It’s every potential employee’s worst nightmare: sitting down at an interview and hearing, “So I see you have a gap on your résumé. Can you explain that to me?” This was me, almost two years ago, when I first interviewed at Chicago Cares. I graduated from college when the economy wasn’t the greatest. My friends had jobs but I was struggling to get my foot in somewhere, anywhere. I spent most of the day at home with my roommate’s cat, applying to job after job “to whom it may concern.”
One day, I realized enough was enough. I needed to get out of the house and do something. I had seen a few flyers in the neighborhood advertising a food drive for a local pantry: Lakeview Pantry. I Google-d around to find out where it was and found that it was relatively close. The next day I walked in and was surprised at how small the place was. A nice elderly lady helped me inside and asked me if I needed food. I said I was just there to help out and she got me started right away. I was unloading boxes, sorting produce, packing bags… and I was there a whole day before I realized that this wasn’t Lakeview Pantry at all, but Common Pantry, a small site located in the back of a United Church of Christ. They distribute their food on Wednesdays and sort produce and donations on Tuesdays and Thursdays.
All of a sudden my week had structure. I had something to get out of bed for, and my pile of jobs to apply to began to look far less daunting. I was talking to people, and I was humbled by the stories of those receiving food. At first I thought I would be sneaky and try to work at Common Pantry, but I realized with only one full-time staff person (the executive director) that would never happen. I didn’t even really meet a lot of people to network with. But what did happen was that I was able to take a step back from my computer screen and endless e-mailing of résumés and cover letters… and have some perspective. I was able to realize that maybe I wanted to look harder for not just “any” job, but a job in a field that I cared about, like improving the quality of life for others. And I was definitely able to say something more than “catching up on my telenovelas” when the inevitable “what have you been doing during the gap on your résumé?” question came up.Read Full Post | Make a Comment ( None so far )
As part of our month-long service in honor of Dr. King, children at many Chicago Cares programs participated in special activities. These MLK special projects shared the legacy of Dr. King with a new generation and promoting the ideas of peace, freedom, and love. “I’ve never seen the students so engaged in a book or activity” community partner Whitney Nash at Mercy Housing shared. Together, children and volunteers read books, participated in discussions, created murals and “I Have a Dream” mobiles to honor Dr. King.
To many, the most meaningful part of the activities was learning what dreams these young children have: safe neighborhoods, clean parks, a college education, and an end to pollution, animal cruelty, and violence. Many children spoke with volunteers about ways to make peaceful change in their lives and share these beliefs with their friends, family, and neighbors. We can only hope that these children continue to follow their dreams!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 )
Each September, Discover Financial Services provides opportunities for its employees to make an impact in their community. This year, business units throughout the company participated in large-scale projects such as painting schools, constructing outdoor classrooms, landscaping residential campuses, hosting Kids’ Olympics for underserved students, and clearing and rejuvenating underused areas within nonprofits to allow them to expand programming. As in years past, Chicago Cares was privileged to partner with several Discover business units during Discover Cares month. We engaged over 1,000 volunteers in service to 15 different nonprofits and schools in the Chicagoland area. As part of their partnership with Chicago Cares, Discover volunteers dedicated 5,787 hours of service to those in need.
This year, Chicago Cares chose Discover Financial Services to receive our Corporate Star Award. Their commitment, drive, dedication and unwavering support inspire us. Please join us in congratulating their spirit of volunteerism!
We love working with Discover teams. Volunteering is at the heart of their corporate culture and it shows. They arrive on their days of service focused, results-oriented, and ready to work! Upon hearing it might rain the day of his team’s project, one volunteer leader spent the night before trying to figure out a way to secure the pergola his volunteers would be building without having to anchor it in the mud. A team from another business line brought their considerable (and apparently undisclosed) artistic skills to make one of the most beautiful MLK, Jr. murals we’ve ever seen. Yet another Discover employee brought our project model for fall-themed decorations at Lambs Farm to the next level by showing off his impressive technique with a jigsaw. Discover employees are a talented crew. What’s even more notable is their treatment of community service. They take it as seriously as they do their daily work.
Why would a company like Discover encourage its employees to forgo an entire day of productivity to spend it serving the needs of others? Their HR team may have seen studies showing that corporate volunteering develops teamwork, strengthens company loyalty, and improves morale. But Kimberly Cross, Senior Associate of Community Affairs at Discover, says it’s more than that. It’s what they do and who they are. Simply stated, “Volunteerism is one of our core values at Discover. We support volunteer initiatives that empower our employees to make a difference.” Could there be anything better than working for a company that encourages you to use your skills, energy, and talents to meet needs in our community?
If you work for Discover or another company that provides opportunities to volunteer with your colleagues – Congratulations! For others who are still working on it, here are words of advice from Ms. Cross: “Company engagement starts at the top. I would encourage others to get their CEO and other upper level management involved. This can set the tone for a volunteer initiative. Align your efforts with your company mission or focus. If possible, form a volunteer committee or identify key players in the organization that can assist you when executing the initiatives you would like to engage employees in. Use as many communication vehicles as possible to get the word out to employees. Identify a form of measurement so you can tie the results of your efforts back to the business.”
And if you need a partner in service to make things go smoothly, call us at Chicago Cares! We’ve been helping companies make a difference in Chicago for 20 years.
Written by Stacey Rago
Senior Officer, Corporate RelationsRead Full Post | Make a Comment ( None so far )
Chicago Cares is in the midst of our annual I Care campaign. It’s a time when we reflect on the amazing work you have helped us to accomplish and when we set our goals for our programs to continue to meet the needs of the community. As I analyze our impact data I am always amazed by what can be invested in our community in a year. It puts all of my experiences cooking breakfast for seniors, pulling weeds at a garden, leading a children’s activity, or the other projects I’ve attended this year into perspective. I have done so little compared to what we have done together. Your time, talents, passion, and compassion go a long way. With that said, the opportunities you have to serve your community through Chicago Cares wouldn’t be there without much-needed funding.
Today, I’m asking you to donate to Chicago Cares to support the programs you volunteer at or believe in. Here’s why:
So far in 2012…
• Volunteers have given positive one-on-one attention to children 9,260 times.
• Volunteer hours given at the Greater Chicago Food Depository have allowed partner organizations to purchase 43,000 pounds of additional food.
• 19,562 meals have been served to Chicagoans in need.
• There have been 14,350 visits made to seniors living in isolation.
• 989 adults received individualized attention in classroom settings with job skills, ESL coaching, tutoring, and more.
• 177,216 square feet have been landscaped at 7 neighborhood gardens, 4 nature area sanctuaries, 2 conservatories, and 2 parks.
• 635 murals have been painted and 86 mosaics created.
• 1,058 benches, bookcases, cubbies, planter boxes and more have been constructed.
• 475 classrooms and 86 hallways have been painted.
• 27,247 volunteer opportunities have been filled.
• And 87,662 volunteer hours have been served, which equals $1,872,460 worth of services donated to and invested in Chicago area schools and organizations.
What our school and organization partners have to say about it:
• 88% of partner organizations have increased the number of services they provide.
• 86% have increased the number of clients they’re able to serve.
• 94% have improved the quality of services they offer.
• 86% report that their projects wouldn’t get finished without Chicago Cares volunteers.
Wow. You have a lot to be proud of – and the year’s not even over yet!
I hope you’ll join me in taking this opportunity to be a part of making sure we can do this – and more – together again in 2013. None of this would be possible without both your time and the supplies and expertise provided by Chicago Cares. Your donation to the Chicago Cares I Care campaign will keep Chicago Cares programs going strong and allow you to stay invested in your community. Donate to your favorite area of service or to our general fund. Every dollar makes a difference.
I look forward to seeing you at a project soon.
Director of Ongoing Programs, Chicago Cares
Proudly invested in our community for nine years
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 )
My daughter Ella, 8, and I put on our fleece jackets, found our gloves and tools, and walked to our local community garden together. Ella was excited to be within the gates we walk past all the time. She had noticed all the activity there this summer, and seen a difference in our neighborhood since the blighted corner had become full of garden plots, tomato plants, and all sorts of vegetables along with bright garden ornaments through the Peterson Project.
In the garden is a plot tended by a grandfather with care. It has a big orange sign that says “Jake’s Garden” and all the produce goes to an area pantry. Ella ran to the sign and stood in front of it.
We met Jake on our block outside his grandparent’s house when they were barely one, and as one year olds tend to do, they immediately took to each other and began to play. We became friends with Jake’s parents, and the folks next door who had a daughter a few months younger, Isabel.
Year after year as the three of them grew together, the girls chased Jake down the street, sometimes took his toys, and always decided what game to play. When it was time for preschool, Ella and Jake walked together hand in hand to school. At Halloween, they would trick or treat; at Christmas, they stood next to each other in the school play; at Easter, they would exchange little gifts from the Easter Bunny, and they were always there to blow out the candles on each other’s birthday cakes.
Jake died in February after a yearlong battle with brain cancer.
Jake’s Garden is a way for his family to heal and to honor him through service.
There were many months when my daughter could not talk about Jake without crying. There were more when she could, and then later as the day went on, she would get sad and that night we would talk and cry together. I told her, now the wound is fresh, and it hurts to think about Jake being gone, but someday you will remember your friend, not the pain, and thinking of him will warm your heart.
“Mom,” she said, “I don’t want anyone else to die.” Ella spent the summer raising money to fight childhood cancer by setting up a virtual lemonade shop. She had to do something, she said, for someone else’s Jake.
And Jake’s Grandfather Lenny too needed a way to give back, to heal, to watch something grow, to honor his grandson, the blonde boy, always a bit serious for his age, an old soul, funny, warm, caring, good. Lenny built Jake a garden and he tends it.
A few Saturdays ago at Vedgewater, Ella came ready to go fueled by cinnamon rolls and the idea that service matters, doing something matters. She weeded longer than I would have expected. She pulled the weeds around Jake’s garden bed and put them in a neat-for-her pile.
A professor from Loyola came by with his class to learn about community gardening from the Peterson Project. He approached us as we were tending the plot and in a solemn voice said “We just learned about Jake. I am so sorry; this is a wonderful way to honor him.”
“We are just volunteering here today,” I said. “This plot is tended by Jake’s Grandfather, Lenny. But this is my daughter Ella. Ella tell him about Jake.”
She looked up and smiled. “Jake was my very first friend. He was awesome. He let us boss him around and didn’t even get that mad. He liked to ride his bike, and Legos, and baseball and superheroes and all sorts of stuff. He had a car for a bed. I miss him.” Then she went back to weeding.
We often think of service as a nice thing to do, as part of our civic responsibility, as what we do to make sure our neck of the woods is a nice place to be, to ease the suffering of others. We show up with smiles, we dig in and get the work done. When we are finished we leave with a sense of accomplishment.
But sometimes, service heals more than those we serve, it heals us.
Lenny tending the garden helps him heal. He has a monument, a physical space to tend, to help grow, to place meaningful objects, like the White Sox garden gnome, that remind him of his grandson. The food from the plot will feed many families, and provide them with fresh produce that otherwise they would not have, Lenny is giving back in Jake’s honor.
Ella raised money because she knew she could draw comics, and the idea of being able to help another family, someone else’s very first friend, helped her heal. She drew over 40 drawings and small paintings and her lemonade stand raised $1,000 from folks across the country.
And on Saturday, she saw his garden, and she explored it, noticing all the things he loved, the colors orange and yellow, butterflies, his grandfather’s Golden Retriever, and she knelt down and began to weed. This was her friend, her loss, but now so many months later, she remembers the good, she remembers chasing him, she remembers riding bikes, she remembers trick or treat, she remembers standing side by side in the school play, and if asked, she doesn’t cry; she smiles.
Service heals. It gives us a way to do good, to put something positive into the world when we are faced with tragedy. It restores a sense of control of one’s life, of the world we live in when faced with the uncontrollable. It is a way to do something physical, to count an impact, to see a difference, to help ease another’s way and in that way our own burden is eased.
Service heals. And serving alongside my daughter healed me, as it healed her, and together we told people about not the death, not the disease that claimed him, not the tragedy, but the boy who rode down the block on his big wheel with Ella and Isabel close behind on their trikes across a sidewalk colored in their own creations.
Today’s post is written by Vice President, Programs, Kris Smart.Read Full Post | Make a Comment ( 2 so far )
Things are really heating up in Chicago, and recent reports suggest that this week is only going to get warmer. With temperatures hovering in the 90s and a heat index of over 100, residents across the city are already experiencing the toll that extreme heat takes on our day-to-day activities. Extreme temperatures are particularly hard on seniors and the very young, as well as under-resourced individuals who may not be able to afford air conditioning in their homes.
Below are 5 quick tips on how you can beat the heat and help others in the process:
- Take Care of Yourself. On an airplane you’re reminded to ‘put on your own mask before assisting others.’ This is sound advice for anyone looking to volunteer. It’s difficult to have the energy and ability to help others if you aren’t being taken care of yourself! Familiarize yourself with the Dos & Don’ts of heat wave safety and print off this handy checklist from the Red Cross. Be sure you’re drinking plenty of water and eat 5-6 small, high-protein meals throughout the day; even if you aren’t always feeling hungry.
- Won’t You Be My Neighbor? We all remember the song from Mr. Rogers, and there is no more important time to get to know your neighbors than in the midst of extreme weather. Check in with your neighbors, especially those that are elderly or have small children. Knock on doors to make sure that everyone is okay and consider bringing along a few bottles of water to share. If your neighbors do not have air conditioning, suggest a few local spots, like libraries, malls or bookstores where they may be able to cool down during the hottest parts of the day. If you feel comfortable, you may even offer to provide a ride to and from those locations, or consider inviting them over for lemonade or a family movie night.
- Go Green. Millions of air conditioners running at the same time can definitely put a strain on local energy carriers. Help avoid power outages by turning off the air conditioning in rooms with no one in them, switching off unused lights and appliances, and remember: fans cool people, not rooms.
- Simplify. Have some dusty fans or an older AC unit sitting in your basement? Call up your local shelters, nursing/care facilities or daycare centers; your trash might just be their treasure. Or, consider bringing that extra fan over to one of the neighbors you met when you were out doing your check-ins, you’ll make a new friend before you know it!
- Serve. Even in extreme heat, there are still meals to cook, children to teach and seniors to talk to. Many of our programs provide the ability for service workers to check-in with clients as they participate in the project, ensuring their safety and comfort. Indoor reading programs may offer under-resourced children their only chance to cool down during hot summer days.
Serving your community when they need it most is not only good citizenship, it’s also the best way to forget about the heat and enjoy a fulfilling summer!
Find volunteer opportunities that fit into your schedule at