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Non-Profit Spotlight: Chicago Cares

Thu, Mar 1, 2012

Abena Afriyie, a senior financial analyst for HSBC, is no stranger to volunteer work. As an active member of programs including INROADS, where she serves as a mentor for underserved minority youth, Afriyie recognizes the vital need for corporate and community leaders to volunteer time to service projects. But on January 14, in honor of Martin Luther King Day, Afriyie participated in a different type of service program.

The Chicago Cares: Celebration of Service brought more than 3,000 volunteers from some of Chicago’s largest corporations, including Target, Discover Card, HSBC, and many others, together with students from local high schools and colleges, for a day of mentoring, serving and acknowledging diversity across the city.

“When I was a teenager I was lucky enough to have mentoring,” said Afriyie. “If you’re in the position to help others, I think that is something important. Chicago Cares MLK Day of Caring was really using the theme from one of his quotes: ‘the time is always right to do what is right.’ It was a great opportunity to get involved and meet people.”
Volunteers started the day at Union Station, where Gov. Pat Quinn, US Sen. Dick Durbin (D-IL), Secretary of State Jesse White, and the keynote speaker, Manuel Scott, whose life story inspired the 2007 film, Freedom Writers, addressed the crowd and offered words of inspiration for the day of work.

Participants then shuttled into buses and were assigned to one of 41 different service sites across the city. The volunteers were not told which site they would be going to in advance. This way, professionals from various corporations and fields, along with students and future professionals, gained the opportunity to mingle and meet with new people during their service projects.

“I think that is pretty cool about MLK Day of Service – you sign up and you don’t find out until you get on the bus and they tell you where you’re going,” said Afriyie, who worked at the American Indian Center, putting together a World Fair for children to learn about different cultures. “Luckily I was assigned to a place that I wasn’t very familiar with, so it was an opportunity to learn something new for me.”

The Celebration of Service is only one of Chicago Care’s events each year, and serves as a primary fundraiser for the more than 215 ongoing volunteer programs offered each month through the nonprofit. Founded in 1991, Chicago Cares aims to organize and structure community partnerships that mobilize and respond to the human service, educational and environmental need of the city.

Essentially, Chicago Cares provides the link between shelters, schools, and nonprofit agencies in need of resources and the current and future professional and community leaders of the city that can provide those valuable resources.

“The projects completed at our shelters- especially the facilities repairs and remodeling – that took place during Saturday’s Celebration of Service would have taken Inner Voice months to fund, coordinate and accomplish,” said Bridgett Elliott, coordinator from The Inner Voice, a nonprofit shelter service providing programs and shelter for homeless.

The Chicago Cares: Celebration of Service illustrates how corporations and large-scale volunteer service events impact and advance the city. These partnerships provide vital resources and invaluable relationships. Yet reality dictates that this involvement cannot just occur once a year. Students, professionals, and local businesses with the time and resources, must contribute these valuable services on an ongoing and continued level of involvement. To get involved with Chicago Cares, visit http://www.chicagocares.org/ or call 312.780.0800.

Written by Ann Wanserski
StreetWise Editorial Intern

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