she will never forget. “I remember when St. Stephen’s had a daycare. My grandson attended the school, and all the kids made hand-prints outside of the building’s front entrance. The hand-prints are still there today.”
Although Ms. Miller has positive memories of the facility, she also recalled memories that are not as encouraging. Ms. Miller and the other participants talked about the facility from when they first moved in to the state it is in now, and how it has dwindled. They discussed the transformation of the neighborhood, how their homes have reflected this, and how they hope it can get better. As one resident said at our program that day, “Just because I don’t have money, that doesn’t mean I can’t live nice.”
Life Stories gives our volunteers an opportunity to interact with our clients in a new way. Yes, the program started as a social outlet for the seniors, and as a way for them to discuss the changes that are happening to their home. However, this program provides Chicago Cares volunteers with a unique way to get to know our community partners, our clients, and a community area of Chicago that they might not interact with on a regular basis. Our programs are successful when volunteers can leave the program with new information, a new connection, or a new insight into an issue or community area that was once unfamiliar to them; that is what I have been doing at Life Stories, and I encourage you to do the same by signing up to volunteer at St. Stephen’s Terrace.
*Name changed for privacy reasons.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 )
Yesterday over lunch a few of us wrestled with, in a Harry Potter-like world, which of five magical powers we would like to have. Given the choices of super strength, invisibility, telepathy, shape shifting, or the ability to communicate with animals, I naturally chose super strength or telepathy (think Luke Cage or Charles Xavier).
Later yesterday evening as I sat in a Starbucks thinking through Frederick Douglass’ piece No Struggle No Progress for WBEZ’s community discussion series next week, I found myself reflecting back on my lunch hour conversation concerning which power I’d like to have. While I’m sure Frederick Douglass’ intent wasn’t to invoke my youthful yearnings to be Luke Cage, it was interesting to think through how I conceptualize power and community action.
I guess that brings me to my larger point: Each of us already possesses an incredible power, the power to change the world in countless immeasurable ways. Every day presents an opportunity to make a positive change in the world. In honor of those opportunities, every year communities and organizations all over the country celebrate Make a Difference Day. This special day celebrates the power and awesomeness of connecting people with opportunities to serve in order to increase the strength of communities and promote civic engagement.
In Chicago, you can celebrate Make a Difference Day on October 27 by volunteering your time at one of Chicago Cares’ projects throughout the city. And while Make a Difference Day only lasts a single day, our power to make a difference is always there. We can make a difference every day, whether it’s smiling at a youth on their way to school or volunteering at a Chicago Cares project. So I challenge you to continue making a difference far beyond this weekend. I challenge you to spend at least the next few weeks making a difference whenever you can.
Here are a few areas where you can Make a Difference!
Education: Join children build reading confidence, create fun art projects, and build excitement about learning at Read-with-Me at Brunson.
New readers are so excited to learn! Join these little readers at Story Time at CYP where you’ll help them learn about letters, sounds, songs and more! Art and Games at San Jose Obrero Mission is excited about November and ready to celebrate thanks! Work with young children as they create exciting art projects to share their thanks and decorate their homes.
Hunger and Homelessness: Lunch at Breakthrough Ministries, a housing facility that provides social services to men and women who are working to get back on their feet. You can also re-purpose old plastic grocery bags into sleeping mats for those in need with New Life for Old Bags.
Health and Wellness: Share your love of fall vegetables at Young Chefs at Young School, where you’ll teach kids about healthy fall vegetables and tasty treats.
Environment: Winter is coming, which means that many of our environmental projects need your help to get ready for the change of seasons! Volunteers at Nature Area Restoration – Rainbow Beach Dunes will be finishing up the season by planting native species throughout the dunes.
Senior Services: Totally Trivia at The Imperial- Enjoy this lively game of trivia with a group of nursing home residents! Volunteers will work with residents and they play for prizes and bragging rights! Give seniors their voice at this project at What’s the Word. Work with a group of nursing home residents as they assemble their quarterly newsletter!
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 )
On February 5th, Chicago Cares will start ongoing programs at Fuller Elementary. Our first new school in 2011! Fuller Elementary, located in Bronzeville, serves students K-8 and focuses on excellence for all.
“All children are capable of success, NO EXCEPTIONS!” says Principal Dr. Kennedy.
Along with Dr. Kennedy and new assistant principal Ms. Block, the faculty and family members are thrilled to have Chicago Cares provide opportunities for their students beyond the regular school day. Already thinking ahead, Ms. Block can only imagine how great this partnership can be; she already has plans to serve not only her students but their family members this fall. Between Dr. Kennedy’s long history at Fuller and Ms. Block’s enthusiasm in her first year, we could not be more thrilled at the possibilities. Being welcomed into the Fuller family is both a privilege and an honor!
Not only are we rolling out a new school, but also an all new program called Explore Chicago! This program uses Chicago’s colorful history, culture, politics, and arts to build student’s reading, writing, and artistic abilities. Explore Chicago will get students out of the normal classroom setting and will help them learn through experience. Whether you’re new to the city or a life-long resident, Explore Chicago is a fantastic way to learn and share stories about Sweet Home Chicago. And less we forget, a volunteer favorite, Fuller Sports League will also begin in early February. Athletic skills not needed, just the ability to model good sportsmanship and have fun! Whether you’re new to volunteering or a seasoned pro, Fuller is the perfect site to be involved. “Fuller goes that extra mile” and you should, too. Come see for yourself on February 5th…and who knows, you may just become an honorary Fuller Falcon!
To sign up for one of these programs, please click on the appropriate link:
(Explore Chicago! at Fuller and Fuller Sports League kick-off at 9:50 AM on February 5th, just a few blocks from the Green Line and the 43rd Street Bus. Both programs are still searching for the perfect team coordinator to make the programs soar; to learn more about volunteer and leader opportunities visit our website at www.chicagocares.org.)Read Full Post | Make a Comment ( None so far )