Skip to content

Three Chicagoland organizations have joined Service Enterprise Certified in Illinois

2017 February 13
Comments Off on Three Chicagoland organizations have joined Service Enterprise Certified in Illinois
by HandsOn Suburban Chicago

This post contains content previously posted on the Corporation for National and Community Service blog in October, 2015.  You can see the original post here

Three Chicagoland organizations have joined the ten previously certified organizations in Illinois as Service Enterprise Certified.  Chicago organizations Chicago Cares and Second Sense joined St. Peter Lutheran Church and School of Arlington Heights in completing the year-long certification process early January.

Service Enterprise candidate organizations undergo a diagnostic that indicates areas for improvement in volunteer engagement and resourcing, then receive extensive training, coaching, and finally certification. Service Enterprise gets to the heart of organizational capacity by measuring volunteer engagement practices in 10 key areas as identified through research performed by Deloitte and the Service Enterprise researchers. TCC Group found that “Service Enterprises not only lead and manage better, they are significantly more adaptable, sustainable and capable of going to scale.”

Congratulations to the new Service Enterprises!  They will truly lead by example.





Chicago Cares








St. Peter Lutheran Church and School







Second Sense

Travelers Aid Chicago, Senior Corps-RSVP Members, Help Vulnerable Travelers & Passengers In Crisis

2017 January 31
Comments Off on Travelers Aid Chicago, Senior Corps-RSVP Members, Help Vulnerable Travelers & Passengers In Crisis
by HandsOn Suburban Chicago

Janet Souter, Senior Corps-RSVP Member

Imagine arriving at O’Hare airport on a hectic afternoon. It’s your first time there. You’re a seasoned traveler, but you still can’t figure out where you can find that special kind of candy at which gift shop, or who sells teething rings for your crying baby. To make matters worse, you only know a few words of English. Then someone in a bright blue vest sees your distress and offers to help. You’ve found a sympathetic ear, a real person. In other words, a substitute mom.

That’s a Travelers Aid (TA) Chicago volunteer, trained to imagine themselves in your shoes and because they know how you feel, get as much joy and satisfaction from helping others as those receiving the help.

TA has been guiding travelers from around the world since 1851. Volunteers are found at the Travelers Aid Chicago desk in each O’Hare terminal ready to assist first-time fliers, refugees, passengers with special needs, runaways returning home or people fleeing a humanitarian crisis. They also answer questions as simple as “Where is the Garrett’s Popcorn Store?” Travelers Aid Chicago workers have seen it all. When these volunteers show up for work each week they know they’ll handle new problems, hear new stories.

Seven Senior Corps-RSVP members volunteer with Travelers Aid Chicago, we talked to three of them about their experiences:

When he’s not roving or at the Travelers Aid Chicago desk, Shelly Sherman keeps up-to-date with airport procedure.

Shelly Sherman, a retired United Airlines employee is a relative newcomer to Travelers Aid Chicago services. He volunteers simply because he enjoys the airport dynamic and energy. On Thursdays and Fridays he can be found at Terminal 5, helping newly arrived passengers, some of whom speak little English, but as he points out, “They speak in a quiet tone, respectful, mostly because of their culture. Many see me as an authority figure.” Language is seldom a problem; Shelly can usually find a person to help with translations and, “somehow we get through it.”

What does he like most about his duties? “Seeing the relief and smiles of all the people who come to us for support.”

After working several years as a travel consultant, Bonnie Master joined Travelers Aid Chicago and found volunteering at TA a perfect fit. She spends two days a week at O’Hare, dividing her time between the International and domestic terminals. She enjoys being busy with the knowledge that she’s helping to get people’s problems solved – it’s what keeps her going. During the peak arrival hours at Terminal 5 (3:00 pm-6:00 pm) she may guide as many as 300 to 600 people to their next destination.

In addition to answering numerous questions, volunteers keep their eyes and ears open and call the authorities if they spot anything unusual, such as left packages or abandoned suitcases. “We are the eyes and the ears of the airport,” Bonnie says, “but I’ve never felt frightened.”

Rosann Vitale on left and Bonnie Masters help a traveler navigate her way through one of the busiest airports in the world Chicago’s O’Hare.

Bonnie often shares a desk with Rosann Vitale. Volunteer Manager Tony Medina says they work together so well, they’re like a “well-oiled machine.” Rosann has been with Travelers Aid Chicago for nearly eight years, and although she usually mans the TA desk, there are times when a passenger will approach and ask for help finding their traveling companion. At that point, she walks them to the departure gate where the “missing person” is found. “Most of the time, it’s adults who are lost,” she said. “Not so much children.”

She also deals with people who speak little or no English, but has a translator app on her phone. When all else fails, she sometimes phones the traveler’s relative who can interpret the passenger’s question and relay it back to her. Rosann says the best part of her job is “People thank you all the time. I taught school and once in a while parents would thank me. But now I get thanked every day and even kissed.”

Even the training experience can be fun.  When he started, Shelly realized he didn’t know as much about the airport as he thought. In addition to sitting with an experienced Travelers Aid Chicago desk clerk to observe, volunteer trainees are sent on a “scavenger hunt.” This can include: finding the areas where service dogs can relieve themselves; locating United Service Organization clubs; times and places for religious services or currency exchanges.

Tony Medina says trainees are instructed on the best ways to pass on information clearly to passengers who may be overwhelmed with the enormity of the airport and its facilities. “But we instruct based on the volunteer’s level of comfort,” he said. “We let them learn at their own pace and tell trainees to put themselves in the shoes of the passengers.”

Volunteers don’t always sit behind the counter waiting for people to come to them. Often travelers don’t know that there’s help nearby, so some TA personnel operate in a “roving” capacity, on the lookout for people who appear lost or unsure where to go next. Shelly recalled seeing two women staring at the monitors and noted that they appeared confused. When he approached them he heard one woman say “Gee I wonder if my sister has arrived from Narnia.” The other woman started laughing. He looked at the monitor and said “Narnia?” “Yes, Narnia” repeated the first woman. He said “But Narnia is a movie.  Do you mean Narita, Japan?” “Yes, she replied. “But I always call it Narnia.”

As with so many other services which depend on volunteering, Travelers Aid Chicago is always looking for more people like Shelly, Bonnie and Rosann.

“Every day is exciting, Tony says. “We get basic questions like ‘Where can I find diapers?’ Then there are people fleeing violent situations and need help. For every ten questions, seven are common but the rest are so unusual and that’s when you know you’ve seen it all. This job is the most fun I’ve ever had.”

Those who delight in meeting new and fascinating people (many from all parts of the globe), enjoy being around the hustle and bustle of a busy airport and want each day to offer new experiences should consider helping out at Travelers Aid Chicago, which is open 9-9 weekdays and 10-9 weekends, 360 days a year. (TA is closed all five major holidays.) The hours are flexible, but volunteers are asked to devote at least two days per month. They can be as low as five hours a month or ten hours, depending on the shift. For example, there is a 6 to 8:30 pm evening shift which can be worked two days per month.

Apply to volunteer with Travelers Aid today!

HandsOn Suburban Chicago Teams Up With London Middle School, Local Nonprotfits, To Bring Holiday Cheer To Home-Bound Seniors

2017 January 24
Comments Off on HandsOn Suburban Chicago Teams Up With London Middle School, Local Nonprotfits, To Bring Holiday Cheer To Home-Bound Seniors
by HandsOn Suburban Chicago

December – HandsOn Suburban Chicago teamed up with Jack London Middle School in Wheeling this holiday season to bring extra cheer to local home-bound seniors. Over 400 sixth through eighth graders created greeting cards with art supplies and added their own personal touches in the form of notes about their holiday traditions and memories. The project was a part of their service learning curriculum that dealt with isolation in their local community.

The cards were delivered to two local agencies, Addolorata Villa and Catholic Charities Community Development. At Addolorata Villa, an assisted living facility, they were passed out to the residents, Catholic Charities delivered to home-bound seniors as a part of their Meals on Wheels program.


Teachers, Students Grateful For Lunch Buddies Senior Corps-RSVP Volunteers

2016 December 14
Comments Off on Teachers, Students Grateful For Lunch Buddies Senior Corps-RSVP Volunteers
by HandsOn Suburban Chicago

Lunch Buddies volunteer and Senior Corps-RSVP member, Anne Wall, enjoys working with kids and seeing them gain in self-confidence.

Janet Souter, Senior Corps-RSVP Member – It’s lunchtime at Jane Addams Elementary School in Palatine. In the cafeteria, kids munch on pizza, call out to friends or chatter about weekend plans. In the library, some of the fourth, fifth and sixth graders quietly study math and English with a group of Senior Corps-RSVP members known as the Lunch Buddies. These volunteers guide students who are trying to understand the complexities of multiplication and long division or the mysteries of grammar and spelling. The students may be falling behind in their studies, not because they’re not smart, but because they need some guidance in approaching a problem or understanding a complicated chapter.

Senior Corps-RSVP members David Jacobson, Judy Liles, Anne Wall, Lucy Yester O’Connor and Cynthia and Walter Riesing each volunteer an hour once or twice a week, providing the students with critical help that their teachers can’t due to their own busy schedules. With only forty minutes of class time, or less, for instruction, some students can have problems absorbing information or staying on task.

For many of these students, English is their second language, making the learning curve that much higher and challenging. In addition, parents often work two jobs and have little time to give their children needed support with homework. Yet this is the critical period for students in their education; the elementary grades form the basis for future studies.

One Lunch Buddy enjoys working with the students and comes by this experience naturally. “Once a teacher, always a teacher,” the former math teacher of thirty years at Prospect High School explains. After he retired, he found that he missed being around kids. Now he looks forward to Mondays and working with the students.

His greatest challenge is getting the students to focus because their friends are outside. Still, he found that some kids did come back week after week. “They must be getting something,” he said. “Because they could be going to recess.”

Lunch Buddies volunteer and Senior Corps-RSVP member, David Jacobson.

A former retail clerk volunteers twice a week at the school, tutoring fifth grade reading on Tuesdays and fourth grade math on Thursdays. She sees the overwhelming need for more instructors to help the students who may be falling behind. “I would expect that the teachers are doing the best they can with the resources in their control,” she said. “Mentors or tutors are a resource that can and should help the individual student that needs the one-on one attention to move forward.”

Most tutors have found that the math learning process today is quite different from the ones that they learned decades ago, but say that they can still show the students other ways to arrive at the same answers. Sometimes kids learn by “mental math.” When one Lunch Buddy started tutoring, she ran to the library to find the new world of math and found it was like putting a puzzle together.

For students whose native language is often the only one spoken at home, tutors work on English pronunciation, then lead them to the next step in understanding. In order to explain nouns, verbs and other parts of speech, tutors sometimes use books from a library’s children’s section to help kids understand basic grammar, or find online worksheets and simple crossword puzzles.

While there are many challenges in working with fourth, fifth and sixth graders, tutors agree that the rewards are well worth the hours they put in. As one volunteer explained, “Most satisfying is seeing the kids grow in self-confidence, learn more and build a connection with the other tutors and me, which moves us from tutors to mentors. One boy came in with a really bad attitude and left at the end of the semester as a leader who helped the other boys learn.”

Another Lunch Buddy said, “The gift from the children really comes when you see a glow in their eyes or a wide smile on their face when they now understand a new concept in math or a new sentence structure in writing. These are gifts we cannot put a price on in any way.”

Although special training is not required to be a Lunch Buddy, a basic knowledge of English and math is important. Each school determines how much training is necessary and which resources the tutors may use. Tutors are given guidelines on ways to handle behavioral problems and when to report them in addition to confidentiality concerns. Volunteers receive a success kit at the beginning of each semester. HandsOn Suburban Chicago/Senior Corps-RSVP staff are also available to answer questions or address issues. Tutors with teaching experience assist volunteers who may feel uncomfortable teaching math concepts that are different from, say the 1960’s and 1970’s.

Lunch Buddies volunteers, including Senior Corps-RSVP member Judy Liles (right).

Most important is the tremendous need for people who can give their time and energy to these kids. As one volunteer so eloquently put it, “We as tutors have the chance to open new doors for these students. I believe if each person could help one child dream a little greater than they might have before, anything might be possible. What greater satisfaction can we achieve for ourselves?”

This year, thirty-one tutors have worked with a total of eighty-one students at Jane Addams and Plainfield School in Des Plaines, the only schools which offer the program. In 2017, Euclid Elementary School in Mount Prospect will be a Lunch Buddies school, but will focus on mentoring and is eager to recruit volunteers.

Teachers say the Lunch Buddies tutors are a valuable asset to their teaching schedule. One sixth grade instructor observed, “They have developed a positive connection with our kids…our students look forward to working with them weekly. The teachers and students truly appreciate their time and dedication.”

For more information on the Lunch Buddies program and other tutoring opportunities, please visit our website and apply.

Senior Corps-RSVP Volunteers Step in to Fill Meals on Wheels Weekend Gap

2016 November 30
Comments Off on Senior Corps-RSVP Volunteers Step in to Fill Meals on Wheels Weekend Gap
by HandsOn Suburban Chicago

20161116_113629November 16th – Senior Corps-RSVP volunteers collaborated with our partners at Catholic Charities in Arlington Heights to package two-day shelf stable food packs for 105 Meals on Wheels recipients.

Catholic Charities provides hot meal deliveries Monday through Friday, leaving recipients without service on Saturdays and Sundays. The volunteers filled packs with enough cans of tuna, soup, crackers, oatmeal, breakfast bars, raisins, fruit cups, and applesauce to cover the two day gap.

Two days later, some of the volunteers joined the Meals on Wheels drivers, helping deliver the two-day meal packs, along with the regularly scheduled meals, to the 105 recipients.


This slideshow requires JavaScript.



Four Ways to Give Back to Veterans

2016 November 14
Comments Off on Four Ways to Give Back to Veterans
by HandsOn Suburban Chicago
Veterans tour the WWII Memorial in Washington, D.C., with volunteers through Honor Flight, a nonprofit that gives veterans a free trip to visit monuments that honor their service.

Engaging with veterans through volunteer service can be one of the best ways to thank them for their service, provide much-needed support and recognize the important role they play in our communities. Veteran reintegration is not a challenge but an opportunity to partner with and support them as they transition. Here are some ideas for giving back and celebrating their service on Veterans Day and all year round:

1. Connect with veterans in your community

Disabled American Veterans’ Local Veterans Assistance Program provides an excellent opportunity to give back to veterans locally by helping them with everyday tasks like grocery shopping, yard work, or running errands. It’s a great way to build relationships with veterans in your community and help them remain independent.

2. Serve alongside veterans

Many veterans get involved in community service as a way of finding purpose and connecting with their neighbors upon their return to civilian life. Through organizations like The Mission Continues, you can support service projects led by veterans and partner with them to create change in your community.

3. Volunteer at a hospital

Department of Veterans Affairs hospitals, nursing homes and clinics can always use volunteers to support patients and staff by performing various duties. To get involved, locate your local VA, sign up to volunteer at or donate to a facility, or volunteer to drive a van to and from hospitals.

4. Organize your own service project

Get creative and organize your own DIY service project to benefit veterans in your community. Some ideas include building a community garden, hosting a resume preparation workshop for returning vets or organizing a welcome home project, or collecting and archiving a veteran’s story through the Veterans Oral History Project.

Learn about Points of Light’s Military Initiatives, and the importance of engaging with veterans and the military community through service. And, find more opportunities to get involved at


See full article here:

October Senior Corps-RSVP Spotlight on Service

2016 October 21
Comments Off on October Senior Corps-RSVP Spotlight on Service
by HandsOn Suburban Chicago

Community Paint-a-Thon team find painting homes rewarding despite the long hours.

You could call Larry Reinhardt, Deb Lester and Steve Gonczy the Paint-a-Thon “honey-do” people. Every September, their team of 25 to 30 volunteers, take on the daunting task of restoring the exterior of an older or disabled homeowner’s residence enabling them to live independently, and with dignity in their community. This team is one of 22 teams that painted a total of 24 homes for this year’s 29th annual Community Paint-a-Thon. Individuals that qualify to have their home painted are homeowners with limited financial resources who are at least 60 years of age, or have a permanent disability, or a Veteran, making them unable to do the work themselves.
Steve, Larry and Deb are some of the more than 75 Senior Corps-RSVP members that participated in this year’s Paint-a-Thon. Their energy and enthusiasm are evident as they relate their experiences working with St. Raymond’s Paint-a-Thon team based in Mount Prospect. They have been working on homes in the northwest suburbs for more than ten years and each year look forward to getting together, knowing all the effort required to return a house to beautiful condition.
“It’s fun to reconnect,” Deb said. “We pray for good weather and most of the time get it.”
One would think that, with so many hands, the job should take only a couple of days. Not quite. Preparation alone can take as many as four days, while painting is done in about nine hours.
“We put in a total of 150 to 250 hours of volunteer time,” Steve said. “Two-thirds of that is in the preparation. We start by power washing, then we scrape, sand, wire brush and fill in any holes. After that, it’s finally ready for the primer and the painting.”
Paint-a-Thon volunteers have replaced window foundations, wood for railings and decks. The paint is donated by Valspar, additional paint supplies are also donated and some equipment is kept year to year to re-use.
People with limited finances who need exterior painting and repair work on their homes may start applying in April. Catholic Charities reviews all applications to determine eligibility. Annette Sommer, Manager of Client Services for HandsOn Suburban Chicago recruits all the volunteer teams. Teams of painters come from several area corporations, local church groups, high school youth groups, and community- minded individuals. Once it’s determined that a homeowner qualifies, an inspector will assess the preparation and repairs required. Detailed notes are provided to each team with the number of gallons of paint and additional equipment needed.
After the Paint-a-Thon team members are assigned a home they make decisions on the best way to distribute the work load. In September, following Labor Day, work begins. The volunteers show up at 8:30 a.m. with scraping tools, power wash equipment, paints, brushes and whatever else is needed to get the job done. A typical day ends at 3:00 p.m.
But as every homeowner knows, very few projects proceed without a hitch somewhere along the line. As work progresses, sometimes the project’s estimated time goes beyond the original estimate, due to unforeseen issues.
“About every third one is a bear,” Larry laughed. “We did repair work on a deck. Had a lot of rotted wood; then we have to watch for wasp and bee nests; one had lots of ants near the garage.”
“Sometimes when we do the power washing it can go right through the wood,” Steve said. “We use lots of wood filler; one house had rusted out steel gutters.”
Older team members are aware of their limitations. “Larry was a real trouper dealing with the gutters,” Deb said. “But ladder work is challenging; we try to leave it to the younger guys.”
In all the years the team has been with Paint-a-Thon, they’ve never had an accident. Prior to starting a job, new volunteers attend a safety training.
All agreed the rewards are worth it and that’s what keeps them volunteering year after year. One of the bonuses—meeting interesting people.
“I got to know one client when I was painting the inside of her front door. We talked for three hours,” Deb said. “She was from the Philippines. She still sends me Christmas cards.”
According to Annette Sommer, once a job is completed a survey is sent to the homeowners to learn if they were satisfied with the work of the team and if there were any issues regarding the painting project.
“We get about 90 percent of the homeowners to respond. They’re always satisfied,” she said. “The volunteers are great. Seniors, adults and youth all work together.”
In the past 29 years Community Paint-a-Thon volunteers have painted 814 homes, with the help of 16,747 volunteers using approximately 15,190 gallons of paint. This major accomplishment has been completed by volunteer teams like this one who care about their communities and neighbors.


Other Links for Opportunities to Help Your Neighbor:
Yard Work, Center of Concern, Park Ridge
Food Donations, Northwest Compass, Mount Prospect
Senior Transportation Driver, Neighbors Helping Neighbors, Maine Township
Window Washing, Center of Concern, Maine Township
Home Delivered Meals, Meals at Home, Evanston and North Shore


After all the preparation work, Senior Corps-RSVP Community Paint-a-Thon volunteers begin the final step. With so many hands, the job of painting usually takes only one day.



29th Annual Community Paint-a-Thon

2016 October 5
Comments Off on 29th Annual Community Paint-a-Thon
by HandsOn Suburban Chicago

Community Paint-A-Thon is a unique community partnership designed to paint the extericoor of homes owned and occupied by persons with limited financial resources who are at least 60 years of age or have a permanent disability making them unable to do the work themselves. The goal of this program is to provide dignity to the homeowner and enable them to live independently in their community by restoring the outside of their home. HandsOn Suburban Chicago is a member of the steering committee comprised of other area nonprofits and corporations that meet to plan and execute the program each year. Each home project entails not only painting the exterior of the home, but also all the prep work; which can take as much or more time than the actual painting. Prep work that can be required: scraping, sanding, caulking, priming and landscaping prior to being able to paint the home, all of which is the responsibility of the team assigned to the home. Many teams go above and beyond by planting flowers & bulbs, painting or providing new yard furniture, fixing & painting mail boxes and building planter boxes.

As a 9/11 Day of Service, 21 Community Paint-A-Thon teams comprised of 410 volunteers painted a total of 24 homes. Teams that participated came from area corporations, high school youth groups, local church groups, and community groups as well as individuals; all who were interested in being a part of this vital community restoration and beautification program, enabling seniors, the disabled and veterans to remain in their homes.

In the past 29 years Community Paint-A-Thon volunteers have painted 814 homes, with the help of 16,747 volunteers and using approx. 15,190 gallons of paint.  This major accomplishment has been completed by volunteers caring about their communities and neighbors.

This year there were two new teams – Kingswood United Methodist Church of Buffalo Grove and St. Peter Lutheran Church of Arlington Heights that joined the retuning 19 teams – many of them have been participating with the program for over 20 years.

So many of the teams who participate in the Community Paint-A-Thon take ownership of their assigned home project and go well Above and Beyond in helping to make a positive experience for both the homeowner and all the wonderful volunteers.coo

One of our returning teams has once again gone well Above and Beyond the traditional scope of this painting project. Glenbrook South High School Interact Club, under the direction of their teachers/team leaders made a huge transformation of the home they were assigned to paint.  The team made repairs to a broken overhead garage so that it would now be able to close and lock, purchased and installed a brand new screen door, added new locks and outdoor lighting (including solar lights around the front and back yards) – all of these extras provided security for the homeowner they otherwise could not afford. Their team leader, Mark Gallagher, worked with a local Home Deport to provide some of the funds to cover the costs of the supplies, while the remaining funds were raised by the students, all to spruce up the home.  The team worked tirelessly to clean the yard (collecting over 10 bags of yard waste) mowed the overgrown yard, added new mulch around the evergreens and added flowers, giving the house a beautiful new look to the exterior.cooo


Many thanks all the AWESOME teams who helped to make the 29th Annual Community Paint-A-thon an OUTSTANDING day of service!