I was so glad to see so many people at the screening of The Interrupters on Friday. I noticed how many people felt the movie was a call to action, and were asking about ways they could be involved in the community. The tension between the isolation that academic study can bring and a desire can to do meaningful engaged service in the world can be a difficult thing to navigate, especially with the limited time and funds of graduate students in a new city.
Future Service Core events will be coming up each quarter, but for those who want to think more about ways to volunteer during your time in Chicago here are a few resources for getting started.
First here is more information on Project Ceasefire, the group profiled in The Interrupters. You can sign up on their mailing list here to be alerted to volunteer opportunities. You can also follow them on facebook and twitter at the link here.
If you are interested in a single day of neighborhood involvement on the south side and south suburb of Chicago a great organization is Rebuilding Together. They pick homes, schools, parks and neighborhood centers and bring volunteers together in April for a day of work. I know one of the Chicago organizers and have volunteered with this organization many times. On event day, you could do anything from planting a community garden, to painting a park building, to patching drywall in the home of a deserving family. This year they are working in Harvey and West Englewood on April 28th. If there is interest in doing this as a service project I am happy to help organize a group. They let groups work on projects together.
The University of Chicago has a University Community Service Center. They offer opportunities to volunteer in a variety of ways. The keep a calendar of service opportunities that you can help with whenever you have time. Current opportunities that fit nicely with the impending Thanksgiving holiday include helping with the Greater Chicago Food Depository, the Hyde Park Kenwood Food Pantry on 56th Street, Breaking Bread and Jackson Park clean up. However it is important to remember many organizations really need volunteers on days that are not major holidays. All of these organizations directly impact the neighborhood.
The University Community Service Center also offers volunteer referrals where they pair you with organizations that can best use your skills whether that is LGBTQ outreach, literacy projects, homelessness or environmental projects. This can help you find an organization that you feel passionate about and one that can make most use of your unique skills. As part of Service Core they are happy to help facilitate these pairings. Just email firstname.lastname@example.org and let her know you are interested in being paired with an organization.
Speaking of literacy projects, Open Books has employed MAPH alumna, Anna Piepemeyer. You can read more about her experience here. They take volunteers for literacy projects. They also take used book donations and sell used books to support their projects so even you holiday book shopping could help support literacy in Chicago.
The Neighborhood Writing Alliance helps under-served communities in Chicago develop, write, publish and perform works about their lives. These works are published in the Journal of Ordinary Thought. You can contact them or sign up for their newsletter to learn about volunteer opportunities.
Heartland Alliance works on human needs and human rights issues. They also have job postings fairly regularly so this might be a good way to test out a career if you are considering doing non-profit work after MAPH.
Deborah’s Place works to help break the cycle of homelessness and focuses on women. These are both great Chicago organizations that work directly with health, poverty, and human rights issues within our city.
Think about any of your skills and find out if they could be used for service. There are many bikers in the program. Working Bikes Cooperative takes volunteers to pick up bikes, help fix bikes or train others to fix bikes. The bikes are given out in Chicagoland and in other countries.
These are just a few of the many great volunteer driven organizations in Chicago. Even though you are busy and stressed, finding an organization where you can volunteer and feel connected to a community can be a much needed corrective to the isolation and anxiety that can take over during graduate study.