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How to Achieve a Positive Volunteer Experience – Part 1

2017 July 10
by HandsOn Suburban Chicago

Volunteering is a wonderful life-lengthening experience. Studies show that volunteering can be beneficial to those served as well as to volunteers. Volunteers help organizations reach critical goals while sharing or learning new skills increasing their socialization

Volunteering can be a very positive experience, but ensuring that happens is as much the responsibility of the volunteer as it is the organization. In fact, the burden is on the volunteer to be diligent in researching the organization and its environment to find the right fit.

As a Volunteer You Have the Right

  • To have a prompt, personal interview with the director or coordinator of volunteers.
  • To be assigned a job that is worthwhile and challenging and that will use your skills or help you develop new ones.
  • To have a clear understanding of the job, including requirements, responsibilities, time commitment, training, and supervisory structure.
  • To be given a copy of the volunteer job description for your own file.
  • To receive orientation to familiarize you with the staff, facilities, and program.
  • To have periodic evaluations of your volunteer service with upgrading or change of assignment when feasible or desirable.
  • To be informed of agency benefits, such as reimbursement for out-of-pocket expenses and insurance, and of tax deductions allowable for volunteer expenses.
  • To receive regular recognition both formally and informally.
  • To be kept informed of what is going on in the agency through newsletters, staff meetings, etc.
  • To ask for a new assignment or return to HandsOn Suburban Chicago to explore other volunteer opportunities.

In upcoming blog posts, we will cover 2 more key topics that should help both prospective and current volunteers improve their service experience:  Volunteer Responsibilities, and How to Get the Answers You Need.

Impact of Senior-Corps RSVP members highlighted at HOSC Recognition Brunch

2017 June 12
by HandsOn Suburban Chicago

On May 18, during Senior Corps week, HandsOn Suburban Chicago celebrated and recognized the accomplishments of our Senior Corps-RSVP members. At a recognition brunch held at the Metropolis ballroom, attendees enjoyed a delicious meal. Together we celebrated the outstanding accomplishments of Senior Corps-RSVP members who helped provide a total of 85,000 volunteer hours to area nonprofits!


See more photos!

The impact of the contributions of Senior Corps-RSVP members made during our Senior Corps-RSVP fiscal year, ending March 31, 2017 were shared at the recognition brunch.

  • 180 Senior Corps-RSVP members assisted 253 adult learners improve their English language skills to become better prepared parents, neighbors, and increase employment opportunities.
  • 83 Senior Corps-RSVP members painted the exterior of 16 financially disadvantaged seniors enabling them to remain in their homes with pride.
  • 67 Senior Corps-RSVP members processed thrift shop donations resulting in additional revenues.
  • 56 Senior Corps-RSVP members tutored 372 students helping them improve academically.
  • 52 Senior Corps-RSVP members helped 1,149 filers complete their income tax returns, saving them the cost of tax preparation fees on average of $250.
  • 46 Senior Corps-RSVP members transported 305 older adults to medical appointments.
  • 34 Senior Corps-RSVP members delivered meals to 458 adults helping them to continue living independently.
  • 27 Senior Corps-RSVP members provided services for disaster preparedness.
  • 24 Senior Corps-RSVP members provided specialized skills to our member organizations helping those organizations do more with fewer dollars.
  • 18 Senior Corps-RSVP members supported food distribution pantries to 3,899 individuals helping to alleviate hunger.
  • 250 Senior Corps-RSVP members volunteered as advisory board members, animal and farm care, administrative and staff support roles, airport guides, art, craft, knit and crochet groups, choir members, current and special events assistance, hospital and nursing home activities, instructors, and homeless shelter workers.

Senior Corps-RSVP Members and Parents Make School Cool!

2017 May 25
by HandsOn Suburban Chicago

Middle School Students Enjoy Enrichment Activities at CHiL Fest

What keeps students on track to graduate from high school? Studies have shown a sense of belonging at school is vital to bolstering academic engagement. Positive social relations with community members have likewise been proven to inhibit risky behavior, ensuring kids in grades 6-8 stay on course to succeed at the secondary level.

To promote school connectedness among the students of Cooper, Holmes, and London Middle Schools (CCSD 21), HandsOn Suburban Chicago (HOSC) teamed up with the Chicago Fire and Journeys │ The Road Homea nonprofit that serves the homeless—to organize an afternoon of enrichment and service learning. The event, CHiLFest, took place at London in Wheeling on Friday, May 5.

CHiLFest’s other fun activities included a tai chi lesson taught by former London teacher Gary Puhy and a slime workshop run by HOSC’s schools project director Jess Park. Moved by its meditative component, one 6th grader who was previously unfamiliar with the martial art let everyone know he needed more of it in his life. The slime-making station elicited similar feedback from many of the students. They enjoyed discovering for themselves the properties of magnets as well as color science. The kids furthermore wanted to know when CHiL Fest was going to happen again.

7 Senior Corps-RSVP members and two parents kindly gave their time to facilitate the event, which had over 100 registrants. All the Senior Corps-RSVP members who participated also volunteer as tutors at various schools. Most of them serve at CCSD 21’s middle schools through CHiL—HOSC’s afterschool program. They served lunch and chaperoned the children as they rotated through each station. The students were thrilled to see familiar faces and to have the opportunity to bond with community members without homework deadlines looming.

The majority of the families CCSD 21 serves are classified as low-income. They rely on school and community resources to offer their children access to enrichment activities, which are vital to cultivating school connectedness as well as to their overall development. Research has proven that when children, especially those at risk, feel they are part of a caring community at school, they are more likely to attend school regularly, earn higher grades, and abstain from drug use and other destructive behaviors. Positive social relations with caring adults likewise help students feel connected to their school milieu. To make a difference, consider volunteering at a school in the fall.

If you are unable to commit to giving your time, you can help by making a small gift of $25 to cover the event’s cost for one student. CHiLFest was made possible thanks to a generous donation from an anonymous family foundation. Enrichment events, such as CHiL Fest, were eliminated from HOSC’s offerings after its funding for School Programs was slashed in half. Contributions from people like you would enable HOSC to offer CHiL Fest and similar programming next school year. A donation of any amount would be welcome.


Senior Corps-RSVP members in their 90s prove you’re never too old

2017 May 2
by HandsOn Suburban Chicago

Seniors who have reached the 90-plus mark may not be able to do as much as they did in their 70s or 80s but that doesn’t mean they’ve outgrown their usefulness. Better yet, those who continue to volunteer still feel loved and appreciated. Anyone who meets and speaks with Grace Fiebig, Lorraine Tancredi or LaVerne Pecka will come away inspired, thinking, “They’ve kept themselves younger simply by using their energies toward helping others, in senior centers, hospitals and wherever else the need arises.

Grace Fiebig has served at countless functions put on by the Arlington Heights Senior Center. Staff members at the center can’t imagine how they would have managed without her.

Grace Fiebig is 97 years old. In good weather, she grabs her walker and strolls to the Arlington Heights Senior Center, about four blocks from her first floor apartment. About once a month, she volunteers at the Senior Center, whenever they need help sending out bulk mailings. When asked what keeps her going, she answered with one word, “Stubbornness.”

For the past 25 years, Grace has served in many capacities as a Senior Corps-RSVP volunteer. She’s painted homes during the annual Community Paint-A-Thon, assisted at blood drives, helped numerous nonprofit organizations, including our own, HandsOn Suburban Chicago, with bulk mailings, served at her church’s welcome brunches and is on the advisory committee at the Senior Center. Along with other committee members, she attends performer auditions to check out entertainment for senior programs.

Grace enjoys volunteering so much that she often recruits others to join her. “My neighbor told everyone, ‘Grace got me out of my rocking chair.'”

Since the day she came to the Senior Corps-RSVP program years ago and offered her services, her philosophy has always been “It’s payback time.” But the rewards are there too. When asked if there are any days when she thinks, “I don’t want to do this. Why did I sign up?” she says no. She loves meeting people and enjoys getting out of the house, which she will do until physically unable.

Karen Hanson, manager at the Arlington Heights Senior Center, recalls the time Grace came to help when the RTA’s “Seniors Ride Free” service was launched. Grace personally processed 850 people, from 8:30 am to 4:30 pm, for five days.

“The center could not exist without people like Grace,” Karen said.

Lorraine Tancredi, Senior Corps-RSVP member and Advocate Lutheran General Hospital volunteer for 30 years

Lorraine Tancredi, 94 year-old Senior Corps-RSVP member for over 30 years, started volunteering in 1985 before she retired from teaching to get a feel for the volunteering experience. She began in the flower shop at Advocate Lutheran General Hospital because she “wanted to learn about flower arranging and bouquets.”

Later, she switched to doing clerical work in several different departments at the hospital. Today she volunteers once every two weeks, putting together charts for the nurses in the pre-surgical department. She finds this a good outlet for meeting other people and, at the same time, giving back.

“When you get older, you lose so many friends,” she said. “Instead of feeling sorry for myself, I try to get out and I find it’s a good thing to meet a variety of ages. I listen when others talk about their life, their grandchildren. It keeps you more alive.”

On days when she’s not quite in the mood for working, she stops and thinks about how pleasant her co-workers are and the good she’s doing. That’s enough to get her “perked up.”

Magda Scanlan, the manager of volunteer services at Advocate Lutheran General, praises Lorraine for her dedication, but most of all, for her kindness and consideration. “Lorraine is our volunteer who always sends thank-you notes to the office expressing her appreciation for…gifts or events. It sure puts a smile on our faces!”

LaVerne Pecka enjoying National Volunteer week this past April.

From 5:00 am to noon twice a week, 92-year-old Senior Corps-RSVP member LaVerne Pecka can be seen at the main information desk at Advocate Lutheran General and is often the first person a patient meets when arriving for surgery in the early morning. LaVerne knows they’re nervous and, as Magda says, “She’s there rain, snow or shine and always with a kind word and smile.”

Prior to that, LaVerne served as one of many, much-appreciated hospital wheelchair operators. “That’s how I learned where things were,” she said.

LaVerne is grateful she is still able to drive and often helps others in the building where she lives by shopping or running errands. It’s another way to meet neighbors and keep in touch.

In addition to the inspiration they provide, there’s a common thread to these stories: Although these women are well into their 90s, they defy the image of older seniors who may suffer from loneliness, depression or feel they can no longer function because of health issues.

They’ve learned that offering themselves, where needed, offers, in turn, friendships and a sense of purpose. In terms of health and abilities, they pace themselves, knowing that they can still serve in smaller capacities. And yet, they are still appreciated by those they work with, no matter how often, whether it’s once a week or once a month.

By Janet Souter, Senior Corps-RSVP Member

HandsOn Suburban Chicago Celebrates National Volunteer Week

2017 April 27


During National Volunteer Week, I wanted to take some time to acknowledge the work of our tremendous volunteers that have been the heart and soul of HandsOn Suburban Chicago since its inception in 1969. The amazing thing about volunteers is that they freely donate their time to strengthen our communities and, by extension, society as a whole. Whether they are delivering a meal to a senior in need, tutoring a child struggling academically in school, or perhaps stocking the shelves at the local food pantry, one thing is certain, volunteers make a significant difference and should be applauded for their service.

On behalf of HandsOn Suburban Chicago, thanks to all that volunteer or are considering volunteering in the future. During National Volunteer Week, please join me in thanking these unsung heroes that make the world a better place, and if you are one of those special people, don’t forget to encourage others to follow in your footsteps!


Jordan Friedman
Executive Director
HandsOn Suburban Chicago


To learn more about National Volunteer Week, visit the Points of Light Foundation’s website.


HandsOn Suburban Chicago, two volunteers, recognized during Mayors Day for National Service

2017 April 14
by HandsOn Suburban Chicago

On April 4th as part of the 2017 Mayor, County, and Tribal Recognition Day for National Service, Palatine Mayor Jim Schwantz presented Senior Corps-RSVP Pen Pal program volunteer, Kay Haubenreiser, with a proclamation recognizing National Service.

It was part of a celebration acknowledging the success of the intergenerational program between a bilingual, bi-level class at Jane Addams Elementary school in Palatine and senior participants in the Caring Hearts Adult Day Program. The Adult Day program is one of many programs offered by the Palatine Township Senior Center.



Right to left: Jordan Friedman, Executive Director of HandsOn Suburban Chicago, sponsor of Senior Corps-RSVP of northern Cook and Dupage counties, Carol Reagan, Executive Director of the Palatine Township Senior Center, Kay Haubenreiser, Senior Corps-RSVP volunteer, and Mayor Jim Schwantz of Palatine


Mike Skowron at Mt. Prospect Village Hall CroppedHandsOn Suburban Chicago (HOSC) was also proud to have one of our amazing Senior Corps-RSVP volunteers, Mike Skowron, receive the Mayors Recognition Day for National Service proclamation from the Village of Mount Prospect. She was also recognized for all her years of service to the community.

Mount Prospect and Palatine were two of sixteen different communities within HOSC’s service area that participated in this recognition of national service. More than 4,520 leaders from around the nation that showed their support for the AmeriCorps and Senior Corps programs that are making an impact in their communities. Check out this link to a collection of social media posts in 2017 Recognition Day for National Service Storify.



LifeSource’s Senior Corps-RSVP Members Make Lasting Friendships While Helping To Save Lives

2017 April 4
by HandsOn Suburban Chicago

Ten years ago, Senior Corps-RSVP members Ellen and Wayne Takagishi began looking for ways to volunteer locally. They ran into trouble because they spend six months of the year out-of-state. “Many organizations didn’t know what to do with us,” Ellen said. Then they learned about LifeSource.

The Takagishis interviewed with Eva Donoghue, LifeSource’s Volunteer Services manager. “We knew from the start we found our place.”

Senior Corps-RSVP members and ten-year LifeSource volunteers Ellen and Wayne Takagishi

Eva agrees, “I remember clearly the day I interviewed them and that exact thought entered my mind…we are lucky. They have a delightful sense of humor. They make our donors feel appreciated and special.”

LifeSource serves as a lifeline between those who are in need of blood in the Chicago area and those willing to donate it. It also provides blood products and services in northeast Illinois and serves as an international resource for rare blood types.

For the past ten years, the Takagishis have participated in LifeSource blood drives at high schools and local businesses. As with most LifeSource volunteers, they are responsible for refreshment setup and recovery areas, monitoring donor safety, assisting with traffic flow and, most of all, giving a big “thank you” to the donors for helping to meet the constant need for blood donations in the community.

But more than that, they enjoy their work and the friendships they’ve made over the years. Wayne recalled a time at the end of a busy day when a five-year-old boy came up to him to say thank you for helping get blood for him and shook Wayne’s hand.

The couple feels a special connection to the donors at the high schools. Some are Ellen’s former students, now teenage blood donors. “Many come to save lives,” she said. “Some donate for service credit, personal reasons or for family and friends. So many become donors for life.”

Another Senior Corps-RSVP volunteer, John Allworth, joined LifeSource in 2011 and, like the Takagishis, enjoys caring for high school donors. He talks with the students after they’ve gone through the donation process, giving them cookies, cheese crackers, or juice. “They’re good kids,” he said. “That’s what I come back for. I enjoy hearing about their goals, future plans. Some will go into the military, others want to further their education.”

John educates the students on post-donation care, the importance of giving blood and its impact. If first-timers seem hesitant, he tries to help them overcome their fears by telling them, “Be proud of yourself for what you’re doing.” In this way, he serves another purpose, building donors for life.

Senior Corps-RSVP member and LifeSource volunteer John Allworth

It’s a little quieter in the corporate sector, John says, where he volunteers in the summer when kids are out of school. He’s participated in drives sponsored by the Blackhawks and has become friends with many of the regulars who donate every year.

He recalled one family of regular donors that brought their young daughters along to expose them to the value of giving blood so others may live. One daughter said she couldn’t wait till she reached sophomore year when she could finally give.

“Some people I’ve known for a long time come to the recovery area first just to say hi to me before they even register,” John said.

About seventy area seniors volunteer currently but more are needed, especially at corporate, community and, high school blood drives throughout the city and suburbs. Those who are service-oriented, outgoing and, energetic will find that giving their time at a LifeSource blood drive is a great way to meet people and make an impact on so many lives.

The staff has an immense appreciation for their work, “We needed our volunteers today like we needed the air to breathe,” said one staff member.

“Our volunteers are such a pleasure to work with…great interactions with the donors who really benefit from their care. These folks are truly needed. We depend on them,” said another.

The feeling is mutual, according to John. He finds the LifeSource people considerate, appreciative, and dedicated to the importance of blood donation. “They’re committed to it one-hundred and ten percent.”

“We want our volunteer blood donors to know how special they are,” Eva said. “Our Donor Appreciation Representatives help ensure a positive experience.”

Gwendolyn, a heart transplant and blood recipient, said it best, “I am only here because someone said yes to a local blood drive, yes on an organ donation form, and yes, I’ll be a LifeSource volunteer. I assure you I know how much you do…and I thank you from the bottom of my brand new heart.”

Adapted from the Senior Corps-RSVP Spotlight on Service by Senior Corps-RSVP Member Janet Souter

Sign up to volunteer with LifeSource on our website!

Three Chicagoland organizations have become Service Enterprise Certified in Illinois

2017 February 13
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