It is not just where your kid goes, but where every kid goes that makes a real difference in the future, in the community, in the city you live in, in the country you are from.
The first time I walked into a Chicago Public School was a Saturday morning after riding a school bus across town with 40 other Chicago Cares volunteers. We met at a coffee shop, then gathered on the bus, and rode through the vast diversity of Chicago’s neighborhoods towards McCormick Elementary School in Little Village.
When I got off the bus, I stepped onto the asphalt of the playground and noticed a US Map painted on the blacktop next to a World Map. The colors were bright, and kids were hoping from one state to the next, looking at the different countries, laughing. When they noticed us, they smiled and ran over to the volunteers to greet us.
In the classroom, a second grade class, we sat in the low tables, tiny chairs with construction paper and glue sticks, glitter and sand. We talked about Oceans, who lived in the Ocean, what was the water made out of? We talked about creatures and sand and we learned together about coral reefs. I told them about my Ocean, the Pacific, and how as a girl I would collect shells walking along the water’s edge.
We made our own oceans out of 2 liter bottles, water, sand and salt. There were smiles, and laughter, and glitter in our hair. They were happy. These kids, who come out every Saturday to discover their world with a group of equally committed adult volunteers.
That was in 1998. All those second graders have graduated High School and many moved on to College. Many of those volunteers are still going every Saturday to McCormick Elementary School to make a difference for the next set of second graders.
We do this. We do this every day, not not just Saturdays, and not just at McCormick.
We build community when we get involved. At the pantry. At the senior center. At the homeless shelter. At the Park. At the home for women and children fleeing domestic violence.
We build community when we pack a box of food for a family. We build it when we play bingo with a senior who is otherwise isolated. We build it when we work with an adult to create a resume and cover letter. We build it when we turn a lot into a garden, growing produce for the community. We build it by getting involved. By being a part of something larger. By forging a connection.
We build it through service.
On June 12, I will watch the sunrise over my city from the south side of Soldier Field. I will stop a moment from unloading boxes from the back of a truck or setting up computers in my tent to see the light hit the glass and reflect back off skyscrapers. I will drink in the way it makes Lake Michigan dance. And then I will continue to ant boxes, unload trucks, set up computers and get ready for the 6,000 Chicagoans who will join me that day in building a better city.
We will not only paint, landscape, organize libraries and create murals and mosaics at over 40 schools in one day, but we will raise money to make it possible to support communities across Chicago through service the other 364 days in the year.
If you can, think about coming out. Or sponsor me! Every dollar counts, and you know what? So does every hour.