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Senior Corps-RSVP member’s skills have stretched around the world

2018 March 16
by HandsOn Suburban Chicago

After Joyce Adomitis retired from her career as a special education teacher in 2004, she took a year to regroup and then knew it was time to do something more with her life. Giving her time to others was uppermost in her mind. Her search connected her to Warm Blankets Orphan Care (WBOC)-a group that provides for children with no family or caregivers-in Africa, Asia, Central America, and the Dominican Republic. WBOC saw her talent for compassion and her special ability to resonate with people in need.

Joyce playing cards with children during a mission trip in 2012.

“They saw something in me that I didn’t,” she said. Warm Blankets evolved into Kinship United, a faith-based organization in Rolling Meadows which serves in previously war-torn or developing countries, helping to rebuild communities who can, in turn, care for orphans and widows by creating networks of churches and rescue centers.

Since then, Joyce, a Senior Corps-RSVP member, has worn several hats, giving of herself whenever and wherever she’s needed. Over the years the needs have taken her to Cambodia, Kenya and Uganda. She integrates into the lives of local children, playing with them, taking pictures, helping to obtain medical, educational and sheltering coverage for them. In other words, skills that are never out of date. And even though Joyce doesn’t speak the language in any of the countries she visits, she’s given an interpreter, but as she says, “They know I’m speaking from the heart so we just seem to communicate.”

“In these developing countries,” Joyce explains, “many children have lost their parents or any family member able to watch over them. They are constantly in danger of being taken. They are not even allowed to travel long distances to get water for fear that they may not return. That’s why volunteers support Kinship United’s work placing children in a home or rescue center. The paper trail is established with each child’s identity, medical records, family history, etc. The whole idea is to make sure a child has support, love and care.”

Her fondest memories include times when she sees a child new to a home or waiting to come into a home during the certification process. They’re quiet and obviously scared, nervous or withdrawn. “Then I see that same child a year later,” she says “and I see a transformation from fear and lack of hope to ‘cheeky.’ They’ve blossomed.”

Kinship United’s Director of Orphan Rescue Operations, Christine Fragoso, says of Joyce: “From the moment she arrives at a Kinship home until the moment she leaves, she is surrounded by children, engaging them all with games, toys, treats, and most importantly the special attention and love she has for each and every one.”

Joyce stops for a photo with one of the children she helped care for during a mission trip.

Although her traveling is now limited, Joyce’s enthusiasm and devotion to the program hasn’t diminished. She helps at Annie’s Resale for the World in Palatine which also supports Kinship United, through its sales or by hosting fundraisers. She helps keep the shop going by doing the essentials, including cleaning, sorting or working with people in need. Her jewelry creations (Yes, she makes jewelry too!) are sold at Annie’s and these sales help pay for equipment used by Kinship’s mission programs.

Joyce was especially excited last October when Annie’s Resale for the World hosted an extremely successful fundraiser. As a representative for Kinship United, she sold $731 worth of jewelry (from her own collection and handmade). Annie had planned that the proceeds would fund a baking oven for a church home in Uganda, but that week, its large, main printer, necessary for all their outreach needs, completely broke down. They were quite alarmed. Annie’s Resale dedicated the funds to the printer rather than to an oven.

Lately, Joyce has been putting in a few hours a week at Kinship United, but if a mission trip is scheduled, then she’s there, helping mission volunteers pack, send emails, or any other necessary details for travel to a strange and sometimes difficult environment.

Joyce has a simple philosophy for anyone who volunteers: “Take a risk. Think ‘How can I make another person’s life a little better?’ I try to remember if I don’t show up, someone will be hurt.”

For those interested in serving at Kinship United, Laura Lapp, the volunteer coordinator, is asking for a volunteer who can come in once a week to help with donor relations…sending out personalized mailings and thank you notes to supporters.

If interested in volunteering with Kinship United or Annie’s Resale for the World click on the links below to get connect:

Senior Corps-RSVP Read to Learn tutors also serve as goodwill ambassadors

2018 February 6
by HandsOn Suburban Chicago

Most people who volunteer will tell you they get back as much as they give. But the Senior Corps-RSVP members that tutor with Township High School District 214’s Community Education Read to Learn (RTL) program feel they get so much more. For two-and-a-half hours each week, these tutors work one-on-one with students from other nations, helping them to improve their English and adjust to life in the United States. They see it as a chance to show these newcomers the best America has to offer. They find joy in helping their pupils navigate through the complexities of the English language (including American slang.)

Lillian Clinton, right, has been with RTL since 2002 and as an ambassador invites the RTL staff to speak at various functions in an effort to promote awareness of Read to Learn.

Lillian Clinton, a Senior Corps-RSVP member and RTL tutor for nearly sixteen years, says, “We’re building relationships from country to country. That makes me feel good.”

When some students start the class, they may know enough to communicate in simple sentences, but need help in learning who to call in an emergency, ordering from a restaurant menu, or communicating with their neighbors. Others hope to improve their employment situation. Still others want to have an active role in their children’s education.

Previous teaching experience is not a requirement for RTL instructors. Before the start of each semester, all new tutors must attend eight hours of training for one day. Returning tutors are offered two hours of updated training which covers various creative ways in which English can be taught.

During the ten-week fall and spring semesters, volunteers receive a wealth of support from the RTL site managers and staff.

A typical RTL class can start out with announcements from the RTL site manager, who is always on hand to answer questions or address concerns. Tutors and students then work on the students’ goals using handouts that can include worksheets on grammar or stories about American daily life. There’s even a monthly publication titled Easy English News, which highlights and explains current events. Students are given books such as The Wizard of Oz (written in shorter and simply-constructed sentences) and asked to read and write a report weekly on each chapter. They also keep a journal on their activities during the week, which the tutors can use as a subject for discussion, helping the student with any issues they’ve experienced living in the United States. The final half-hour is devoted to group conversation with other tutors and students about anything from celebrating holidays to favorite foods and vacations and more. 

Mike McGinley center volunteers at the Schaumburg Library and Prince of Peace Lutheran Church in Schaumburg and always works with at least two adult learners at a time.

These pupils are dedicated and eager to learn and improve their English. Senior Corps-RSVP member, Mike McGinley, has been with RTL for about twelve years. Mike says, “Some students enjoy classic tales. Others would get more out of a magazine or newspaper. Many of the students enjoy a good cookbook. One student’s goal was to read Danielle Steele novels. Another needed to understand technical manuals.” He especially enjoys communicating with the students and finds they often have insightful perspectives on the world.

Mike said his most inspiring student was a woman whose husband became ill and she needed to learn better English to find a good job.  He helped her write a resume and she found a sales position at Woodfield. Later, she earned a degree from Elgin Community College. 

Bob Kacprowicz has tutored at the Schaumburg Library since 2009 arriving early to help set up so tutors and students feel welcome when they attend class.

Bob Kacprowicz, another ten-year veteran, and Senior Corps-RSVP member, enjoys getting to know the students he works with. “I start out by finding out what they like, also their families…I learned a lot from them, their country, schools, etc. I just like being around people.” 

Some tutors spend additional time with their students outside of class, although that is not required or expected. Lillian usually takes her pupil out socially at the end of a semester. Bob had a student who wanted to learn how to take the train downtown. He met her at the station and showed her how to buy a ticket. They visited the Cultural Center, the Art Institute, and the Chicago Public Library and, Bob said, “Had a great time.” 

Some have formed lifelong friendships with their students even after the students have returned home. Lillian still hears from her first student, who is now back in Japan. “She always sends a lovely gift,” she said. “It warms my heart.” 

Bob’s advice for those considering signing up for RTL: “If you’re thinking about it, forget about thinking, do it! You already know you want to. Try it. You won’t come out the same.” Lillian, Mike and Bob all agree the rewards are well worth the time spent with these newcomers to our country. 

The 2018 Read to Learn sessions are held at various locations including Arlington Heights, Elk Grove Village, Mount Prospect, Schaumburg, Wheeling and Rolling Meadows. For the upcoming Spring Session, tutors may choose training classes held on Friday, January 26 or Saturday, January 27 at Forest View Educational Center, Arlington Heights. RTL Spring Sessions start early February and continue into April. 

Tutors are still needed for the Spring Session, to volunteer, click on the link: District 214 Community Education Read to Learn Adult Education Family Literacy Program

London Middle School Makes Holiday Cards for Local Social Service Organizations

2017 December 20

HandsOn Suburban Chicago (HOSC) partnered with London Middle School on a service learning project this December that benefited three local social service agencies.

Students at the Wheeling school learned about homelessness through a lesson created by HOSC and then completed a project where they put their newfound knowledge to use.

The students created and decorated holiday themed greeting cards filled with messages of compassion and hope for local clients of three different nonprofit agencies and HOSC community partners: Wings – a domestic violence shelter and counseling agency, Northwest Compass – an agency providing emergency help to those that are vulnerable or in crisis, and Maryville Academy – which provides guidance, structure, and stability for children, young adults, and their families or support networks.

The students made over 200 cards as well as bookmarks and vases with homemade flowers that were also donated.

See some of the photos below!





Senior Corps-RSVP members show how to make the most out of volunteering

2017 November 2
by HandsOn Suburban Chicago

Ask people in their late fifties or early sixties how they plan on spending their golden years and one of the answers might be, “I’ll do some volunteering.” Ask them what kind of volunteering and they may say, “I don’t know, something.” That’s where Senior Corps-RSVP members Karen Zmrhal and Kay Haubenreiser come in. They are often the first people a senior meets when making a commitment to serve the community. These ladies help prospective volunteers find the service areas that will match their skills, give the most satisfaction and, in particular, the most enjoyment.

Karen Zmrhal (right), Senior Corps-RSVP member and Volunteering 101 instructor.

They do this through the HandsOn Suburban Chicago (HOSC) 90-minute Volunteer 101 program which is usually presented at area libraries and their office in Arlington Heights.  The program focuses on why people volunteer and the benefits of volunteering, but also counsels individuals on selecting the best volunteer fit, keeping in mind their skills and where they will find the greatest satisfaction The program ends by showing attendees how to navigate the HOSC web site,,  so they can zero in on the field they find most appealing and sign up. There are over 180 nonprofits listed so the search may appear daunting, but Karen and Kay instruct in such a way that by the end of the session participants are comfortable with the database structure. The ladies love what they do and it shows. Even they are perfect examples of matching the volunteers to the job.

Karen can speak from her own experience. Her background is teaching. She taught Microsoft Office at Harper for many years and served on the board of HOSC when it was The Volunteer Center. When she retired full-time she began searching for places to volunteer. At HOSC they said “Volunteer here.” So she became a “jack-of-all trades,” setting up their computer network and backup data. She also taught Microsoft Office for the staff and still handles various computer projects on Wednesdays.
Karen says an essential part of volunteering is, “learning how to volunteer.” She emphasizes that the goal is to get to people and give them a reason to serve. In some cases, she feels, “It can even combat depression.” She often reminds new volunteers that they’re not just volunteers, they are using their skills and sharing their skills with the community.

“Most important,” she says, “is to do the type of volunteering you enjoy. If you find a type of service is not for you, tell the Senior Corps-RSVP staff. There are so many needs that there is bound to be something that is a good fit.”

Karen noted that some volunteers want to be surrounded by people; others want to “sit in a corner and work,” such as addressing envelopes. She tells the story of one man who, after being in the corporate world for several years, said he wasn’t looking for anything “where I have to think.” When he spotted the Meals on Wheels listing he knew he had come to the right place. Another man at one of the outreach events wanted to read to seniors. He was connected to a specific agency and paired up with a client the following day.

Kay Haubenreiser, Senior Corps-RSVP member, instructing class participants to search for volunteer opportunities.

Kay’s background covers several areas, including twenty years of marketing at AT&T and Motorola. After a hiatus to take on family responsibilities, she decided to study the field of gerontology, since she had enjoyed serving at hospitals and nursing homes when she was younger. She earned a Masters Certificate in Gerontology and is now halfway through a gerontology master’s degree program.  When she worked as a volunteer coordinator for a hospice partner organization, she got to see firsthand how valuable HOSC is to the community and was impressed at its extensive knowledge of volunteer management and commitment to volunteers and partners. When she retired, she decided to be part of it.

“HOSC’s Volunteer 101 program inspired me in the same way,” she says. “To reach people who were seeking information on how to serve others and in this case, the community.  HOSC’s partners are engaged in many worthwhile activities. This was a way to support several causes at once.”

When asked what she enjoys most when teaching Volunteer 101 classes, she said, “I am humbled by the number of people who attend the Volunteer 101 program with a sincere desire to volunteer and make the world a better place. They are interested and committed, making the effort to come to a program, learn more and connect with organizations needing their assistance. They impact people’s lives through their generous gift of time, talent and presence.”

Even if you have been volunteering for many years, we invite you to attend a Volunteer 101 class. Our next class March 22, 2018 at Forest View Educational Center, Arlington Heights from 7:00 – 9:00 p.m.

With the holiday season almost upon us, even current volunteers might be interested in knowing there will be many one-time opportunities for serving, whether it’s helping at special-needs holiday parties, adopting a family or wrapping presents for the various charities in the area. The list should be out soon.

Visit for more information.

290 Volunteers Paint 20 Homes in 30th Annual Community Paint-A-Thon

2017 October 17

As a 9/11 Day of Service, 17 Community Paint-A-Thon teams comprised of 290 volunteers painted a total of 20 homes. Forty one were members of Senior Corps-RSVP of Northern Cook and Northern DuPage counties who helped to paint 12 of these homes. Teams that participated came from area corporations, high school youth groups, local church groups, and community groups as well as individuals on September 15 & 16, 2017.

Community Paint-A-Thon is a unique community partnership designed to paint the exterior 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 homeowner and enable them to live independently in their community by restoring the outside of their home.  The Steering Committee is comprised of area nonprofits and corporations that meet monthly 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, which is all the responsibility of each 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.

This year there were two new teams – Arlington Heights Countryside Church and WEIS Builders that joined the returning teams – many of them have been participating with the program for over 20 years. WEIS Builders also donated the funds to pay for the 30th Anniversary Community Paint-A-Thon t-shirts for all the volunteers.  Many of the participating teams take ownership of their assigned home project and go well above and beyond in helping to make a positive impact for both the homeowner and all the wonderful volunteers.

This year our teams also painted six group homes belonging to an area nonprofit Clearbrook – that provides support and housing for disabled adults and children. All of the residential homes were located within the cities of the ten townships of the Paint-A-Thon program.

In the past 30 years Community Paint-A-Thon volunteers have painted 834 homes, with the help of 17,027 volunteers and using approx. 15,419 gallons of paint.  This major accomplishment has been completed by volunteers caring about their communities and neighbors.

Many thanks to all the AWESOME teams who helped to make the 30th Annual Community Paint-A-Thon an OUTSTANDING day of service!



Senior Corps-RSVP member CHiL tutors help at-risk students get ahead

2017 September 28
by HandsOn Suburban Chicago

It’s 3:30 in the afternoon on a typical day at a middle school in Wheeling. Most kids are heading for the bus to get home, rummage through the fridge for snacks or flop onto the couch to play video games. Or soccer practice. Or chess club. Few really feel like doing more math or English.

And yet, two afternoons a week, the students who are struggling to keep up in their classes, or feel disconnected from the school population because their English is less than perfect, stay for nearly two more hours.

Rose Johnson

Why? Because Senior Corps-RSVP members like Rose Johnson and Mike Mokhtarian are there. For the next hour and a half, these tutors will guide them through the complexities of math or grammar and later, relax with a board game or hang out and watch their students at soccer or basketball practice. Sometimes they just listen whenever the kids feel the need to talk through issues.

Mike Mokhtarian


Rose and Mike are two of the 15 Senior Corps-RSVP members that are part of CHiL, which stands for Cooper, Holmes and London Middle Schools. Holmes and London are part of Community Consolidated School District 21 based in Wheeling while Cooper is in Buffalo Grove.

CHiL targets academically at-risk students. Although the program mainly serves students from households where English is not the primary language, English-only students also attend and benefit. The concept of an after school program started 22 years ago at Robert Frost Elementary School as a gang preventative. Gregg Crocker, Family Learning Coordinator for District 21, and the school district’s current contact person for CHiL, said the district had looked at research on the reason for gangs in the area.

“One was academic failure,” he explained. “The other-no positive connection with other adults.”

Then, seven years ago, HandsOn Suburban Chicago and Senior Corps-RSVP met with Gregg Crocker and School District 21 staff members and developed the CHiL program to address the issues of academic failure and the need to provide positive adult connection with the students.  HOSC staff and Senior Corps-RSVP members have remained an active partner in expanding the program to include the three schools and provide tutors/mentors to fill this vital need.

In fact, School District 21 recently presented an award to HOSC “in recognition of many years of service to students and the Community Consolidated School District 21 Community.”

A typical schedule for volunteers includes one hour of tutoring and one half-hour of mentoring one or two days a week (Monday/Wednesday or Tuesday/Thursday) from 3:30 p.m. to 5:15 p.m. Sessions open with snacks, because, as we all know, it’s not easy for students to think clearly on an empty stomach.

Rose, whose background includes twenty-five years in the Youth Services Department at Indian Trails Public Library, works with four or five students at a time at London School, where she finds the staff friendly and welcoming. Students start out by completing homework or other assignments for the first hour. After she checks their work or gives help where they need it-such as reading essays for grammatical errors-she allows time for playing games, reading, talking to friends.

Rose loves the kids and knows many through the library or her neighborhood. She recalls one boy who seemed shy at first and usually came in with a large amount of homework. He was easily distracted, so she kept refocusing him, especially when he’d talk about a video game he played at home. Whenever she redirected him, he appreciated her efforts and even apologized for getting distracted.

“Towards the end of the year, I do see kids coming with less homework,” she said. “Which means they are doing it at home and handing it in on time.”

Generally, tutors work with multiple students. On a good day, it’s one tutor for two students, although CHiL is working toward a one-on-one ratio. The students are shown how to take responsibility for their work. It’s a gradual process, but most important, they need enough motivation to stay in the program. Sessions are set up so students are always actively engaged, meaning there is no movie or TV watching during the post-studying period. Tutors usually will play strategy games with the kids, or in some cases, watch them play soccer or basketball.

While a number of tutors have a history of teaching or working with children, a background in education is not a requirement for the CHiL program. Mike, a retired engineer who has volunteered at London and Holmes schools, has enjoyed connecting with young people while tutoring them in math or playing board games during the “free time.” He acknowledges that it took some effort to keep the students on task. Yet, in his group of three or four students there were those who took their work seriously. He recalled speaking with one boy about his future plans. 

“The boy’s father worked in a gas station,” he said. “He thought he would be like his father. I talked to him about college, and he could make more money with a college education. Later, a teacher told me I had succeeded in convincing him to think about college.”

In terms of CHiL’s success, the numbers tell the story. There are a total of 132 students in the CHiL Program in all three schools. On tutoring days, 98 percent of these kids are in attendance.

Gregg Crocker

Gregg cited another example of the program’s value. One student had missed a total of 36 days in the school year, but on the days she was tutored/mentored she had 100 percent attendance.

“That’s strong evidence that this is a good thing,” he said. “Parents see the need for the program as well, since often they may have less education than their children or work two jobs and are unable to help with schoolwork or other school issues.”

The CHiL setting endeavors to be as volunteer-friendly as possible. CHiL always tries to establish the appropriate student/tutor match up. New tutors are given a mandatory two-hour training period as a group and still receive support from a staff member throughout tutoring sessions. A math teacher is available for tutors who need guidance with current mathematics processes. In addition, students from Stevenson High School are there one afternoon a week to help out.

Volunteers do not need to be bi-lingual; all the students do speak English. Rose notes that when a student sees a word or phrase they don’t understand, she helps them look it up. “It’s great when the ‘light bulb’ goes off and they get it,” she said.

Rose offers this advice to new tutors: “Come with an open mind, ability to listen and a sense of humor. Some of these kids are not listened to at home and they want to vent sometimes. So listen, but don’t pass judgments. Leave that to the parents or teachers.”            

National Service Responds to Hurricane Harvey

2017 September 1

If you are wanting to know how to help after Hurricane Harvey – check out as a great reference source!

The Corporation for National and Community Service (CNCS), a federal agency that engages Americans in community driven service, has a website,, devoted to providing information for those who want to help the survivors of Hurricane Harvey.

You can sign-up to receive communications about future volunteer opportunities.

There are links to:
-Volunteer Louisiana
-Texas Service Commission
-Disaster Preparedness Resources
-FEMA Resources

There are helpful tips and links about:
-Volunteering and
-Donations to vetted disaster relief organizations

Click here to learn more about the Corporation for National and Community Service.
SeniorCorps is a core program of CNCS and a funder of our local SeniorCorps-RSVP program at HandsOn Suburban Chicago.


HandsOn Suburban Chicago Receives Community Service Award from Community Consolidated School District 21

2017 August 25
by HandsOn Suburban Chicago

On August 2, at Community Consolidated School District 21’s (CCSD21) Family Learning Program’s Benefit Golf Outing, HandsOn Suburban Chicago (HOSC) was presented with a plaque “in recognition of many years of service to students and the Community Consolidated School District 21 Community.”

Jordan Friedman, HOSC Executive Director; Tom Gaynor, Steven Zielke, and Jennifer Brennan, HOSC Board Members; Jess Park, Director of School Programs; and Aaron Wasserman-Olin, Service Learning Coordinator accepted the recognition award.

HOSC has had a long history of serving students in CCSD21. Beginning in September 2010, CCSD21 and volunteer leaders from HOSC began the SAVE for Education consulting evaluation. Working with Gregg Crocker, the Director of Community Service Education, school administrators, principals, assistant principals, and student leaders, HOSC created an after school tutoring/mentoring program for middle school students. This program became known as “CHiL” which incorporates the names of the three middle schools: Cooper, Holmes and London, where the program is in place.

CHiL was designed to focus on keeping students in school and on track to finish high school. The after school program provides a healthy snack, time for the student to work with a volunteer tutor/mentor, and social/emotional support activities. CHiL volunteer tutors include high school students, community volunteers, and members of Senior Corps-RSVP, a Corporation for National and Community Service program sponsored by HOSC.

During the past school year 2016/2017, a total 156 individuals tutored 132 students providing students with 1146 hours of their time.

In addition to after school tutoring, HOSC’s School and Youth program developed Service Learning activities for CHIL students.  These included:

  • assembling anti-bullying bulletin board displays
  • making and donation of 240 scarves to Button & Zipper, a nonprofit that supplies winter clothing to those in need in Chicagoland
  • creating 225 holiday cards for residents of an assisted living facility in Wheeling and Meals on Wheels recipients
  • producing 320 inserts for the Wheeling Park District’s Earth Day event on how and where to recycle electronics, batteries, household hazardous chemicals
  • educating students about homelessness and having students assemble 100 summer essential kits during an afternoon of enrichment activity