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Chicago Cares: 5,000 volunteers tackle projects at 23 schools

Fri, Jul 13, 2012

Volunteers helped prepare CPS sites for mandatory recess with new playground games

Charles N. Holden Elementary School in Bridgeport was the work of art for more than 250 volunteers among 5,000 in the annual Chicago Cares Serve-a-thon, June 9.

After a kickoff in Daley Plaza, participants in the one-day Serve-a-thon boarded buses for 24 sites, all of which serve 15,000 under-resourced Chicago students and their families, according to Melody Bur¬ton, Chicago Cares manager of marketing and communications. One of the sites was a YMCA in West Humboldt Park; the others were Chicago Public Schools.

Holden, located at 1104 W. 31st St., has a student population that is 94 percent low-income. Its 601 students are 70 percent Hispanic, 11.9 percent Asian, 9.4 percent white and six percent black. Nearly 3 out of 4 of them (73.5 percent) meet or exceed state test scores.

Holden gained four large murals on the east and west sides of its pre-school building. Chicago Cares had earlier recruited muralist Chris Kowalski to collaborate with the school to create a design that would reflect its neighborhood and school values, Burton said. The Serve-a-thon also included a summer Olympics-style field day for students and volunteers.

“Unfortunately, we do not have a large flow of money coming into our school due to the tight budget of CPS so for our school and community to benefit from something as amazing as Chicago Cares is phenomenal,” Assistant Principal Robert M. Lazers said in an email.

“Our school has not had freshly painted walls in years,”Lazers added. “The classrooms will look updated, murals will decorate the halls and our kindergarten building will receive a cosmetic facelift. These gestures by Chicago Cares inspire our students because they know that perfect strangers care for them. The community of our school has commented on how amazed they are that so many people would come together and help beautify their neighborhood by landscaping around the school. We’ve been lucky to have Chicago Cares make the environment more conducive and rich for our students, which makes the academic part of teaching more successful.”

“As an individual, the experience is always transcendental,” said volunteer Steve Kuehn of Siemens Infrastructure & Cities. “Meaning we go in feeling we think we are doing a good thing and then, when we leave, we know we have made a tangible difference, accomplishing quite a lot and really making a big and positive impact on Chicago Public School kids’ lives. It’s been that way personally for me as well.”
Serve-a-thon is Chicago Cares’ largest fundraiser. Money from its corporate sponsorships and individual donations makes it possible to create, manage, and lead 200 volunteer projects each month.

Since 1991 Chicago Cares volunteers have completed more than 1.1 million hours of service on 25,000 group projects. In addition to monthly projects, there are opportunities for city-wide service such as the annual June Serve-a-thon and the Cel-ebration of Service each January to honor Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Volunteers can include members of corporations, families and youth. There are also opportunities for new college graduates or

Ronald Meeks, StreetWise Editorial Intern

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