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Wheeling middle school students advocate for social change

2020 February 13
by HandsOn Suburban Chicago

HandsOn Suburban Chicago amplifies the voices of London Middle School students through letter-writing service project

What matters to young people in our northern suburban community? HandsOn Suburban Chicago (HOSC) recently posed this question to the students at Jack London Middle School in Wheeling and uncovered how the decisions of elected leaders impact the daily lives of our adolescent neighbors.

This winter, 69 eighth graders advocated for social change by writing letters to Illinois Senators Tammy Duckworth and Dick Durbin and Representative Brad Schneider.

HOSC, which has provided service learning opportunities to Community Consolidated School District 21 since 2015, organized the project as part of a lesson on social justice advocacy. This exercise in civic engagement enables students to practice their self-advocacy skills, familiarizing them with their roles as constituents of a representative democracy.

“We forget that the accumulation of knowledge and the holding of convictions must finally result in the application of that knowledge and those convictions to life itself.”

– Jane Addams

The lesson frames social justice as a set of actions anyone can take to help create a fair society where groups of people that do not traditionally hold power are protected from discrimination and exploitation through laws, policies, and norms that acknowledge this power imbalance.

The lesson cites the achievements of early 20th-century social justice pioneer and Chicagoan Jane Addams. In her work Democracy and Social Ethics, she wrote, “We forget that the accumulation of knowledge and the holding of convictions must finally result in the application of that knowledge and those convictions to life itself.”

The participants practiced their persuasive writing skills to assert their perspectives on various laws and public policies that affect them and their families. 

Issues that matter to students

The eighth graders wrote about a wide range of issues, including gun violence, immigration reform, refugee admissions, climate change, racism, and gender inequity.

School gun violence, in particular, was on the mind of many students. One wrote, “In school it is unfair that I have to worry if I’m going to die today. What has our society come to? Now, I know this clearly isn’t your fault Mr. Schneider, but something has to be done.”

With over 40% of Wheeling residents being born in another country (according to the United States Census Bureau), issues related to refugees and immigration reform were likewise at the forefront of students’ minds.

After detailing a plan to accept and house refugees while vetting them, one student appealed to Senator Duckworth, “The United States is supposed to be the land of the free. How are we supposed to call ourselves this if we can’t even let refugees in? How can they get a second chance in life if we just send them back to their war torn homes? I hope you seriously consider this plan and help the refugees that need our help dearly.”

“Thousands of families are separated each year. I never thought mine would be one of them.”

– London Middle School 8th grader

In a particularly gut-wrenching letter about deportation and immigration reform one student bravely related their own story to the senator, “Thousands of families are separated each year. I never thought mine would be one of them. There’s a lot of things we don’t do anymore due to the result of my dad having to go. I wouldn’t want anyone else going through the same as I am. I really hope you can get this letter. I’d really love if the immigration issue was solved and families wouldn’t have to be separated.”

These poignant words remind us that policy decisions impact youth in the same ways they do adults, and thus it is important to make their voices heard. Environmentalist Greta Thunberg and gun control advocate Emma Gonzalez have risen to prominence in recent years, demanding a seat at the table and holding decision-makers accountable for their inertia. It is these young leaders who remind us adults that civic responsibility extends beyond voting.

Get involved!

What are you doing to stay engaged and help your community? Consider taking a stand, writing your own letter, or volunteering at a local organization that needs your help!

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Senior Corps-RSVP volunteers at WINGS help provide defenses against domestic violence

2019 August 2
by HandsOn Suburban Chicago

People looking for a few inexpensive clothes to add to their wardrobe, unique household items or toys for visiting grandchildren often check out thrift stores, such as those operated by WINGS (Women In Need Growing Stronger). It’s a fun and economical way to shop, and best of all, the profits from these stores-as the name suggests-deliver much needed assistance for families in crisis. Its mission: to break the cycle of domestic violence.

Because WINGS operates on so many levels, it needs helping hands in these areas as well: Thrift stores (for funding), safe houses (to provide shelter for victims) and the crisis hotline (to offer the first means of comfort and guidance).

Thrift Shop Volunteer

Helen Jerusis examines housewares donations.

Helen Jerusis, a Senior Corps-RSVP member for 23 years has been volunteering at a WINGS store for the past ten years and at 93, she’s still going strong.

When she arrives at the store, she starts by making sure that items in the housewares section are clean and in good working order before pricing them.

What keeps her coming back each week? “The people … are always smiling,” she says. “Charlie is easy to work with and a terrific manager.” And she knows the staff appreciates her efforts. She’s proud of the store, as well. The prices are competitive, donations carefully examined and it’s clean and organized. For those interested in volunteering at a WINGS thrift shop, there are stores in Arlington Heights, Schaumburg and Niles.

Safe House Volunteer

Beth Adamoli has even taught clients how to knit.

The main goal of a WINGS safe house operation is to help women in crisis regain a sense of control and empowerment, assess their strengths to focus on career guidance and enable them to eventually live on their own. It offers shelter, legal advice, meals, children’s activities and so much more. The facilities, on average, house about twenty women and twenty-five children. That’s where Senior Corps-RSVP member, Beth Adamoli comes in. For the past five years, Beth has been working one day a week during the lunch hour, making salads, setting the table, and even hard-boiling eggs. Yet in the short time she’s there, she is making a difference.

She brings her knitting and estimates that she has taught more than 100 women how to knit. If they’re reluctant to learn, she’ll start with asking them about their favorite color. She has many samples of yarn to choose from. “I also tell them it helps with stress,” she says. “I did it when my husband had cancer. It’s similar to yoga.”

Even during the winter, Beth will encourage the women to step outside for a short time. A change of scenery, no matter how slight, can help combat depression.

She chose to volunteer at WINGS because she was interested in helping victims of domestic violence. “I needed to figure out my retirement,” she explained. “I don’t like being insular and it helps to be with the less fortunate.”

According to Beth, the women who arrive at the safe house come from diverse backgrounds. Some had management skills; others were foreign nationals, victims of human trafficking, injuries, etc. She talks to them, asks how they’re doing, and though it may take some time, they eventually warm up.

There is a great need for lunch servers. Beth may be the only one at this point. She emphasizes that it doesn’t take a huge commitment, and yet she is touched by the stories she hears. Those who wish to help at a safe house must take a 40-hour training class to receive a certificate and learn the cycle, psychology and legal options for domestic violence victims.

Crisis Hotline Volunteer

Sandie Mix, Senior Corps-RSVP member, takes calls at the WINGS crisis hotline. She is often the first person a woman talks to when she contacts WINGS. Sandie admits that her duties are sometimes challenging. “Doing an intake for a potential client who is confused and scared can be intense,” she says. “The questioning is personal and explicit.” But Sandie finds that with all the WINGS programs available to draw on, eventually women feel more at ease and ready to begin a new and safer life.

Sandie Mix is often the first contact for domestic violence victims.

Sandie began volunteering about six years ago when she learned how WINGS reached out to domestic violence victims and decided to help out in some capacity. After a 40-hour training course along with shadowing a crisis hotline worker, she was ready to begin handling callers on her own. In addition to working the call line, she also assists staff members and WINGS residents.

“It is a satisfying experience to know that I am a very small part of this great organization,” Sandie said.

This past fiscal year, WINGS served 1,045 individuals including 589 women and 425 children. Those who assist WINGS in any capacity should know they will make a difference in many women’s lives down the line.

To volunteer with WINGS and help to combat domestic violence follow this link.

Volunteering in Retirement Brings Multiple Rewards for Senior Corps-RSVP Member

2019 May 7
by HandsOn Suburban Chicago

By Janet Souter, Senior Corps-RSVP Member

When Mike Mokate retired from his career as an informational technology provider nearly two years ago, like many people, he wanted to spend more time with his family. But he also felt the need for a sense of purpose, a wish to give structure to his day and especially something we all need-the same social interactions that people get at their jobs.

“Volunteering supplies all of that,” he says.

Volunteering gives Senior Corps-RSVP Member Mike Mokate a sense of purpose, structure and a chance to meet many diverse people.

There was another goal. He wanted to continue using his professional skills in his volunteer activities.

For that last reason, people at HandsOn Suburban Chicago connected him with Little City in Palatine, where he helps implement new systems, works on contracts with vendors and manages several projects. Currently he is coordinating with their senior leadership team and board of directors to review and update their strategic plan. As a result Mike was also recruited to work on HOSC’s Senior Corps-RSVP Advisory Council.

His volunteering doesn’t end there. Mike wears many other hats and finds joy in all of them. On Monday nights he can be seen at St. Mark’s Church in Mount Prospect serving at the church’s PADS site. PADS (Public Action to Deliver Shelter) is the program in which area churches provide food and shelter for the homeless on a rotating basis. On Monday night when it’s his week to work, he arrives at 5 p.m. to make certain that the heat is turned up and that there are towels, soap and shampoo in the shower rooms. Meanwhile, about ten volunteers are busy preparing dinner for the guests who start arriving at 6:45 p.m.

“This is a wonderful example of the power of lots of people doing little bits to help,” he says. “I believe that there are 75 people who volunteer during the season to ensure our success.”Mike is also a Read to Learn volunteer. This semester, he tutors a woman from South Korea, who is learning violin-making. He helps her with reading and writing English and in return, she is teaching him some of the aspects of crafting violins.

He tutors and mentors a former Read to Learn student who had tested too high for RTL but still needed assistance in his job search. Mike is helping him prepare for the College and Career Prep program next fall, honing his reading and math skills.

So what drives Mike and how does he keep it all straight?

“I like the variety of multiple things,” he says. “It also gives me the chance to work with many different people. It does make keeping track of my commitments a little tricky. I have had a couple of times when I realized that I had committed to two things at the same time and I had to scramble to rearrange plans. And yet, Mike doesn’t feel burned out. As he modestly explains: “After working 70-80 hour weeks, this does not seem like that much.”

And as so many volunteers emphasize, the rewards more than make up for time spent. Mike’s include: Meeting people from different cultures through RTL and especially the guests at PADS who consistently express their gratitude for the support they receive from the program. Mike continues to be inspired by others as well, such as the ninety-year-old man who is part of the clean-up crew at the PADS shelter. Or the RTL students from Russia, Japan and South Korea who struggle to make a success of their lives, while caring for their families and retaining their native cultures.

His advice for those who wish to keep busy at multiple volunteer sites: “Get a good calendar app to keep track of your commitments to both volunteering and family.” He and his wife develop a regular routine of reviewing his commitments for the upcoming days. (“She told me once that it was a lot easier to keep track of me when I went to work for 12 hours a day,” he said).

All in all, it appears that while Mike is being inspired by the generosity and commitment of others, he’s also providing an inspiration to the rest of us.

If you would like to find new or additional volunteer opportunities, use our website: Our partners offer a world of options for you.

Senior Corps-RSVP AARP Tax Aide goes the extra mile

2019 February 2
tags: , ,
by HandsOn Suburban Chicago

By Janet Souter, Senior Corps-RSVP Member

It may sound strange, but Stewart Smith actually enjoys volunteering for a task that most of us dread this time of year. For the past two years, as a Senior Corps-RSVP volunteer for the AARP Tax-Aide program, Stewart has been helping low- to moderate-income seniors prepare their 1040s, which includes wading through those pesky alpha-numeric schedules.

Stewart-a retired chemical engineer who also holds an MBA-has been doing his own tax returns for the past 50 years, so when he saw that AARP was looking for people to serve as tax consultants, he signed on. This year, he will serve two mornings a week from early February through mid-April.

Stewart does more than just fill in forms. He digs deep to uncover the optimum number of deductions available to seniors. For example, two of his clients, a woman and her daughter, believed they had to file separate returns so the daughter could qualify for Medicaid. As he examined their financial situation, he realized that they weren’t required to file independently in order to obtain Medicaid assistance. Furthermore, the daughter’s income was low enough that she didn’t need to send in a return. This meant that the mother could claim her daughter as a dependent by filing as head-of-household. Those elements combined added to a savings of $800 that year. Best of all, the counseling and tax preparation cost her nothing.

In another situation, Stewart not only found a way that a senior could qualify for a deduction, but also went the extra mile and offered to file an amended return, so she could obtain an additional refund for the previous year.

Stewart Smith and other Tax Aide volunteers will be on hand for tax consultation from early February through mid-April.

It’s a rewarding way to volunteer, Stewart says, and local AARP Tax-Aide Coordinator, Marilyn Neuman, agrees. She says Stewart’s story is typical of all the dedicated tax consultant volunteers throughout the area. Seniors with limited resources appreciate the service Tax-Aide staffers provide and those volunteers get great satisfaction in helping those seniors with number crunching, exploring tax credits and weaving through deduction possibilities. In the end, clients are given a finished copy of their tax return and they’re all set. The original is filed electronically.   Here’s Stewart’s free advice for all taxpayers: “It’s important for people to double-check the beneficiaries for any IRA’s or bank or brokerage accounts they own and consider consolidating IRA’s, bank and brokerage accounts to simplify record keeping, tax return preparation and potential estate issues.”

Stewart also notes that because tax laws have changed considerably this year, past family situations may not qualify for the same deductions as they had previously.

For those that may be interested in volunteering as AARP Tax Aides next year, Stewart advises that people with basic math and computer skills who also enjoy working with people should definitely apply. Training includes five days of classroom training combined with a few days of home study during January to read the tax manuals provided and to complete practice returns. There is also an on-line exam near the end of January to receive IRS certification each year. Classroom training is needed only for the first two years. Thereafter, all returning volunteers must complete the IRS on-line certification exam.  A couple of days of classroom training are offered to the experienced, returning volunteers to review special topics and any changes to the tax laws.

Taxpayers should also bring the following paperwork: Photo ID and Social Security card or SSA-1099; copies of all tax documents for year 2018; copy of their 2017 federal and state income tax returns (1040); receipts and information for all planned itemized deductions (i.e., medical and dental expenses, taxes and interest paid, gifts to charities and other miscellaneous deductions – please total your receipts before coming); real estate tax bills for property taxes paid in 2018; closing statements for any real estate sold in 2018 (also, original cost of property and cost of any improvements); Social Security SSA-1099 for 2018; railroad retirement forms for 2018, RRB-1099 and RRB-1099R; any Affordable Care Act Forms (i.e. 1095); and bank direct deposit or direct debit information.

Seniors must call their closest Tax-Aide site in advance for appointments. Marilyn says it’s best to register early, because each site operates only one or two days a week for a few hours. If clients are filing a joint return, both spouses must be present or bring a signed financial power of attorney.

AARP Tax-Aide sites include:

  • Alcott Center in Buffalo Grove, (847) 850-2100
  • Arlington Heights Library, (847) 392-0100;
  • Arlington Heights Senior Center, (847) 253-5532
  • Des Plaines Library, (847) 827-5551
  • Elk Grove Village Adult Center, (847) 364-7224;
  • Frisbie Senior Center in Des Plaines, (847) 768-5944
  • Harper College Learning and Career Center in Prospect Heights, (847) 925-6001
  • Indian Trails Library in Wheeling, (847) 459-4100;
  • Mount Prospect Senior Center, (847) 870-5680
  • Palatine Senior Center, (847) 991-1112
  • Wheeling Township Center in Arlington Heights, (847) 259-7730

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

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


Re-blogged with minor edits from

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 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.