Once, I helped build a bridge.

By “helped,” I mean I stayed out of the way of some of the most wonderful, talented soldiers any lieutenant had ever been lucky enough to lead. It was 1996 and my unit was with the 1st Armored Division in Bosnia. We were there to build a bridge across the Sava River between Croatia and Bosnia, enforcing the Dayton Peace Accords and improving freedom of movement so that people could vote in local elections.

Everything went wrong, but in the end there was that bridge. It was pretty cool to look across the river and see what we had accomplished by working together. I have that same feeling today as I visit the schools where 5,000 volunteers donated their time and talents this past Saturday. It’s amazing what can be accomplished in just one day, by working together.

I see bright and inviting classrooms where there was once dirty, peeling paint and outdated color schemes. I see educational playground games that will be used by thousands of students when CPS institutes mandated recess next year. I see fresh gardens and serene landscaping that will welcome students and families into the school community. Today, over 15,000 Chicago Public School students will walk into their classrooms and wonder if elves or angels were there over the weekend.

Many of the schools you worked in this weekend have not seen fresh paint in over a decade. In these times of tight budgets, you can be sure that without your help, students and teachers would be returning to the same drab classrooms for years to come. Studies show that this type of physical improvement to schools actually increases student achievement. Take a moment and remember all that you accomplished in one Saturday. Imagine how many students will sit in that classroom, school or cafeteria over the next decade!

On behalf of thousands of students and hundreds of teachers, I want to thank you for taking time on a beautiful, sunny Saturday to help people that you will probably never meet, who may never be able to say it themselves.

As the Executive Director of Chicago Cares, I want to thank you for helping me build another bridge; a bridge that connects our perceptions with the realities that students face on a daily basis. Awareness and sensitivity to both the successes and challenges of our schools is a key factor in civic engagement. I hope that our work at Serve-a-thon not only met needs but also introduced you to the CPS system. I invite you to join Chicago Cares and continue serving these vital community hubs throughout the year, educating Chicagoans and creating advocates for the good work happening in our schools.

Today’s post is from Executive Director of Chicago Cares, Bridget Altenburg