By Amanda Parker
We can all benefit from being more involved in our communities, and giving back through volunteering not only doesn’t require a huge commitment, it creates a positive cycle of change.
There are a few great organizations that offer information on volunteer possibilities in the Chicago area — and make it easy. These organizations have websites from which you can not only select an opportunity based on the type of service you want to provide, but also one that fits your schedule. There are no extensive training courses or background checks, so if you wake up on the weekend and have some free time to commit to a good cause, you can get involved that same day.
One Brick is a non-profit organization with chapters in 12 cities across the U.S. With 195 participating groups in Chicago alone, they bring volunteers together by making it easy to support other non-profit organizations. Organizations include those that focus on community arts, environmental protection, reducing poverty, and youth. Helpful to those of us with busy schedules or varied interests, events do not require weekly or monthly commitments. The flexible nature of the organization allows you to choose a single event, but of course the event leaders always love to see volunteers come back.
I wanted to check out what One Brick was all about, so I attended an event recently at the Inspiration Cafe in Uptown. Signing up was easy — I went on the One Brick website, looked through the event calendar for an activity that interested me at a time that was convenient, and clicked the RSVP button.
When I arrived at the cafe a few days later, I met the event leaders, Jo-Elle and Colleen, who happened to be volunteers themselves. Alongside about 10 other volunteers, I helped prepare a meal from scratch that fed around 40 people who are part of the Inspiration Corporation’s support services program. The program provides social services, housing and employment training in order to help people become self-sufficient.
The environment was social, and while we cooked together in the close quarters of the kitchen, we chatted about the organization. Colleen told me a lot of One Brick events have about 10 volunteers, providing a close-knit feeling. Volunteering is often hard work, but making it fun is important, she believes.
Helping others is meaningful, but it’s also valuable to learn new skills and feel good about your place in the community. And after the Saturday session, I can confidently say that I spent some time directly benefiting others, and it doesn’t hurt that I’m now able cook something other than frozen pizzas.
Finding a one-time volunteer opportunity is a great way to spend a few hours on a weekend, and your experience might even energize you to get involved on a continual basis. I’m definitely going to participate in more One Brick events in the future, and I hope that I see some of the people I worked with again because I truly enjoyed their eagerness to make Chicago better.
Generous attitudes are contagious, and helping make positive changes in your community is easy to do. To find organizations that would benefit from your time and energy, visit http://chicago.onebrick.org
Other volunteer possibilities
The Greater Chicago Food Depository offers plenty of ways to give back almost every Tuesday through Saturday. The most common activity is helping pack up donated food in order to distribute it to food pantries, soup kitchens and shelters in Cook County. RSVP for a time slot on www.ChicagosFoodBank.org
Through Chicago Cares, you can find meaningful programs at nursing homes, interim-housing facilities, pantries and more. The website allows you to search for opportunities based on your neighborhood and your schedule. Visit www.ChicagoCares.org