The Changemakers: United Way Volunteers Make a Difference

When she’s not sifting through spreadsheets in her audit department at KPMG, Sara Clancy lends her leadership skills to a good cause. As chair of our Young Leaders United (YLU) affinity group, Sara leads the team of philanthropic young adults through volunteer projects and planning for fundraising events.

She’s new to the gig, but her energy and commitment to United Way of Metro Chicago’s mission made her a natural fit to serve at its helm. Sara also has strong ties to the group. Since she joined four years ago, she’s served on YLU’s membership development committee and as co-chair.

Though her position has changed, her objective has stayed consistent – she hopes to make a positive difference in the lives of families across the Chicago region.

“I really like United Way’s Neighborhood Network [Initiative] and the way it works with multiple organizations to bring about a key change that the neighborhoods are focused on,” Sara said. “The biggest reason why I joined was because I feel that United Way has the biggest potential to make a large impact.”

 

More than a service project

In her tenure, Sara’s had the opportunity to be a part of the change she hopes to see in the Chicago region. 

She’s volunteered with her fellow YLU members to improve community gardens, paint local schools and served as a practice partner for ESL students, an opportunity that made a lasting impression.

“It was awesome to see people who had only been here for three months. You could see it in their eyes how bad they wanted to learn English because they wanted to land a good job, and this class was really helping them,” Sara said. “It was also great to have that personal connection and feel like you were able to make a difference with nothing more than speaking the language you grew up with.”

This time of year, she’s busy readying for YLU’s signature event, IGNITE. The festive, mid-winter party benefits United Way’s AmeriCorps volunteers who work in 10 neighborhoods across the Chicago region.

While Sara’s been involved in previous years, this is her first year leading the event. She’s excited for the challenge, as well as the new skills she’ll acquire and the connections she’s making in her personal and professional networks.

“It’s been a great opportunity to see something that’s outside of my normal day-to-day,” Sara said. “I find it’s a fulfilling way to get connected to the community in ways that you don’t get to in your normal life. And it’s totally doable no matter what line of work you’re in or whatever your passion is.”

 

Making a lasting impact

Sara is one of many dedicated volunteers who’s committed their time to advancing United Way of Metro Chicago’s mission to build stronger neighborhoods. Other United Way volunteers work in a variety of positions to fundraise for United Way or increase the capacity of our agency partners throughout the community.

Some volunteers, like Sara, plan fundraisers and complete community projects through an affinity group like YLU, Women United, Black Leaders United or United Pride. Others participate with their companies in a Day of Caring, which can be an on-site work project or packaging Care Projects as a team.

One of the most popular group volunteer opportunities, the Care Projects are completed by a large group of employees in their office. They include organizing items, like diapers and baby goods or snacks, into kits for new moms or kids in after-school programs. United Way of Metro Chicago then connects the kits with individuals and families in need through our agency partners.

If a group project or leading an affinity group isn’t for you, have no fear.

Caitlin Closser, our senior manager of corporate engagement, encourages you to make a weekly commitment to volunteer at one of our community partner agencies across the region. They’re often looking for volunteers to mentor high school students, organize donations at a food pantry or help your neighbors prepare their taxes.

“The best way to make a difference for an agency, who are our partners doing the work on the ground, is to sign up to be a committed volunteer,” Caitlin explained. “There’s lots of opportunities out there, and they need people to come back week after week. Then, they can learn the work and be more effective in getting it done.”

 

Commit to volunteering today!

We thank you for your consideration and commitment to advancing the mission of United Way of Metro Chicago. When we all participate, we can help ensure that our neighbors have the tools they need to reach their full potential. 

To find volunteer opportunities, check out our Volunteer Calendar today! If you’re interested in joining an affinity group, learn more here.

 

AmeriCorps Volunteers: Chicago’s Unsung Community Champions

With three academic degrees, fluency in five languages and a slew of certificates under her belt, Gabriela Juárez Domínguez has the skills to succeed in several careers. However, the Rogers Park resident is dedicating a year of her life to improving the lives of others in the Chicago region, serving as an AmeriCorps volunteer for the United Way of Metro Chicago.

“I’m excited and really like my work,” said Gabriela, who supports social emotional learning, technology and art programs for children and teens in Little Village, a neighborhood located in southwest Chicago. “We work to improve the conditions of people.”

Having returned to the United States after 12 years in Spain, Gabriela saw AmeriCorps, a national service program operating across the country, as an opportunity to reignite her career and “update” her toolkit of skills needed to serve in the city’s non-profit sector. With nearly half her commitment fulfilled, Gabriela is making great strides toward fulfilling these goals.

Gabriela, Bianca and several United Way AmeriCorps members at this year’s Ignite event.

Ten United Way of Metro Chicago AmeriCorps members, ranging from 18-years-old to 50-years-old and at all levels of professional experience, serve in eight neighborhoods, supporting a range of programs and services that help connect residents to much-needed resources. “We want to raise up leaders already in the community to find solutions to problems,” said Bianca Cotton, United Way of Metro Chicago’s AmeriCorps program manager. “They have the training, capacity and connections to do so.”

Some, like Gabriela, are embedded in specific United Way funded community agencies, like Latinos Progresando and OPEN Center for the Arts, while others support individuals working to create a network of grassroots organizations within their communities. These “change agents” also connect with local leaders to advance their efforts and host events, like peace walks and studies to assess neighborhood safety. “They are the boots on the ground day to day, interacting with who we raise money for — teachers, students, parents,” Bianca said. “They get to see the real impact. They’re in it.”

Though they have their hands full supporting existing programs, the AmeriCorps members have an entrepreneurial spirit, too. Gabriela and others in her cohort are going above and beyond to meet unaddressed needs in their communities. For example, she’s creating and directing an art and healing program called “ActiveArte.” Another member is designing a program in South Chicago to help veterans navigate a range of health and social service systems.

In addition to their volunteer work, the AmeriCorps members receive specialized training in life and workforce development, like conflict resolution, entrepreneurship and professional etiquette. These trainings are intended to prepare the volunteers for their careers after their service. Gabriela is ahead of the game, as she’s already secured a job with OPEN Center for the Arts.

AmeriCorps members taking a break and sharing a laugh during training.

“I’ve learned leadership skills and my self-confidence is better. The workshops have made me understand the importance of networking,” Gabriela said of the training programs. “The compassion training helped me understand the community I’m working in and to be more empathetic to the community members.”

The United Way of Metro Chicago’s AmeriCorps program began in 2016 and has hosted nearly two dozen volunteers since its initiation. Applications are now open for the next cohort of AmeriCorps members who will begin their tenure in October. Bianca is searching for open-minded, service-oriented individuals who seize opportunities, want to learn and are team players. Visit our careers page for more information. 

If you’d like to help support the work of these devoted volunteers in Chicago’s neighborhoods, donate to United Way of Metro Chicago today. Your dollars will not only benefit residents in need but help shape the future careers of hardworking AmeriCorps volunteers, like Gabriela!

 

The 4th Annual YLS IGNITE

Our 4th annual YLU IGNITE was one of our most successful yet! 

Hosted by Young Leaders United, this mid-winter party is an opportunity for young philanthropists to help raise funds for different United Way programs each year, all while having a fun-filled evening with friends, new and old.

Hosted at Savage Smyth, one of Chicago’s hottest venues, this year’s event included a live band, The Local Jokes, as well as dancing, drinks, a photo booth and a rooftop ice skating rink. We were in good company, too. Israel Idonije, founder of iF Charities and former Defensive End for the Chicago Bears, joined the celebration, along with WGN-TV Anchor Dan Ponce, who livened up the night as our emcee. 

Igniting an impact

IGNITE 2018 was made possible by the generous donations of 26 corporate sponsors, including our patron sponsors, Exelon and the Skender Foundation. After thoughtful donations, ticket sales and silent auction proceeds, the event raised more than $95,000.

The proceeds from IGNITE will help support our AmeriCorps members across the Chicago region. With these donations, United Way will have the resources to provide the long-term volunteers with invaluable training sessions and help them maintain their community-service programs. Thanks to YLU and the annual IGNITE event, the amazing service of the AmeriCorps members will have an even greater impact within our communities!

 

Connecting Problems to Problem Solvers – South Suburban PADS and Chicago Area Drywall Finishers

One of United Way’s greatest strengths is our unique ability to connect passionate people to issues in communities that need solving. Because our partnerships reach across businesses, labor unions, individuals, nonprofit agencies and community groups, we can make connections that improve lives and neighborhoods.

Recently, we learned that South Suburban PADS, an organization providing emergency shelter to neighbors in need, was struggling with a mold issue in the basement of their location in Chicago Heights. The mold was making the space unusable, limiting the number of people that they were able to provide a safe place to sleep.

After PADS performed some necessary renovations in their basement, much of the drywall was destroyed. As a result, a huge portion of their shelter space became unusable, which was limiting the number of individuals they could provide emergency shelter to. Through our labor team’s relationship with the Chicago Area Drywall Finishers, they were able to alert the Union to the issue and bring them in to help South Suburban PADS.

Just days after our labor team called the Union, they volunteered apprentices from their program and were at the agency working to repair the problem. After a week of work, the volunteers were able to make the entire basement livable again.

South Suburban PADS is now able to serve all clients in need and the volunteers from the Chicago Area Drywall Finishers were happy to be able to help out in a time of need.

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.

Volunteer with Kelly Hall YMCA

YLS volunteers helping out at November's Fresh Produce Days

The season is about giving back and YLS’s volunteer committee makes it easy to do so. The committee has helped organize two great events with the Kelly Hall YMCA that offer rewarding and impactful ways to give back. Kelly Hall YMCA is also the recipient of the split-the-pot raffle for YLS Festivus. Raffle proceeds will purchase toys and necessities for the children of Kelly Hall. Buy your raffle ticket HERE! Fresh Produce Day this Saturday Join YLS members at the YMCA of Greater Metropolitan Chicago’s Fresh Produce Day on Dec. 3 at the Kelly Hall YMCA. The Kelly Hall YMCA is a safe haven and provides essential services to the under-served community of West Humboldt Park. Volunteers will also break down cardboard boxes so it’s a green-friendly opportunity as well. This event will take place outdoors, so please dress appropriately. When: Saturday, Dec. 3 (8:40 a.m. – 12:00 p.m.) Where: Kelly Hall YMCA 824 N. Hamlin, Chicago (West Humboldt Park) RSVP: For more details and to sign up, click here! Kelly Hall YMCA Holiday Party Help spread the season’s cheer among children at the Kelly Hall YMCA Holiday Party in United Way Partner Community, West Humboldt Park. Volunteers will set up and decorate for the event, participate in arts and crafts and gift giving to the kids, prepare food and distribute to families, and clean up. Your participation in this event will help make this holiday one to remember. When: Saturday, Dec. 17 Where: Kelly Hall YMCA RSVP: For more details and to sign up, click here!

It’s Festivus Time

Kick off this season right and sign up for our year-end YLS Festivus today!

When: This Friday, Dec. 2 (6:00 p.m. – 9:00 p.m.) Where: Hotel Allegro, 171 W. Randolph RSVP: Click here to buy your ticket today! Last year’s holiday party was the first event for many YLS members. Their first opportunity to meet some of Chicago’s most interesting and civic-minded young professionals and their first exposure in a social setting to Give, Advocate and Volunteer, and learn what it means to LIVE UNITED. This year, what better way to pay it forward than by inviting a fellow young professional to their first YLS event. And what better introduction to YLS is there than YLS Festivus from 6:00 p.m. to 9:00 p.m. this Friday at the beautifully renovated Hotel Allegro. Tickets are $55 and include heavy appetizers, open premium bar and a chance to hit the dance floor to live music spun by DJ RAy REy. All proceeds from YLS Festivus, sponsored by Comcast, support LIVE UNITED 2020, United Way’s 10-year vision to channel income, education and health resources into communities of greatest need throughout the Chicago region. In addition, there will be an extensive silent auction and a Split-the-Pot raffle. You do not need to be present to participate in the raffle and you can purchase tickets HERE. The proceeds from the raffle will provide gifts for the children of Kelly Hall YMCA this holiday season.

Special thanks to the Festivus Host Committee and generous event sponsor, Comcast!

Host Committee Bunmi Akinnusotu – United Way | Anteco Cross – Paylocity | Tregg Duerson – Goldman Sachs | Michael Harris – Little Black Pearl | Joe Jerz – United Way | Mike Matthews – PwC | Sharbel Shamoon – Baytree National Bank & Trust | Annie Smith – BMO Harris Bank | Angela Wells – Comcast

YLS Spotlight: Pawel Kaczmarek

Pawel Kaczmarek is a member of the YLS special events committee. Along with the rest of the committee, he is finalizing the details for Friday’s YLS Festivus at Hotel Allegro. Read on to learn more about YLS’ signature party, what connects Pawel to YLS and why he “works” for fun. Why did you join YLS? I’ve always wanted to be in a position to give back and YLS lets me do so while working with a variety of interesting young professionals. What can you tell us about this year’s YLS Festivus this Friday? YLS Festivus will be a great event this year. Not only the does the party take place at the beautiful Hotel Allegro, but we’ll also have a premium open bar, heavy appetizers, a split-the-pot raffle and live music by DJ RAy REy. To top it off, there are also some wonderful items available at this year’s silent auction. What makes YLS the right option for you? The people. My first YLS event was last year’s holiday party and I quickly realized that the organization is full of great individuals who I would enjoy working with. What would you say to someone interested in joining YLS? Do it. If you find that it’s a fit, then you’ve gained something great.   If not, what did it cost you? Now, onto some fun questions. What is your favorite movie? The Bourne Trilogy is great. Favorite Book? Kurt Vonnegut’s Slaughterhouse-Five or Douglas Adams’s Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy iPod Favorites? I’ve never owned an Apple product but my favorite artist at the moment is David Guetta. Where did you go to high school and college? Maine South and Indiana University in Bloomington, respectively. What are your biggest hobbies? Working out and working on a project car, a 1995 240sx. Pawel Kaczmarek YLS Special Events Committee Member & Equity Research Associate at William Blair & Company