Primary Volunteer Leaders play a critical role at Serve-a-thon, managing a team of Volunteer Leaders at schools, parks, and agencies who in turn oversee groups of volunteers ranging from 30 up to 250 people. Fostering teamwork, ensuring a successful project and managing supplies are only a few of their responsibilities. So why become a Primary Leader? We asked a new member of the Serve-a-thon leader team for his story!

Ritesh Tipnis became a Chicago Cares Volunteer Leader Riteshthis past January, after clocking in more than 150 hours at our volunteer events. This will be his first year serving as a Primary Leader for Serve-a-thon, where he will be managing a team of three leaders and 40 volunteers at Mary Hartwell Apartments on Saturday, June 15.

Chicago Cares: Ritesh, how long have you been involved with Chicago Cares? What was your first experience as a volunteer?

Ritesh: I have been volunteering with Chicago Cares since September 2012. The very first project that I attended was ‘What’s The Word’ at Lakeview Nursing & Rehabilitation Center. I can still recall how apprehensive I was that evening, as I first walked in, not sure if I would be up to the task. But as the evening progressed, I realized that it was one of the most enjoyable things I had done since moving to Chicago. I owe that to the Chicago Cares Volunteer Leader and the residents who participate in this activity. They welcomed me in their circle and made sure I was involved. I have served more than 150 hours with Chicago Cares since then, but it remains one of my favorite programs and I suspect it always will.

Chicago Cares: Moving from the role of a Volunteer to a Volunteer Leader represents a change; what was the transition like for you?

Ritesh: Seamless. I have been fortunate to serve alongside some outstanding Leaders who not only make the project enjoyable for the clients, but also for the volunteers. At the same time, they educate the volunteers about the need and the clients. I have learned a lot by just observing and my respect for them keeps growing.  When I see someone like Leader Wilson Chow do what he does, it not only inspires, but energizes me. I have tried to use all of this knowledge to function as a better Leader.

I have always believed that one does not have to hold a title to be a Leader. Anyone can lead and everyone should. Leadership is by example, and in all of my projects, I have tried to ensure that the clients as well as my fellow volunteers have fun. It is a similar philosophy to when you actually carry the title of a Volunteer Leader.

Chicago Cares: What are some of the most challenging aspects of being a leader?

Ritesh: As a Leader you are representing the clients, the fellow volunteers, and also Chicago Cares. It is a huge responsibility to ensure that you succeed on each front.

Chicago Cares: So, do you think you will be able to apply your Chicago Cares leadership experience to other aspects of your life?

Ritesh: Why just leadership? I know that I am applying my Chicago Cares volunteering experience in other aspects of my life. Even though it may sound cliché, this experience has made me a better person. It has enhanced my sense of empathy, patience, and understanding. It has enabled me to explore skills I never knew I had. It has filled my life with wonder and truly made me believe in miracles. But most importantly, it has shown me how precious life is, not just your own, but others as well.

Chicago Cares: What advice or tips would you give to someone who is considering being a Chicago Cares Volunteer Leader?

Ritesh: I would start by reminding them that just as volunteering is not an obligation, it is also not a right. It is a privilege. No matter how many projects they may end up leading during their time with Chicago Cares, they should never lose sight of this fact. Our clients trust us and we owe it to them to give them and the project our 100 percent. A Leader has to not only ensure that for themselves, but also for the team of volunteers. The best way to do that is leading by example.

Chicago Cares: What are you excited about for Serve-a-thon this year?

Ritesh: I am excited for the project I am doing tonight; Serve-a-thon is still weeks away! But jokes aside, Serve-a-thon is our flagship event and to be a part of it is one of the highlights of my year. June 15 can’t come soon enough.

Think you have what it takes to be a volunteer leader with Chicago Cares for Serve-a-thon? Contact Elise Cochran to learn more.

Ritesh has logged more than 150 hours at 40-plus Chicago Cares projects throughout the city. Stay updated on all of his volunteer experiences by checking out his blog at:

Rich Jablonski is a coordinator of Corporate Volunteer Programs for Chicago Cares.