By Ariana Altiery 

In 2014, Brandon was working in retail and facing feelings of emptiness and that “something was really missing.” So he did what most of us do: He went to Google.

A quick search for volunteer opportunities led him to Chicago Cares. That day, everything began to change for Brandon. (Side note: How much stronger would Chicago be if this is what all people did when they were feeling empty and down!) It’s been over 2 years since that fateful Google search, and Brandon is now a well-known name at Chicago Cares. He won a Volunteer Star Award in 2016 and sometimes volunteers as often as 3 times a week at a variety of projects.

“I feel dramatically different about myself,” Brandon said. “I have purpose and people that rely on me.”

I recently saw this in action at Brandon’s favorite project, Young Scientists at McCormick. When the fifth graders were told they would be split into teams with volunteers, at least 3 kids looked directly at Brandon. One 11-year-old girl walked right up to the leader of the project and asked if she could be partnered with Brandon.

“He is funny and helpful and here every time, so I know him,” she said.

Brandon has a goal of becoming a volunteer leader as soon as he turns 21 and is eligible.

Brandon, now a student at a local college, is studying to be a special education teacher and currently works as an advocate for students with special needs. Even on his days off, he decides to work with children volunteering with Chicago Cares. Now that’s passion. He said he loves that he gets to work with and meet people from all over Chicago, and he has brought friends and family to volunteer and made new friends at projects.

Another volunteer told me that “Brandon takes the edge off when you are volunteering for the first time. He isn’t inhibited by fear or nerves and you feel that you don’t have to be either.”

“Whenever I realize that people are grateful for me, I am humbled,” Brandon said.