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This MLK Day, We Can All Achieve ‘Greatness’

2019 January 21
by HandsOn Suburban Chicago

By Barbara L. Stewart
CEO, Corporation for National and Community Service (CNCS)

[Today we] observe the Martin Luther King Jr. Day of Service — one of two national days of service we are proud to lead at the Corporation for National and Community Service (CNCS). As Americans celebrate the life of this Civil Rights leader, we are reminded of the great legacy he left behind and why it’s important to honor Dr. King’s life in service.

Each year during the Martin Luther King Day of Service, CNCS is guided by the wishes of Dr. King’s heirs to make his birthday more than just a celebration of his life; it is also a day to encourage volunteering to improve our nation.

Dr. King’s role as a pivotal leader in securing equality for all of America’s residents is both instructive and inspirational, drawing from lessons learned in the pulpit and the classroom. In his sermon “The Drum Major Instinct,” Dr. King outlined a “new definition of greatness” based on the responsibility we all have to be active citizens and the roles we can play to make our communities better. This section of the sermon guides our service on this holiday.

“Everybody can be great because everybody can serve.”
— Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr

As Dr. King noted, “everybody can be great because everybody can serve.” No special tools or education are required to achieve this goal. The only requirements are “a heart full of grace. A soul generated by love.” These words provide a simple prescription that can help us start the New Year off right. Anyone can reap the emotional and physical benefits of service regardless of their age, experience, education, or ZIP code, and so can the community in which they live and volunteer.

From AmeriCorps and Senior Corps programs to organizations like Samaritan’s Feet, the Arc, and Youth Service America, our partners across the country are engaging volunteers to honor Dr. King. We encourage Americans to find an organization they support and make a commitment to volunteer not only during the MLK Day holiday on Monday, Jan. 21, but also throughout 2019. Through service, we can bring our communities closer together and experience the “greatness” that lies within each of us.

Barbara L. Stewart is the CEO of the Corporation for National and Community Service, the federal agency that leads AmeriCorps, Senior Corps, and the nation’s volunteer efforts. You can learn more about how to volunteer in your community at MLKDay.gov.

Remembering President George H. W. Bush

2018 December 13
by HandsOn Suburban Chicago

“Any definition of a successful life must include serving others.”

– President George H. W. Bush, 1924-2018

Senior Corps-RSVP Spotlight on Service, December 2018

One of President Bush’s most enduring contributions was to national service and volunteering. In his 1989 inaugural address, President Bush inspired individuals to take voluntary action in their communities as “points of light” … “spread throughout the nation, doing good.” President Bush advanced citizen service as a way to address our nation’s challenges. He ushered in the modern era of national service, setting the stage for the creation of the Corporation for National and Community Service (CNCS), the primary funder of the Senior Corps-RSVP program.

As a lifelong champion of kindness and honoring his commitment to serving others, we dedicate this December Spotlight on Service to our 41st President George H. W. Bush.

I had the privilege of hearing President Bush speak at the National Community Service Conference in New Orleans in June of 1998. I share some of his comments from that conference with you. They are as appropriate today as they were 20 years ago. Speaking about CNCS and its members (including Senior Corps-RSVP) he said:

  • “When it comes to volunteering in America, these groups … Points of Light Foundation and the Corporation have provided leadership by example, by inspiring, by guiding our nation’s volunteers in ways that help them make the most of their selfless efforts. … I am not surprised that they are leading this effort to bring together a wonderfully diverse and dedicated group of citizens.”
  • “I believe we are a nation of do-ers.”
  • “So, time and time again, we have shown that good things happen when caring people get involved.

I believe each of you are a point of light in our community. I thank you for continuing to lead a successful life of serving others as members of Senior Corps-RSVP.

Wishing you a joyous holiday season and best wishes for the coming year.

– Linda McLaughlin, Senior Corps-RSVP Program Manager

Senior Corps-RSVP Member shares advice on giving back and having fun in the giving.

2018 November 9

Like many seniors, when Janet Pawlowski retired she decided it was time for her to give back to the community. Over the years, she has engaged in several volunteer venues, but she realized that her greatest enjoyment was working with children.

Through HandsOn Suburban Chicago, Senior Corps-RSVP member Janet found the best of both worlds-giving back and having fun in the giving.

Janet Pawlowski writing to her Pen Pal student

When Senior Corps-RSVP began the Intergenerational Pen Pal program for elementary school students, Janet saw it as a perfect fit. Pen Pals is a group of Senior Corps-RSVP members who meet for almost 2 hours each month, October through March, and write letters to their “pen pals” at Jane Addams Elementary School in Palatine or Tarkington Elementary School in Wheeling. Many of these children do not have grandparents nearby so this is a way they can connect with another adult and share their experiences, their favorite TV shows, music groups and school activities. Besides enjoying reading the children’s questions and comments, Janet feels that letter writing serves another purpose-students learn how to communicate by composing sentences and organizing their thoughts. Teachers are delighted with the program as well.

“Pen Pals is very helpful for kids,” Janet said. “Reading and writing is so important. If you can’t communicate and be understood, what kind of job can you get?”

Last year, she learned about Lunch Buddies, a program which can provide students with academic and/or social/emotional support. She decided to volunteer and began meeting once a week with a student-now in fourth grade-during his lunch and recess hour. His main interest is building with Legos. Janet encourages him by adding the more complicated Legos to assemble, and he appears to enjoy the challenge. He constructs buildings and vehicles, so Janet asked if he would like to be an architect or construction worker. She plans on bringing in a book on architect careers to see if it lights a spark. For variety and exercise, they play court tennis and sometimes join up with another mentor and her student to play softball using wiffle balls.

“When I returned this year, he ran up and hugged me,” she said. “I knew I had made a difference.” As a mentor, Janet provides support, a person who listens and most of all, she’s a fun adult for him to hang with. The hours that Janet spends with her fourth grader are, as she calls it, “His Time.” “I like working with kids,” she said. “If you give them encouragement, it will follow through the rest of their lives. But you have to do it when they’re young.”

Janet is able to handle both volunteer experiences but she’s aware that volunteers need to budget their time, to avoid burn out. She has a message for those who are thinking of volunteering in more than one program: Pace yourself. Janet also advises that people should look objectively at ways their time is spent volunteering, even including their travel time. Then it’s a good idea to figure out how much actual time they have available.

However-and this is critical-she added that once the commitment is made, it’s important to be there. “Show up, she said “There’s someone counting on you. Everything else can wait.”

For those with other interests-serving the home-bound, working with seniors, or any of the many other ways to give back to the community-HandsOn Suburban Chicago offers countless opportunities in your chosen field.

by Janet Souter, Senior Corps-RSVP Member

National Prescription Drug Take Back Day is this Sat., Oct. 27. Do your part to fight the opioid crisis.

2018 October 25
by HandsOn Suburban Chicago

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Re-blogged with minor edits from www.nationalservice.tumblr.com.

By Barbara L. Stewart, CEO, Corporation for National and Community Service

Our nation is in the midst of an unprecedented drug epidemic. More than 72,000 Americans died from a drug overdose last year, and 2.4 million Americans struggle with opioid addiction. This crisis is causing devastating effects on families, workplaces, the health care system, states, and communities.

President Trump has made combating this epidemic a priority, and the Corporation for National and Community Service (CNCS) is committed to this fight. We have teamed up with the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration to support National Prescription Drug Take Back Day on Sat., Oct. 27. This is a day for Americans across the country to do their part to fight the opioid crisis simply by safely disposing of unwanted prescription medications.

Medicines in home cabinets are highly susceptible to diversion, misuse, and abuse. Studies show that a majority of abused prescription drugs are obtained from family and friends, including from the medicine cabinet at home. Take Back Day provides a safe, convenient, and responsible means to dispose of prescription drugs.

Here are several ways you can get involved:

  • Drop off unneeded prescription drugs at one of 4,000 collection sites around the country. Visit dea.gov to find a site near you.
  • Use social media to promote the day. The White House digital toolkit has key messages and sample posts, and the DEA’s partnership toolbox has graphics and other resources.

Take Back Day is one of many ways CNCS is working to combat the opioid crisis. Over the past two years, we have significantly increased our investment in drug prevention, reduction, and recovery programs, supporting more than 1,800 Senior Corps volunteers and AmeriCorps members in all 50 states. Our numbers and impact will continue to grow as we have again made this a priority for our 2019 grant notices.

Thank you for being our partners in this fight. Through working together, we can turn this around.


Barbara L. Stewart is the CEO of the Corporation for National and Community Service.

Senior Corps-RSVP Member plays significant role in the success of Annual Community Paint-A-Thon

2018 October 3

As each fall arrives hundreds of Paint-A-Thon (PAT) volunteers (including Senior Corps-RSVP members) are ready with brushes, scrapers, and rollers in hand, eager to help restore the exterior of local homes greatly in need of a facelift. Days later, when their work is completed, they are rewarded with smiles and hugs from the homeowners.

The annual PAT is a unique community partnership of HandsOn Suburban Chicago, Catholic Charities, and Habitat for Humanity of Northern Fox Valley. PAT volunteers paint the exterior of homes owned and occupied by persons with limited financial resources and who are physically unable to paint their homes. Yet, like most of us, they still want to stay in the home and neighborhood they’ve known for so many years.

Catholic Charities serves as the intake Agency and is responsible for screening and review of 24-40 applications to verify financial eligibility. HandsOn Suburban Chicago’s Community PAT program coordinator, Donnie Graham, begins early in the year with the recruitment of over 200 individuals and team members willing to participate in PAT.

Craig Powers puts the finishing touches on a home during a recent Paint-A-Thon project.

Come July Senior Corps-RSVP member Craig Powers steps in as PAT home inspector. After mapping out routes to all the homes, he starts the first weekend in July to do his round of inspections. He arrives at the first home around 8 a.m. on Saturday. Then he has a short conversation with the resident, explaining the PAT procedures and finishes checking out the last home by 3 or 4 p.m. The process starts again Sunday. By the end of the weekend, he’s checked out about 24-30 homes in the ten townships that PAT serves. Craig says smiles and hugs are the best payment he knows.

“What really inspires most volunteers is the interaction with the homeowners,” Craig says. “Volunteers don’t have to know how to paint when they sign up to help. We can easily teach some of the basics and get you involved immediately.”

As anyone who has ever tried to upgrade a home knows, refurbishing involves much more than simply slapping on a coat of paint. Craig has developed a check-list that helps him determine what is needed to get the home exterior back in shape. He inspects gutters; fascia (area just below the gutter); soffit (horizontal piece under the gutter); the body of the house; the window frames; and the shutters. Often hedges and overgrown bushes must be trimmed in order to access the outside walls.

When that’s done, he photographs all four sides of the house and measures to establish the amount of paint he’ll need. Craig then prepares a summary report detailing all the work required for each of the homes that will be painted. After all his reports are assembled he meets with Donnie and a Catholic Charities rep to make the final decisions on which homes will be painted and assign the team of volunteers for each project. Habitat works with Lowe’s Home Improvement to handle the paint tinting and arranges to have the Valspar donated paint delivered to Craig’s home.

Craig takes care of obtaining donations for all the additional materials needed (brushes, scrapers, etc.) He writes to major paint equipment suppliers asking for their “seconds” and other items that can’t be sold in stores, but are still quite usable. These donated paint supply items average $8,000 in value per year. He has obtained over $110,000 during the course of the last 13 years. Once all the material arrives in mid-August, leaders arrive at Craig’s home and are instructed on site safety, homeowner sensitivity issues, how to safely lead volunteer teams, and project preparation. Craig also reviews the home inspection report so team leaders are well informed on the degree of difficulty of their assigned home. Then they’re ready for PAT day in September.

What Craig likes best about working with PAT is knowing that he can improve the lives of roughly twenty-four homeowners a year. “The look on their faces when they come out at the end of the day and see their finished house makes everything we do worth the time and effort,” he says.

While he modestly downplays his role in the process, others know that without his leadership the project could take much longer.

As if the PAT project weren’t enough, Craig also contributes his talents to Rolling Meadows Community Events Foundation, WINGS (domestic violence shelter), and Clearbrook. In fact, when applications were low but teams were available, he suggested Clearbrook’s group homes. They house adults with disabilities in the community so it is keeping with the PAT mission.

His motivation is quite simple and can work for all of us: “Be the change you want the world to be.”

This September, 224 PAT workers, including those in the Senior Corps-RSVP program, gave twenty-four homes a fresh coat of paint and a new life. Volunteers are always welcome and as Craig says “The greatest gift you can ever give is of yourself.”

To volunteer as a PAT worker for next September’s Paint-A-Thon contact: donnie@handsonsuburbanchicago.org

By Janet Souter, Senior Corps-RSVP Member

The Top 5 Reasons to Become a Poll Worker

2018 August 30

It’s hard to believe it but the November elections are right around the corner! Did you know there is a shortage of poll workers in suburban Cook County? That’s why we need you!

HandsOn Suburban Chicago is partnering with the Cook County Clerk’s Office to sign up both adults and high school students to become poll workers.

When you sign up at https://www.handsonsuburbanchicago.org/electionday not only are you helping the election process go smoothly, but you are also helping HandsOn Suburban Chicago raise much-needed funds to support our Schools and Youth programs that serve at-risk youth in our community. For every poll worker recruited that works on Election Day, HandsOn Suburban Chicago gets $25 to help our kids!

If you ever wondered what the benefits of being a poll worker are, here are our top 5:

5.  Getting to know your neighbors and meeting new people!

4.  Engaging directly in the democratic process!

3.  Helping your community!

2.  Assisting people in performing an important civic responsibility!

1.  Getting paid for doing the right thing and have fun at the same time!

Sign up today and share this with your friends and family!

Decades of volunteering still bring joy and satisfaction for Senior Corps-RSVP Members

2018 August 2

There are several reasons people continue to volunteer at a facility for over twenty-five years: They love the place. They love the staff. And, most of all, they love the people they support.

Senior Corps-RSVP members Marilyn Hermann (left) and June Wulfert are still going strong after more than 25 years volunteering at Lutheran Home in Arlington Heights.

Just ask Senior Corps-RSVP volunteers Marilyn Hermann and June Wulfert who have a combined 50-plus years of serving at the Lutheran Home for senior living in Arlington Heights. Both have found so many ways to contribute-by engaging with residents through one-on-one visits, setting up group chat sessions, or assisting with entertainment events. They even create crochet and quilt items for the gift shop.

Inspired by her grandmother and mother, both of whom had volunteered at the Lutheran Home when it was known as the Altenheim Home, Marilyn began serving the home in 1982. She started with redesigning flower arrangements leftover from events, which were then redistributed throughout the building. When her mother became a resident in 1994, Marilyn visited regularly, and before long she made friends with others in the home as well. Now, she brightens the days for residents in assisted living, skilled nursing, adult day services and memory loss sections. They all see her as a friend and some consider her a member of the family.

From Tuesday through Saturday, Marilyn leads many of them in activities such as quilting, conversation groups and mind bender games. For conversation groups, she’ll arrive with an agenda-usually subjects related to recent newspaper stories, but avoiding politics-and finds that after a few minutes, the participants often go off on another tangent. Yet, as she says, “It’s so neat when you get them chatting.”

She gears all activities according to residents’ interests and abilities, but those in the memory loss section give her a special joy as they smile up at her when she brings food, introduces games, shows up in costume or plays music.

It doesn’t stop there. Marilyn is often on hand to host events such as the Advent Tea, ice cream socials and fashion shows. At Christmas time, she takes on the role of Mrs. Santa Claus and helps “Santa” when he makes his rounds handing out goodies for the residents and the children at Shepherd’s Flock, the Home’s child day-care facility. When she’s not at the Home, she works behind the scenes, making dish towels (the kind with a quilted top for hanging over handles) for sale in the Lutheran Home Gift Shop. So far, she’s created over 2,300 of them.

What does she enjoy most about her time spent with residents at the Lutheran Home? “I love how they smile when they see me,” Marilyn says. “When I leave, they ask ‘When are you coming back?’ When I arrive home in the late afternoon I’ll often tell my husband, ‘I’ve had the best day.'”

June Wulfert modestly refers to herself as “Marilyn’s sidekick,” but it’s clear that her contributions over the years have been invaluable to the Lutheran Home’s purpose as well. Over the past 25 years, she’s worked with the residents on crafts, quilting and even record keeping and updating bulletin boards. Most of her time is spent setting up and serving for Marilyn’s weekly chat groups. For the residents who may enjoy crocheting or knitting, but have limited skills, June assists them and sees herself as a “set of hands for those whose hands don’t work as well anymore.” Her crocheting and knitting talents are also evident in the Lutheran Home Gift Shop. As with Marilyn, she also creates many of the quilted-top dish towels with the crocheted handles. June enjoys interacting with the Home’s residents, and finds that friendships evolve over the years. Residents who may have started in one section may be transferred to a different nursing area but June is still there for them. “There’s always a need for people like us,” she said.

Lutheran Home volunteer manager Beth Gauthier says of both ladies, “Their years of service to our residents has been a blessing.  Everything they do here is wrapped up in kindness…Both have been a wonderful resource for me and have been able to answer any question I have.”

For those who might consider volunteering at the Lutheran Home or similar facilities, both ladies advise, “Come with an open mind and heart and be ready to feel special.”

Written by Janet Souter, Senior Corps-RSVP Member

If interested in volunteering at Lutheran Home, here are two of the many opportunities available for you: 

The General Store

Resident Transportation Companion

HandsOn Suburban Chicago Helps Wheeling Middle Schoolers Give Back to Homebound Seniors

2018 July 2
by HandsOn Suburban Chicago

HandsOn Suburban Chicago (HOSC) led a service learning project for seventh and eighth grade students at London Middle School in May. The students learned about the issues of senior isolation and then created jars filled with candy and positive messages that were donated to homebound seniors that can be opened and read every day.

The jars were donated to recipients of Meals on Wheels programs in Wheeling and Maine townships through Catholic Charities Community Development and in Des Plaines through the Des Plaines Frisbie Senior Center, an HOSC community partner. Over 400 sixth and seventh graders at London created 121 jars filled with 3800 pieces of candy and 1380 handwritten messages of encouragement and kindness.

The jars were well received by the staff and seniors with one recipient writing back, “Many thanks to all the students at Jack London Middle School sending the jars of candy with all the with the cheerful wishes wrapped around each piece. It was fun to open each candy and read the notes. It brought a smile to my face and the candy brought a smile to my tummy. Thank You!”

HOSC is excited to team up with the school again next year to complete four more service learning projects that benefit surrounding communities.