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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

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

2017 January 31
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
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
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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
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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.


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Four Ways to Give Back to Veterans

2016 November 14
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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


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