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From the Streets: People’s Gas draws 120 to Olive Branch Mission

Tue, Jun 12, 2012

The 15th annual Peoples Gas Commitment to Community Day on Saturday, April 28 drew a record number of people to the Olive Branch Mission, 6310 S. Claremont Ave. More than 120 employees, family members and friends (as well as 12 Chicago Public School students earning community service learning hours) spent the day painting, making minor repairs and landscaping the grounds of the Englewood shelter for women and children that started in 1867.

Brett C. Halsey has volunteered for three of the last four years; only surgery kept him away from the annual April event.

“You get a chance to talk to some of the bosses, to come together,” Halsey said, referring volunteers all the way up to the company president. “You’re serious about what you’re doing but you relax. There’s certain people who have skills that come in handy.” A 22-year employee, Halsey is a gas mechanic whose work includes gas line and meter installation and repair.

Halsey said he likes what he termed the “Christmas in April” experience of Commitment to Community Day. “It’s a little more doing something for people they can’t do for themselves. This time for homeless people – we saw them coming down to breakfast, it was the first time being there to see it. It made you feel good about what you are doing for people who really need it. We take everything for granted. You can’t do enough.”

Halsey painted basement sleep areas an eggshell color, hung bathroom curtains on sturdier rods and replaced ceiling light fixtures. “It makes it look cleaner and neater,” he said.

Patricia Bridges, corporate contributions representative for Peoples Gas, said Olive Branch was chosen as the recipient of the day’s volunteer service because it is both a nonsectarian homeless shelter and a food pantry, and so it fits the company’s giving mission. Peoples Gas found Olive Branch through its partnership with Rebuilding Together Metro Chicago, the local affiliate of a national organization that revitalizes low-income houses and communities. Together they visited five prospective sites in January.

“We select where we think we can give back the most,” Bridges said. Ahead of the event, Peoples Gas makes sure the site is sufficiently up to building code to be safe for volunteers. A tree was affecting the foundation at Olive Branch and so it was removed, for example. The utility also partnered with companies that donated both supplies and man hours: Rabine Paving, First Choice Landscaping, Meade Electric and C.J. Erickson Plumbing.

Peoples Gas carpenters built bathroom countertops that could withstand children sitting on them. New faucets and new power sources were also installed, undoing code violations of years ago that encouraged extension cord use. External stairs were replaced so there were no longer any trip hazards. The courtyard garden was spruced up as a spiritual haven where the women and children could reflect on their blessings, Bridges said.

During lunch, Walt Whitman and the Soul Children of Chicago gave the volunteers a preview of a song about Chicago that they would sing at the NATO conference.

The song reminded everyone that the event was really about children, Bridges said. “It was very touching, I don’t think there was a dry eye in the house.”

Written by: Suzanne Hanney
StreetWise Editor-In-Chief

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