Leadership Trainings Empower Parents to Enhance Their Lives, Families and Communities

Throughout parenthood, mothers and fathers often find themselves wishing for instructions on how to raise their children to be successful in school and in life. Though no such manual exists, some neighborhood organizations supported by United Way of Metro Chicago are providing parents with the next best tool – parent leadership programs.

“Parent leadership programs are a great way for parents to get to know each other and to get more involved in their community. It gives parents a voice and the confidence to speak up for their children and advocate for them within the school system and their communities,” said Jessica Lucas, a senior program manager with United Way of Metro Chicago. “It also affords parents the opportunity to build relationships and friendships throughout the community, which leads to more engaged, vibrant and safer communities.” 

We, at United Way, support parent leadership programs through our Neighborhood Network Initiative, a region-wide strategy to address community challenges by driving focused collaboration between coalitions of residents, schools, nonprofits, government officials, businesses and other stakeholders. 

In our West Chicago Neighborhood Network, WeGo Together for Kids teaches parents how to set and pursue personal and collective goals that can better themselves and their community.

Forty miles east, in our Brighton Park Neighborhood Network, the Brighton Park Neighborhood Council is training parents to work alongside teachers in local classrooms and play a more active role in their children’s education.

Though the two Neighborhood Networks take different approaches to parent leadership training, their outcomes are very much the same — parents are being empowered to enhance their lives, families and communities in bold, new ways.



West Chicago: Setting Personal, Collective Goals for Success


At District 33 schools in the suburbs of West Chicago, WeGo Together for Kids hosts a yearly leadership program that teaches parents how to set and achieve short- and long-term goals. The goals vary, but all are intended to improve not only the parents’ lives, but the lives of others engaged with the school.

“Our mission is really to work with the parents to build advocacy skills, to work on leadership opportunities and then find different committees or building bases in the schools or communities where the parents feel empowered and welcome to share their voice at the table,” said Ciara Thomas, community school coordinator for the district.

Some of the 15 parents who enroll in the program each year aim to learn English and develop the skills needed to help their children with their schoolwork, while others plan to obtain United States citizenship, return to school or adapt healthier lifestyles.

To achieve their goals, parents must put themselves first for a change. “[The program] kind of asks the parents to be selfish and really focus on themselves so they are fully in-tune with themselves and they can be leaders for their families and communities,” Ciara explained.

Ma. Elena Gonzalez

Once their goals are set, We Go Together for Kids’ leadership program provides a supportive environment for the parents as they pursue their next steps. 

For Ma. Elena Gonzalez, a mother of two, the program helped her build the confidence to pursue her goals and opened her mind to new ways of thinking. “What has impacted me the most is to know myself more – to know what I can do and what I can become,” Ma. Elena said. 

In her two years with the program, she’s accomplished one of her biggest goals – becoming a U.S. citizen. “I feel fulfilled as a person. I feel enthusiasm for myself that I managed to make this goal and that I can achieve more and go further,” Ma. Elena said.

Likewise, Maria Dolores, a mother of three who’s lived in West Chicago for 11 years, has learned the skills needed to pursue her own ambitions, like prioritizing her personal growth and improving her English speaking. Doing so required her to shift her habits. “I’m drawn to the idea that one always gives to the family and children first and then to oneself, and this program taught me to put myself first,” Maria said.

She also learned to divide her long-term goals into smaller goals that are less intimidating and more achievable in her day-to-day life and to rely more on her family for support. “I have taken several steps, some of them have worked and some of them have not. I have done a lot to create my time and my space,” Maria said. “For my English, I have been practicing more with my little boy and I have been practicing my pronunciation, which is hard…but I’m moving forward.”

Maria Dolores & family

The strong focus on personal goal-setting is the first six-week phase of the Community Organizing and Family Issues, or COFI, learning model used for the leadership program. In the second phase, the parents identify a community-wide goal and work together to achieve it. This helps develop the parents’ advocacy and leadership skills.

Last year, the parent cohort aimed to improve their children’s physical activity, so they created a weekly walking club for families and students to meet and be active together. The next cohort explored the health benefits of reducing children’s consumption of sugary drinks.

At the end of the school year, the parents, wanting to share their newfound knowledge with others, gathered 200 preschool moms on Mexican Mother’s Day in May to present their findings. “It was really cool to see them as leaders and have them present the material to other families, as opposed to school staff or an institution,” Ciara said. “[These lessons] are more impactful coming from a peer.”

Since graduating from the program, several parents have also gone on to sit on the school’s Resident Leadership team, helping with asset mapping and surveying other parents to learn how the school can better support their families’ needs.

For Ciara, who works closely with each cohort, witnessing the parents put their teachings into action has been a rewarding endeavor. “It’s exciting to see their growth and to see how parents really have the opportunity to decide where they want to go from here.”  

 

Brighton Park: Leading in the Classroom and Beyond

Luisa Valadez

Prior to last school year, Luisa Valadez, a seven-year resident of Brighton Park, spent her days as a housewife, caring for her three children and home. Some days when her older children returned from school and asked her how her day was, she became frustrated that she had little to share.

“Sometimes, I felt like I can do nothing. [What am I] here for? What can I do?” said Luisa, reflecting on the past. “And in the night, when the day is done, I didn’t do anything.”

After talking to a friend, Luisa was invited to join a parent-mentorship program that trained parents to work as a teachers’ aides in schools across the neighborhood. Though at first hesitant, Luisa opted to give it a try.

Facilitated by the Brighton Park Neighborhood Council (BPNC), the parent-mentorship program helps local parents prioritize their personal success, develop workplace skills and prepare them to volunteer in the classroom.

“The program helps you to be a little bit professional, with professional discipline. At the same time, you are learning and giving those tools to other parents, working in the school and helping the students,” said Beatriz Merlos, the parent organizer for BPNC.

Once the parents complete the training, they are placed in a classroom for two hours every day, Monday through Thursday. They’re tasked with setting up activities for the students, leading small groups and working one-on-one with students who need additional guidance.

Olga Diane Morales, a grandmother from the neighborhood, has worked at Burroughs Elementary School for three years. She relishes the bonds she’s developed with students, some of whom remember her from her first days in the school.  

“My favorite part of being a parent mentor is interacting with the kids, working with them. I’ve learned to have more patience…and I’ve learned to be trusted by the kids,” Olga said. “It feels so good because now I walk around the school and they’re like ‘Oh, Ms. Morales! How are you?”

Unsurprisingly, the program benefits more than the parents. The mentors’ presence creates a better environment for the teachers and students to learn and engage.

“There’s a lot of variables that contribute to student success — or lack of, in some cases — but having parents and teachers in there is huge,” Burroughs Elementary School Principal Richard Morris said.

“Parents and teachers working together is probably the best formula for student success,” he added. “Parents are lesson-planning with teachers, working with small groups of kids, working directly for the academic success of the kids in the classroom.”

Students who are dealing with issues outside the classroom especially benefit from the individualized attention the parent volunteers can provide. In their training and weekly Friday workshops, parents are taught to navigate students’ range of behaviors and personal traumas. “The kids feel less stressed because they’re [able to be] open with that parent with the situations they’re dealing with at school or at home,” Beatriz said.

Like West Chicago’s leadership program, Brighton Park’s program also encourages the parents to prioritize their personal success. It teaches them to plan and execute personal goals, such as adopting a healthier lifestyle, learning English or continuing their education.

Beatriz Merlos

Beatriz, who has coordinated the program since its launch in 2012, personally understands how the program can improve the lives of individuals and families by supporting the parents’ interests and success. 

“If you could hear me eight years ago, I wasn’t able to speak in English like I am in this moment. I never went to school to learn my English,” Beatriz said. “I learned my English because I put in a lot of effort to learn it. That’s why I’m very consistent to promote these programs because I’m an example of it [working].”

A stay-at-home mother for 17 years, Beatriz was required to look for a job and resources to support her family after a tragedy struck. BPNC’s leadership team began helping Beatriz, a volunteer with the organization, learn how to use computers and speak English. Eventually, they asked her to run the parent-mentorship program.

“I wanted to do something for my people,” Beatriz said. “Not to just be an example, but to be a guide to those parents who are like me and looking for opportunities to learn and make a difference.”

The program Beatriz and BPNC created, with support from United Way, has helped numerous parents, like Luisa and Olga, find opportunities to put their newfound skills and motivation to the test.

A year since her training, Luisa has seen great improvement in herself.  The parent leadership program not only raised her self-confidence, it’s motivated her to return to school to earn her GED.

“Mothers like me, we always think that we were made to be home, to clean the house, to make dinner, and do laundry. We don’t know all the things we can do,” Luisa said. “When this program came to my life, everything changed.”

At Annual March, Little Village Residents Call for Peace

On a crisp Autumn afternoon, Little Village residents and their allies, clad in purple t-shirts, weaved through their southwest Chicago neighborhood marching for peace and an end to domestic violence.

Hosted by the Marshall Square Resource Network (MSRN), participants of the 5th Annual Peace March sought to commemorate the lives of individuals who’ve been killed in acts of violence and unite neighbors on a peaceful front. The march is an extension of the Little Village Neighborhood Network’s goal to reduce violence in the neighborhood, which frequently experiences both domestic and community violence.

“Every October is Domestic Violence Awareness Month. The last five years, as a Network, we’ve decided to pay honor to that month,” said Jennifer Idrovo, the director of MSRN, a group of community agencies who’ve partnered with United Way to help meet the needs of residents on the east side of Chicago’s Little Village community, known as Marshall Square.

A recent study by Sinai Health System, one of the Neighborhood Network’s partners, found that one-third of individuals in South Lawndale, the larger region where Little Village and Marshall Square are located, have reported domestic partner violence. In addition, 78 percent have reported witnessing domestic violence, Jennifer said.

“We gather here in Marshall Square and we march around the community to let people know that domestic violence is an issue that is very focused on homes and families, but we want to make sure that we call attention to it in the community,” Jennifer added. “Violence affects everyone — their education, their health.”

Neighbors encourage peace

Carrying signs and chanting positive messages, dozens of residents joined the procession, including Ana Gonzalez, a 13-year resident of Little Village, and her young daughter.

“We want people to know that we are working together to show others it is possible to make peace,” Ana said, as the young girl scribbled away on her sign that read: “Pasos para la comunidad,” meaning “steps for the community” in Spanish.

One of her comrades in the march, Julian Zuzarte, works as a caseworker and translator at Taller de José, another United Way partner agency. Though he doesn’t live in Little Village, he works closely with its residents every day and cares deeply about their safety and prosperity.

“I think it’s a great way to bring everyone together, especially in a festive season, to let them know that these are daily occurrences of violence…and to have this event that is bilingual and brings people together in a city that is pretty segregated,” Julian said.

Accessing resources for care

As the sun set and the march dissolved, the group of peacemakers made their way to Apollos 2000 Theater, where leaders of the march organized a rally, complete with a buffet dinner, ornate alters to celebrate the lives of those lost to violence, speeches from residents and a resource fair for residents to learn about health, educational and violence prevention and response services.

“We want to make sure that we’re highlighting all the amazing things that are happening here in our community, so we have about 15 organizations that are at our rally talking about their youth programs, talking about their peace circles,” Jennifer said, standing alongside her colleague Maritza Guzman, another MSRN leader. “We want our residents to know about all the great things that already exist here in Marshall Square.”

 “We want you to know that if you are a victim of domestic violence, there are resources for you,” Maritza added. “You are not alone.”

If you or someone close to you is experiencing domestic violence and wishes to get help, please call the National Domestic Violence Hotline 1-800-799-SAFE (7233).

 

Building Blocks: Helping Chicago Youth Learn Life Skills with Legos

“Mr. G — I figured it out!” Courey Harris shouted, as a small car built from Legos and other mechanical parts sped along a large table scattered with colorful block structures.

Courey, a 7th grader at Charles P. Caldwell Middle School, is one of about 15 students who meet twice a week after school to build and program robots in the computer lab of Gary Comer Youth Center, a United Way community partner in Greater Grand Crossing. There, the group of fifth through eighth graders from the South Side Chicago neighborhood learn the building blocks of academic success — critical thinking and problem-solving skills.

On that Monday afternoon, Courey was determined to program his robot car to drive forward and lift its arm attachment. Using a desktop computer program, he created a sequence of motions to download to the robot’s computer.

Mr. Alex Guzinski, technology coordinator at Gary Comer Youth Center, gives instructions to Courey Harris to program his car.

Upon further inspection of Courey’s car, Mr. Alex Guzinski, the center’s technology coordinator, sent him back to the drawing board to tweak his programming. “You’re so close!” Mr. Guzinski said, encouraging Courey.

Robotics Club and Classes Teach Students Critical Skills

Upon arriving at the youth center after school, the students enjoy a snack and then shuffle upstairs to Mr. Guzinski’s basic robotics class, where they work on a range of projects, from robot building and coding to 3-D printing. 

Students especially interested in the program stay after class for Mr.Guzinski’s robotics club. Together, the teammates use a robotics kit of Legos, wires, motors and sensors to design, build and program a robot to compete in local and statewide competitions. The team’s robot must accomplish tasks on a mission map, a large table with structures made from Legos and other parts. To make that happen, the students program the robot to drive, lift, turn, spin and more.

“They’re getting a real boost in practicing problem solving,” Mr. Guzinski said of the skills students acquire in his robotics classes and club. “Something new students struggle with a lot is knowing how to go about solving a problem. Something will go wrong, and they’ll be like, ‘It’s broken. There’s nothing I can do.”

“A lot of what the students have to do is constantly figure out why this isn’t working,” he added. “‘What do we have to do? What do we have to change? What are the ways I have to think about solving this problem?’”

Ajani Clanton researched other designs to get inspiration for his team’s robot.

Last year, when the Gary Comer Youth Center team put their robot to the test, they made it to the state championships. The team, evenly made up of new and returning students, hopes to take home a win again at this year’s qualifying tournament in December. 

In addition to demonstrating their robot, the students will also present a research project about space and accomplish an activity that will require them to show off several core skills, like innovation, inclusion and teamwork.

Though they were at first reserved about sharing their newfound knowledge, the students are enthusiastic about the opportunity to build robots together and compete.

“I really like the fact that I get to build things. I don’t really use the computer at home because it’s old,” said Ajani Clanton, an 8th grader from Gary Comer Middle School, of having access to resources in the computer lab. He’s always taken an interest in engineering, as he looks up to his mom, a bridge inspector.

“You get to meet new people, and it’s fun to work together to create something new,” added Ja’mari Redwood, a 7th grader from Avalon Park Fine & Performing Arts School.

Youth Center Activities Launch Students Into the Future

Opened in 2006, Gary Comer Youth Center stands as a pillar in the South Side Chicago communities of Auburn Gresham, Greater Grand Crossing and South Shore. Nearly 450 students from local middle and high schools participate in classes after school every day until 6 p.m. 

Ja’mari Redwood picks Lego blocks to create an “Alpha Rex” robot during the after-school robotics class.

Activities ranging from culinary and visual arts to civics classes and sports programs expose youth to a range of new skills and opportunities, while providing a safe space for students to congregate until their parents finish the work day. 

Like Gary Comer Youth Center, we at United Way prioritize local students’ academic success. We believe every young person in every neighborhood should have access to high-quality middle school programs and after-school enrichment opportunities. By helping children build a strong foundation in education, we can ensure that kids have the skills to be successful in school and in life.

For Mr. Guzinski’s students, the lessons taught in robotics club aim to do just that. Their lessons in teamwork and problem-solving can be utilized in the students’ everyday lives and will serve as a springboard for their future success in the fields of science, technology, engineering and math. 

“[The program] gives them an inside look and head start into actual STEM-based careers,” Mr. Guzinski said. “They’re doing a lot of engineering and coding, but also a lot of research. And they’re following the engineering process, which can be applicable to other kinds of fields, as well.”

Students work to build their robot during the robotics club’s Monday meeting.

Nathan Randall, a 9th grader from Gary Comer College Prep, is a shining example.

Mr. Guzinski’s mentorship in the robotics program is preparing Nathan for his future career in video-game design, while providing him with a fun environment to learn.

“I really like the atmosphere here. Even though we act silly, we get work done,” Nathan said.

In 7th grade, Nathan joined Mr. Guzinski’s basic robotics class. Now, he’s returned to design a fantasy video game and help the younger students, like Courey.

While Nathan plugged away at his coding his game, Courey, still determined to make his robot move forward and lift its arm, sat across the room brainstorming how to correct his robot’s programming.

“Why is it turning?” he groaned loudly after another failed attempt. “I gotta figure it out!”

On his sixth try, he returned to the mission table with a grin. “Look! I did it, Mr. G. Look!” he exclaimed as the robot’s wheels squealed forward and its arm raised.

Mission accomplished.

Neighborhood Network Spotlight: Little Village

On a sunny afternoon in Little Village, the Marshall Square Resource Network Health Committee sat around a conference room table at the Esperanza Health Center discussing an empty lot by Hammond Elementary School. There were suggestions for a food garden, a space for zumba and yoga classes, the potential for a zen garden- anything to get students outside.

The childhood obesity rate in Little Village is a staggering 32 percent, almost double the national average. The roots of the problem are varied and compounded; poor eating habits, made worse by the high prices of healthy foods, coupled with a lack of safe outdoor spaces, set children up for a lifetime of health problems. With the help of United Way and their Neighborhood Network Initiative, Little Village is working to change the story.

The Marshall Square Resource Network was formed to connect organizations and partners around Little Village to “build the capacity of member agencies, create integrated solutions and organize for community change.” With the financial backing of United Way, MSRN is able to leverage the knowledge of their members, their community connections and their various resources to address a variety of issues, including childhood obesity, the neighborhood’s “bold goal.”

The members of the Health Committee, led by Sofia Mendez of Latinos Progresando, the lead agency for the Neighborhood Network, went around the room, exploring alternative ways to think about weight loss, adjusting their focus from numbers on a scale to healthy lifestyle choices. Instead of monitoring weight loss and counting pounds, committee members suggested asking how often residents go outside, take walks or are active throughout the day. They also discussed the creation of running and walking clubs at local schools, a place where students could not only exercise, but gain teamwork skills, achieve a goal and create bonds in the community in a safe environment. Another perk? Parents could lead the clubs, giving them leadership experience and providing them with training in trauma informed care- an approach that stresses the connections between behavioral issues and socioemotional issues, and provides children support from a place of patience and kindness. For the representatives at the table, harking from the Lincoln Park Zoo, Esperanza Health Centers, Latinos Progresando and other community organizations, it is necessary to work from an understanding that good health includes more than just the physical- emotional, psychological and mental wellness all are necessary to lead a healthy life.

But the issues in Little Village encompass more than just health; MSRN is dedicated to solving a range of problems, from safety to trauma support to education. The Peace Committee, composed of coalition members such as Sarah’s Inn, Taller de Jose and La Familia Unida, among others, formed to combat community and domestic violence and works to “reduce domestic violence in the Marshall Square Neighborhood, reduce the effects of domestic violence, cooperatively create procedures and strategies to serve victims and their children and to hold perpetrators accountable for their actions.” The committee sees domestic violence as a community problem, not an individual problem, and believes it is the job of the community to reach out to victims and safely extend support rather than wait for them to seek help. They recognize that a proactive and coordinated response to domestic violence is itself a form of crime prevention, and is a necessary step in ending the cycle of trauma.

The Marshall Square Resource Network is also working towards creating a safer and more prosperous community for all residents. OPEN Center for the Arts, located around the corner from Latinos Progresando, is a member of MSRN and an artistic hub for Marshall Square. Their mission is to “provide a space where all artists can come together to educate, showcase, refine, and develop their talents as well as support entrepreneurship opportunities in the arts while connecting their growth to the community.” In partnership with Latinos Progresando and in line with the mission of MSRN, the are also home to Teatro Americano, a theater company for local teens to write and perform stories about their own lives, as well as “inspire the people of [the] community to create art, enjoy art, and question and think critically about art.” In a neighborhood where 85 percent of the residents are Hispanic, the art featured at OPEN often reflects their Mexican heritage, celebrating the history and culture of the community. OPEN, and programs like Teatro Americano not only provide an opportunity to process the events taking place in the community through art, but also provide a space for safe, fun and engaging entertainment that improves the quality of life in Little Village.

For Mendez, these programs are part of her vision of success for MSRN. For the community, she envisions Marshall Square as a place where people feel safe, where schools perform at a high level and people are excited to visit, attracted by local cuisine, art and culture. For the organization, she hopes to strengthen and sustain the Marshall Square Resource Network, retaining talent, building on partnerships, increasing funding and growing to include any and all organizations dedicated to creating a better Little Village.

Blog submitted by: Elana Ross, Intern, Public Policy and Advocacy

The Young Leaders Society Commitment to Education

In2Books Blog_Erin

This year, United Way’s Young Leaders Society (YLS) has made on-going volunteerism their top priority. As a result, YLS has partnered with the In2Books program and a United Way partner agency AUSL to make a measurable impact this academic year. In2Books is a digital pen pal volunteer opportunity where each volunteer reads 5 books throughout an academic year with their pen pal and exchange discussion letters through a secure online inbox. Each book represents a different genre and is directly integrated into the class curriculum. YLS has brought this program into two Chicago Public Schools; one is National Teachers Elementary Academy where we have matched fifty-seven YLS volunteers in two fifth-grade classrooms. This particular school is on the Near South Side and serves a population that is over 83% low income. In total, YLS has mobilized 114 volunteers across Chicagoland to mentor 114 students in Chicago Public Schools.

My ePal, Arreon, wants to take after his grandma and work in a hospital someday or become an NBA star. Like any kid, he enjoys watching t.v. and playing games with his family. The first book all YLS volunteers read with their students is from the fiction genre. My student has chosen to read Donuthead by Sue Stauffacher. Donuthead is about a 5th-grade boy who struggles with everyday life for a number of reasons. For starters, his last name, Donuthead, makes him a target for bullies. He also suffers from Obsessive Compulsive Disorder and finds it very hard to make friends. This is a very real scenario for many students no matter their income. I am so glad I can help my student talk about bullying in our letters.

Studies have shown that the students who participate in the In2Books program perform higher on standardized tests than students who do no not participate in the program. YLS is doing their part to contribute to the LIVE UNITED 2020 community-impact plan through awareness, volunteerism, and fundraising. You can help us realize this vision by becoming a member, lending a hand to volunteer, or attending our annual Festivus event.

Submitted on behalf of Erin Kilburg, YLS Community Outreach Vice Chair

Bike to Work Week 2013

United Way staff getting prepared for Bike to Work Week 2013

United Way staff getting prepared for Bike to Work Week 2013

A little more than a year ago, commuting to work by bike seemed like a really great, healthy, money-saving, green idea-for other people, that is. But me actually biking downtown? That sounded, well, terrifying.

A year later, I now bike almost every day, to almost everywhere I go. I’m never quite sure which reason to name first when I’m asked why I bike -because it’s fun and fast, because I like to get out my door and go, because I automatically get my exercise in, because it’s free, etc. – but getting to this point was no small step for me.

Part of that feat was personally overcoming my fears, but there were some really helpful external factors too. Here at UWMC, I’ve enjoyed the support of my co-workers, and the thumbs-up and way-to-go’s gave me a lot of encouragement, especially when I first got started. UWMC’s involvement last year in the Bike Commuter Challenge provided space for me to learn more about biking to work, and connect with other like-minded folks-both the regular and the tentative/occasional bike-commuters. In fact, it was during the Bike Commuter Challenge week that I biked 5 workdays in a row for the first time-including a UW event in the Loop itself. I’d strolled around neighborhoods and I’d made it to our former office on the edge of the Loop, but heading into the heart of the Loop was my final biking frontier. (And now my fear hasn’t vanished just because of habit and skill– with more protected lanes in the Loop, it’s become way more bike-friendly!) And once I realized I could do it and felt good about it€¦ why stop?

Riding my bike, I feel healthier, and I’ve gotten to know my community in new and wonderful ways. I want to spread that great feeling, and I’m excited that UWMC is again participating in the Bike Commuter Challenge this year (June 8-14). Whether it’s one trek to work or a daily routine, get out on those two wheels and enjoy the Chicago summer!

Submitted on behalf of Shira Saliman, Manager of Community Investment Operations and Evaluation at United Way of Metropolitan Chicago. 

June Volunteer Action

This month United Ways across the country are making their mark by hosting volunteer events to help advance the building blocks of self-sufficiency: Education, Income and Health.

2013 marks the 6th annual United Way Day of Action and we are using this day to not just highlight a single month of action, but use it as a launching pad for ongoing engagement. If we can mobilize almost 700 volunteers in June alone, imagine the possibilities for Chicagoland year-round.

United Way of Metropolitan Chicago would like to show the community how some of Chicago’s corporate partners contribute to a larger network of volunteers across the country during this single month of action.

Thank you to Accenture,  American Agricultural Insurance Company, AT&T, BlueCross BlueShield, BMO Financial Group, Deloitte, Dow Chemical, Mesirow Financial, Nielsen, Northern Trust, Performics, True Value Company, and Zurich North America for lending their muscle this month. Below are descriptions of various projects supporting United Way Partner Agencies.

Education

Education_DOA

Early June, Mesirow Financial will beautify the grounds of Burroughs Elementary supporting United Way’s newly launched LIVE UNITED Neighborhood Network in Brighton Park. As a supporter of this initiative, Mesirow is further focusing its resources by targeting volunteer efforts here, creating a deeper and lasting impact.

On June 7, as part of their national volunteer day, Performics will partner with United Way to mobilize over 200 volunteers. They will participate in a variety of projects that support agencies that specialize in education programming and financial stability.

  • 30 volunteers will set up the Fun day for school-age youth (last day of programming); prepping for Summer Fun, landscaping, updating bulletin boards, etc with Chicago Youth Centers at their Elliott Donnelly Youth Center.
  • 150 volunteers will deep clean, paint, garden and tutor youth at three different YMCA locations across Chicagoland. These facilities host educational programming for youth after school and during the summer.
  • 30 volunteers will shelve books, audio disks, and work with adults and children who are blind or visually impaired at Chicago Lighthouse.

Saturday, June 8, United Way will send 25 volunteers from our Young Leaders Society to paint Marshall High School in a Chicago community of greatest need. These young philanthropic leaders are supporting education by ensuring children have a safe and clean environment to learn.

June 13, 25 Nielson volunteers will support children, teachers, and faculty through tutoring and various needs, including painting and administrative support, truly helping asses and meet a number of different needs this agency has in one day.

June 28, 40 Accenture volunteers will chaperon summer day camp at Youth Crossroads in Berwyn, playing games and leading educational workshops. This promotes active learning for youth over the summer.

Income

income_DOA

June 4, United Way has paired with American Agricultural Insurance Company to beautify Countryside Association’s exterior. Over the course of a few days, 15 volunteers will paint, mulch, and garden, helping support the financial stability work this agency does every day. Through their volunteer efforts, this new business is looking forward to building a strong relationship with United Way

June 5, United Way’s Young Leaders Society (YLS) is conducting mock interviews for Erie Neighborhood House for clients in their Workforce Development Program. This is the second time YLS has participated, prepping over 25 clients for permanent placement in the job market.

The week of June 5, BMO Financial Group will be mobilizing over 150 volunteers to support a United Way Partner Agency which helps its clients gain financial stability. Volunteers can participate in four different projects:

  • Volunteers will paint client counseling rooms to provide a welcoming environment.
  • Volunteers will collect, organize, sort, and deliver women’s professional clothes to empower them for upcoming job interviews.
  • Volunteers will assemble “Starter Kits” for domestic abuse survivor victims getting back on their feet.
  • Volunteers will conduct mock phone interviews to job seekers who use this agency’s Community Career Center. Each call lasts one hour, 30 minutes for a mock interview and another 30 minutes for interviewer feedback and suggestions.

June 6, As part of their Global Community Week, Zurich will run its second annual Volunteer Fest and Skillshare Summit in Schaumburg. A shining example of skills-based volunteering, non-profits are invited to attend various capacity building workshops run by Zurich employees. These include:

  • The Power of Networking,
  • The Recipe for Working with a Corporate Volunteer Group,
  • Navigating the World of Social Media,
  • Learning How to Plan for Today’s Talent Demands.

On June 21, Dow Chemical will partner with Chicago Lighthouse for the Blind and Visually Impaired; purchasing supplies for a project to complete with 20 volunteer and adult clients, helping ultimately build social skills necessary for every day life and career success.

Health

Health_DOA

On June 1, 8, 9, & 23, 40 BlueCross BlueShield volunteers will partner with United Way to support agencies with health programming. As a health insurance company, BlueCross BlueShield of Illinois sends the bulk of their employee volunteers to health-related agencies by serving and distributing food. Volunteers will:

  • Help distribute food items to community members in need at Loaves and Fishes.
  • Act as cooks and servers for clients at Living Room Cafe.
  • Act as cooks and servers for clients at Inspiration Cafe.
  • Help sort and distribute food to community members where there is little-to-no access to fresh produce.

June 6, 40 Deloitte volunteers will volunteer with United Way as part of their National Impact Day. This project will consist of outdoor beautification and landscaping at the McCormick Tribune YMCA. This United Way Partner Agency sits on a very large piece of property with lots of flower beds and areas requiring weeding, clean-out, and maintenance.

Over the course of June 6  and 25, 50 Northern Trust volunteers will sort and organize food in the warehouse and package individual food boxes for distribution to the Mother & Child Nutrition Program and the Senior Citizens Supplemental Food Program.

June 13, 15 AT&T Women of Finance mentoring group volunteers will do a mix of painting and interacting with the summer day campers supporting active summer lifestyles at Indian Boundary YMCA.

June 28, 12 True Value volunteers will play games, arts & crafts, read, and participate in light physical activities with the Head Start youth education programs supported by United Way.

June 20, 15 Zurich volunteers are working with a Chicago Public School to help with their annual field day. This activity supports United Way’s Health Initiative as they will help with games, activities and healthy snacks.

If you would like to get involved in June Action this year or next year, please contact Kristen Johnson, Volunteer Engagement Coordinator at United Way of Metropolitan Chicago, 312.906.2496, Kristen.johnson@uw-mc.org.

Thank You to Our Volunteers!

NationalVolunteerWeek2013

In recognition of  National Volunteer Week,  United Way  thanks  our more than  4,000 volunteers  who helped improve the education, income, and health of our communities in 2012. By lending a hand, you show us all what it means to  LIVE UNITED.

This week especially, we want to  thank the individuals, families, corporate partners, nonprofit agencies and community leaders who dedicate not just their dollars, but their time, to help support our community-impact plan, LIVE UNITED 2020.  United Way volunteers are critical to achieving LIVE UNITED 2020 by helping us transform communities of greatest need across our six-county footprint. We know that change won’t happen without them. Their time, talent and resources are essential to the on-the-ground work our communities need to make this plan a reality. In fact, more than 4,000 United Way volunteers saved our partner agencies $350,000 through  15,000 donated hours in 2012 alone.

Whatever your talents are, you can use them  to change the story for children and families across Chicagoland. Join volunteers already making a  meaningful difference in our community –  find a volunteer opportunity today!

 

Produce Day with Young Leaders Society

Produce Day

Despite how ill-prepared I was for the cold, the Libby School Produce Day was a huge success. I made a statement (not a request) to my boss letting him know I would not be coming to work Friday, as my time would be better served at the volunteer event. Surprisingly, he  didn’t  put up a fight and actually told me our company has days allocated for volunteering–something to keep in mind and definitely ask your boss about if you haven’t already.

We had a solid group of volunteers including me, a friend, Young Leaders Society volunteer, Libby School staff, and United Way representatives who went to a food desert in Back of the Yards neighborhood.

The food distribution crew unloaded 8-10 palettes of fresh produce including fruits, vegetables and bread in the parking lot outside the school. They set up the palettes and the carrots towered above us, we were in charge of divvying up the food.
We strong armed the produce out of the sacks and made individual bags for pick up–it was set up like a grocery store. Each family had a wagon or a cart and each could get one-two bags of produce and two loafs of bread.

The biggest challenge was actually ripping open the plastic netting. Only to find out an hour after there was a box cutter brought specifically to ease our task! Better late than never and we made it out without losing any fingers.

We went through 70% of the food before it was nearing the end. At that point, anyone left was able to take as much as they wanted.

There were a handful of bread loaves, but other than that families cleaned the place out. The other volunteers were so wonderful and so grateful for our help; because we were there Libby School staff could teach instead of feeding the neighborhood.

After we completed the school’s staff told us they were probably on the city’s close list this year and that was heart breaking. So many schools on the close list have to overcome a landslide of obstacles–academics are sometimes secondary to feeding the students and their families.

In sum, families were fed, fingers were frozen, fun was had and hearts were warmed. I can’t wait to do it again. This time I’ll be smart enough to dress appropriately so I won’t have to thaw out my feet under the hand dryer. Join United Way’s Young Leaders Society and make a difference by feeding communities who  wouldn’t  otherwise have access to fresh produce!

Blog post submitted on behalf of  YLS Committee Member, Molly Russell.

United Pride a Proud Participant in Chicago’s Gay Pride Parade

United Way of Metropolitan Chicago and our member United Ways are proud to participate in Chicago’s Gay Pride Parade. This annual event gives time for a lot of fun and celebration as we come together to commemorate a year of challenges and successes. It allows us to remind ourselves of our sense of community by gathering as one. Even better, you might recognize that those who attend and walk in the parade are no longer just LGBT but also our families, friends and allies. This greater and expanding sense of community is what United Way believes in as we LIVE UNITED. Our efforts to reach out to connect over 200,000 people with available, preventative health services, to help advance economic stability for 100,000 households and our (my favorite) goal of helping 50,000 underperforming middle school kids enter high school ready to succeed also reach the 3-5% of the population that identifies as lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender. That means at least 6,000 LGBT people are finding less challenge accessing healthcare, and quite possibly, based on the 2010 census, that 3,000 LGBT households are becoming more economically stable and even more exciting, 1,500 LGBT kids are receiving the tools they need to graduate from high school. Of course, there’s still more work to do and United Way will continue our goal to improve lives by mobilizing caring people to invest in communities where resources are needed most. We have pride in all the communities we touch and that includes the LGBT population in each. So look for us in our LIVE UNITED shirts on Sunday and happy pride!