To staff members, Serve-a-thon means a lot of different things: long hours, lack of sleep, setting aside our usual projects to count banners or print name tags; but mostly Serve-a-thon reminds each of us why we do what we do.

Pride cannot begin to describe the feeling that we are experiencing after our 18th Annual Serve-a-thon. While it’s true that the work is hard, there are few things as rewarding as knowing that your efforts will be increased exponentially when thousands of volunteers show up to take the baton and run with it. Seeing site representatives, sponsors and volunteers honor our efforts by giving so much of themselves to impact the lives of over 18,000 students was truly inspiring.

You have given us the priceless gift of affirmation. Your service embodies a belief that we hold dear; the work of a few can impact the lives of many. It is with full hearts that we will continue to meet even more of Chicago’s critical needs with our city’s greatest resource: YOU!

People are the Answer. Volunteer.

Below are just a few reflections from our staff as they recall their favorite moments of Serve-a-thon 2011:

Martha (Education Coordinator): I was so glad to be working the food and drink table in the afternoon at Serve-a-thon because I saw the buses dropping off and volunteers walking in. Seeing mass amounts of people flow into the plaza, many covered in paint, gave me a wonderful visual of how large our impact was and how many Chicagoans dedicated an entire Saturday to improving Chicago schools. Seeing the enthusiasm of volunteers is definitely the best part of my job.

Kris (Associate Executive Director): For me, Serve-a-thon is a chance to see what each of us is made of, at our heart.  Serve-a-thon is the entire team coming together wanting to do our very best for the volunteers, for the schools and kids and for each other. It is a humbling day to serve alongside the staff who assembled in the portico of Soldier Field on Saturday, and one that I am very appreciative of and moved to be a part of.

Jessica (Annual Events Coordinator): Hearing from principals, teachers, and volunteers about the impact we all made on Saturday. I especially enjoyed seeing pictures from the event on the live blog and Facebook!

Alisha (Senior Manger, Education): I was a “floater” for the day, so when the volunteers started coming back in waves, I welcomed them with some shouts and praises that included their team names: “Welcome back Chase volunteers!” and “Nice job Siemens!”  I began to realize that I couldn’t keep track of the thousands of volunteers by shirt color or group name.  It was incredible to see the diversity of individuals that came out to serve our schools!

Wendy (Senior Manager, Human Service): Greeting the volunteers as they got off their buses and hearing about what a great time they had at their projects.

Sid (Senior Manager, Development): I visited Parkman Elementary on the South Side and was very fortunate to have run into the principal and assistant principal of the school.  They showed me with pride the murals and projects that volunteers were completing, and spoke with heartfelt appreciation for the work that the volunteers and Chicago Cares was doing for their school. 

Chris (Coordinator, Volunteer and Leader Services): Being my first Serve-a-thon, I was blown away by the whole atmosphere. Seeing people with huge smiles on their faces automatically put a smile on my face! My most memorable moments were when I had the privilege of interviewing volunteers, sponsors, leaders and CPS site representatives. Speaking with the site representatives was a joy. They were ecstatic to have volunteers update their schools and improve the learning environments of their students.

Peggy (Accountant): I thought it was amazing to see so many people from so many cultures to come together to assist CPS in improving their schools!

Joyce (Manager, Youth in Service) and Don (Senior Manager, HR): At the beer tent, we had a volunteer who very vocally expressed his thanks to all the volunteers at the schools.  He was one of the first people who volunteers saw as they walked in, and he cheered everybody on and told everyone (who was over 21) to get some beer and celebrate.  Many of the volunteers walked in with a huge smile on their faces because of him and I’m so happy he was there to tell them how much their work mattered!

Melody (Manger, Marketing & Communications): At one site I witnessed neighborhood kids who were so excited about their bright, new playground games, volunteers had to keep reminding them to wait until the paint dried before they started playing. It was powerful to see that something as simple as a four-square frame can bring so much joy!

Bridget (Executive Director): Having BBQ with a group of volunteer leaders after the projects, many of whom had been leading projects at Serve-a-thon for years and years. They spent so much time preparing for the day and then leading the actual work – I was humbled by their service to Chicago Cares and to their fellow volunteers.

You can serve almost any day of the year at