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Governor's Volunteer Service Awards
Amy Stearns - Volunteer of the Week (February 13, 2017)
Amy is a volunteer at Cluster Tutoring; which, has been providing one-to-one tutoring to students from the Austin community for the past 25 years. Amy started with Cluster three years ago when she was paired with Derrick. Since then, Derrick has worked diligently with Amy and has improved three grade levels in reading.
Derrick, like many Cluster students, is energetic, curious and hard-working. Amy notes, “Many kids face challenges that interfere with learning and their motivation to work harder. My overwhelming concern for kids led me to Cluster. When we’re together, Derrick uses his tutoring time well. He’s eager to learn. We’re really making a difference.”
Amy and Derrick are just one example of the incredible relationships that Cluster has helped foster throughout our years of service and hope to continue for many more years to come.
Robin Brown - Volunteer of the Week (February 6, 2017)
Robin is a mentor at the Saving Lives, Inspiring Youth (S.L.I.Y.).
Robin has been a wonderful young adult mentor to both of her mentees (ages 12 and 13), within this cross-age peer mentoring program. Amidst her busy high school, and now college schedule, she has dedicated many hours of her own time outside of the weekly mentoring program to attend their sporting events, walk them through their dangerous neighborhood to attend after school programming, speak with their parents, and help them process difficult problems that come up in their lives.
Robin is truly dedicated to fostering their success in school and life and cares deeply for their well-being. She capitalizes upon their strengths and helps them improve on what they do not do as well in. Her mentees display a great deal of admiration and respect for Robin, and staff have noticed qualitative shifts in their behavior and attendance during mentoring. Mentees speak highly of their relationship with Robin and have worked through some tough family issues and concerns with her. Overall, Robin and her mentees maintain a strong bond that is likely to positively impact both of their lives over the long-term.
Victoria Kuzlik - Volunteer of the Week (January 30, 2017)
Victoria Kuzlik began Coats for Hope in 2015 with her father Bob Kuzlik. Victoria had received two new coats from her father and wondered what to do with her old coats; from there, her original idea grew rapidly into Coats for Hope.
In 2016 Victoria’s goal was to collect 1,500 coats and winter wear items. They had to stop counting at 5,000 items and there was a very large stack still to go. It is estimated that there were over 6,000 items. Victoria had a financial goal to raise $20,000, and in December that number stood at $8,126. Monetary donations were set to continue being received until the end of January in order to assist in reaching Victoria’s goal of $20,000.00.
Victoria desires to share her story with as many people as she can, as she and her father were previously victims of domestic violence. While sharing her story and working hard to secure donations for Coats for Hope, Victoria is also involved on the volleyball team at the middle school in Byron. She is currently team manager, attending practices daily and being with the team at all games, including the weekend tournaments. She is also a member of the student council, and even with all of her charitable drive events, including talking at different organizations at least twice a week and sometimes having to be pulled out of school for a breakfast or lunch meeting, she was still named as the academic student of the month for October and was named the student of the week for the first week of December.
If that is not enough, she acted in Byron’s Community Theater’s play of “It’s A Wonderful Life” where she was practicing 4 evenings a week from October to December, and performing 6 shows. Victoria was named Omni Student of the Year at Byron Middle School in 2015, which is voted on by the teachers, students and staff of the middle school, her first year of being at the Byron’s school. Victoria is a very busy young lady, and loves to be the spokesperson for domestic violence issues.
You can learn more about Victoria and Coats for Hope at: http://www.coatsforhope.org. She and her father can also be reached by phone (815)677-3406 or (815)973-8512.
Imani Lewis - Volunteer of the Week (January 23, 2017)
Imani Lewis is a great mentor because she cares about the whole girl. She joined Ladies of Virtue (LOV) because she felt like she wanted to share so many of her lessons learned and help mentor young ladies in areas that we don't typically learn in school. This is her calling.
Imani is the mentor of Destinee Bronson and has mentored her for two years. Before joining LOV, Destinee had just suffered a tragic loss when her brother was sent to jail. During her first year of LOV, Destinee was rather quiet and reserved. Imani has been a positive role model in Destinee’s life. She has participated at her prom, graduation, trunk party and she visited Destinee during her first year of college. Imani goes above and beyond what LOV requires of their mentors and has truly been life changing in Destinee’s life. Imani has taught Destinee how to make good decisions, always be prepared and to stand on strong values.
Imani Lewis has been a constant figure in Destinee's life since becoming her mentor. She has displayed sincerity when it comes to Destinee. Imani helped prepare Destinee for college by asking her to send her copies of her essays for scholarships to make sure she was answering the questions correctly. She even helped prepare Destinee for scholarship interviews. Imani actually spends quality time with Destinee as well. They go shopping, out to dinner, and even have sleepovers.
Imani Lewis displays leadership qualities, and Destinee looks up to her. She sees a young woman who has a career, her own house, and a car. Imani ensures that Destinee gives back to her community by having her do community service together. I also love our Imani incorporates Destinee’s mom in mentoring as well. Imani is also family oriented and is successful. Now, Destinee is on the right path in her first year in college and she credits her success to her mentor, Imani Lewis.
Mark Floerke - Volunteer of the Week (January 16, 2017)
As a newcomer to the Chicago area Mark was interested in contributing to the local community, with no expectations and no idea how much he would get back from mentoring, or how big a difference it would make to CJ (Cornell Jr.) and those he touches.
When CJ and Mark met, they quickly found common ground in their love of food. This has remained constant in their relationship and has also been an evolution. Mark works in food ingredient application research for ADM which helped make for some interesting ideas and discussion, and CJ has tried more new things than he ever would have imagined before.
In elementary school CJ was getting a lot of C’s and even D’s, but the teachers saw that there was more to him. Not long after Mark and CJ were matched, CJ started getting straight A’s and has maintained this most of the time right through to high school as a senior including placement in honors and advance placement classes. He has been accepted by 2 colleges and also qualifies for scholarships to pursue his degree in electrical engineering.
“We’ve had a lot of adventures and good times together with so many different learning opportunities, often for the both of us, from learning to maintain and repair a bicycle to now repairing and looking after a used car to get around. He has learned to play the guitar and we play a song together by one of his favorite artists, Bruno Mars. He also enjoys volunteering with me and has joined me a couple of times help serve at the Good Samaritan Inn, as well as other events around town with Big Brothers Big Sisters, Special Olympics, and United Way.
Seeing how much he has changed over the past 7-1/2 years and the positive impact he is now having on others as well, is the biggest reward I never had anticipated to experience from this.”
Jamila Trimuel - Volunteer of the Week (January 9, 2017)
Jamila Trimuel, Founder and Executive Director of Ladies of Virtue, met her Mentee Salena Tucker during the summer of 2010. Salena, a first generation college student, was a participant of New Life Covenant Identity teen ministry where Jamila served as a Servant Leader. At the time, Salena was a Junior in high school and arrived to class fifteen minutes early. During the conversation Salena expressed to Jamila that she was having difficulty applying to college and needed help on how to navigate the process. The rest is history.
Jamila assisted Salena with her college applications, identified summer programs and gave her guidance for her career. Now, almost seven years later, Salena Tucker, is not only a college graduate from Grinnell College (class of 2016) but she is currently enrolled as a graduate student at Iowa State University.
"I recently looked at my resume and felt super proud! I feel like I wouldn't have such a great resume and other phenomenal experiences if it hadn't been for my mentor - Jamila Trimuel" Salena says of her mentor.
"I have thoroughly enjoyed mentoring Salena. I gave her the framework on how to succeed in college and in her career but she had to do the work. I am proud to say that Salena excels in every aspect of her life and not afraid to ask for help. Salena and I have become more like sisters and she was even in my wedding! Mentoring is about walking life on life with our youth through the good and challenging times. I am proud to be a mentor." - Jamila Trimuel.
Please email Jamila Trimuel for more information about Ladies of Virtue and to learn more about becoming a mentor.
Michael May - Volunteer of the Week (January 2, 2017)
Michael May is an active mentor and board member at the Springfield non-profit known as the Outlet. He has been part of The Outlet for over 12 years, and has been a key member of the organization from the beginning.
Mike desires to see young men reach their potential and to see Springfield thriving with mentors who are giving back.
The Outlet is thankful that Michael has plugged in, and continues to be a valuable asset to all that they hope to accomplish in the lives of youth in Springfield.
Marianne Marlow - Volunteer of the Week (December 26, 2016)
“When I see someone from work and they ask me how my retirement is going, maybe they expect me to say that I'm taking exotic trips around the world, but that is not who I am and it never was,” says Marianne Marlow of Rockford. “My passion is to help improve students’ reading achievement and lay a strong foundation for their success in school and in life.”
Marlow began volunteering when she retired in 2012 from the Winnebago County Health Department. Marlow volunteers through multiple organizations to improve literacy in Rockford. “I will be reading to children at Rolling Green School and I help Ann Holliday, a kindergarten teacher, with her class of 28 or so students. Also, through the United Way’s I-READ Program, I work with four students at Whitehead Elementary School—two first graders, one second grader, and a kindergartner. This year, for the first time, I will be at Haskell Elementary School working with a first grade refugee child whom I worked with at Rolling Green last year.”
The Illinois Municipal Retirement Fund (IMRF) recognized Marlow’s community efforts by recognizing her as an outstanding volunteer in 2015. Her story has been featured in local media, including the Rockford Register-Star. Marlow has experience with readers of all ages, including those learning English as a second language. She volunteers approximately six hours a week and in addition to her time, she donates books and money to support area programs.
Scott Hildebrand - Volunteer of the Week (December 19, 2016)
Scott Hildebrand is a retiree from the Illinois Department of Corrections, and each Christmas Scott goes above and beyond to decorate his house in Moline. This year he has put out more than 150 inflatable decorations, including a 32.9 foot tall Santa which is 25 feet taller than his house! Each year he tries to add more and spread Christmas cheer! This year he even had to borrow some of his neighbor’s yard!
As if the display isn’t amazing on its own, Scott uses the attraction to raise funds and canned goods to be donated!
This past weekend, the Tabernacle youth group offered hot cider and raised $200. This Christmas Eve cider will be offered again to add to the total to be donated to Grow Ministries in Cambridge, Illinois.
Each Christmas Eve Scott has Santa, Joe Swank, a retired sheet metal worker, and his elf Jake Eastburn, who is an Executive Producer of the Paula Sands Live show on KWQC Channel 6 in Davenport, volunteer at Scott’s house where people can come enjoy the decorations and bring a canned good donation. Last year there were over 900 cans collected. This year with over 1200 canned goods collected already, the goal is to have 1500 cans by the end of Christmas day that will be disbursed through the Tabernacle Baptist church food pantry.
Freddie Thomas - Volunteer of the Week (December 12, 2016)
Freddie, like most people, began volunteering at Bolingbrook High School after being asked. Both she and her husband Robert have engrossed themselves into giving back to the community. In her 28 year residency in Bolingbrook her youngest daughter was a graduate of the high school and currently four of her grandchildren attend. The F.A.N.S.S program allows the now retired Freddie to give back to the kids in the community. She spends about two hours each week in the cafeteria, where she says she spends her time trying to encourage students and talk with them to let them know she cares. Freddie says she enjoys giving back to the children, and looks forward to coming each week. It makes her feel good, and she knows the kids appreciate the program.
Volunteering with F.A.N.S.S. is not the only volunteering Freddie does. She is also active in The Progressives-Harambe, Inc., a community-based non-profit women’s organization dedicated to helping children educationally, culturally, socially and emotionally. In emergency situations this non-profit also provides support to families in crisis.
Freddie is strong believer that in order to make communities better you have to give back. She hopes other residents will do the same!
Lindy Rubin - Volunteer of the Week (December 5, 2016)
Lindy Rubin has been bringing art appreciation to young children at the Child Care Center of Evanston for over 15 years. At the beginning of each year she and the teachers sit down and choose great works of art for the children to learn from. Lindy comes monthly and talks about the artist and their work and the teachers have projects for the children based on the style of the artist. The discussions with the children expand knowledge and increase vocabulary. Ms. Rubin also shares her collection of beaded love letters and costume pieces from South Africa. The ‘Reading Art” program culminates in a field trip to the Art Institute of Chicago where Lindy shows the children the artwork in situ. Other visitors at the Institute listen to our 3, 4 and 5 year olds children discuss pointillism in front of ‘Sunday in the Park” and the brush strokes in Van Gogh’s Bedroom.
Lindy visits other Centers in Evanston and several CPS schools with her program; she believes strongly that children should be exposed to beautiful art at an early age. She is always upbeat and interested in what the children have to say about the artwork. Without Ms Rubin’s dedication and volunteerism we would not be able to have this wonder enrichment program, we are very grateful and look forward to next year’s choice of artists.
George A. Pempek - Unites States Army Veteran - Volunteer of the Week (November 28, 2016)
George A. Pempek began his service at the young age of 17, serving in both World War II and the Korean War, also serving tours in Germany and continuing in the United States. Mr. Pempek earned numerous awards and decorations for his service, including the Combat Infantry Badge, Korean Service Medal with 5 campaign stars (1950-1951), United Nations Service Medal, Good Conduct Medal (6th Award), Commendation Ribbon with Metal Pendant, National Defense Service Medal with Oak Leaf Cluster, Presidential Unit Citation, Academic Commendation, and Letter of Commendation.
After serving his country in the military, George Pempek has been dedicated to serving other veterans and his community for many years. His selfless service consists of lifetime membership with the Catholic War Veterans where he has served as Treasurer and State Adjutant; member of the Korean War Veterans and serving as the Treasurer; member of the World War II Illinois Veterans Memorial Committee; member and delegate to the Illinois Combined Veterans Association where he served as Commander from 2001-2002 and was selected as “Person of the Year” in 2007; delegate to the Inter Veterans’ Council; delegate to Veterans Assistance Commission; longtime member of the Illinois State Fair Veterans’ Day Committee; past member of the Illinois Department of Veterans’ Affairs Veterans’ Day at the State Fair Committee; and past member of the Illinois Department of Veterans’ Affairs Veteran Advisory Council.
Recently, Mr. Pempek became the recipient of the Patriotic Volunteer and Appreciation Award presented to him by the Department of Veteran Affairs. This award highlights and honors the work of Illinois veterans whose contributions in service to the veteran community and their local communities are truly above and beyond. You can learn more about honoring veterans at Illinois.gov/veterans.
Leslie Rodriguez - United State Navy Reservices - Volunteer of the Week (November 21, 2016)
Leslie Rodriguez, a Chicago native, is a combat veteran of Afghanistan with eight years of service in the United States Navy Reserves as a Builder in the Construction Engineering Corps. As a Naval Seabee she excelled in project management and vertical construction for large infrastructure projects in Afghanistan. She is currently utilizing her Post-9/11 GI Bill pursuing her BA in Human Resource Management. Leslie offers a broad skillset and has a strong desire to help veterans and their families. She left her previous employment as a Corporate Veteran Career Counselor for Walmart's Veteran employment initiative joining Leave No Veteran Behind as their Chief of Staff. She is leveraging her skills to empower veterans through education and employment so that they can solve our nation's most pressing issues.
Read a letter about Leslie’s Volunteer Service below!
I am honored to have the opportunity to write to you regarding Leslie Rodriguez. Leslie
Rodriguez serves as a Medical Sexual Assault Advocate for the YWCA Metropolitan Chicago Parks Francis Center and has excelled as a volunteer in our organization. Leslie completed the 40 Hour training with our Sexual Assault Program in December 2016 and has been a very active volunteer since that time. As a volunteer medical advocate volunteers are required to cover two twelve hour shifts per month to meet and assist victims of sexual assault in the emergency rooms of hospitals in our community. Leslie has exceeded that by taking additional shifts when needed. Providing medical advocacy services is difficult work and Leslie has proven herself to be more than capable exceeding every challenge she has faced. Beyond these attributes, Leslie has an amazing passion to advocate for every victim of sexual assault she encounters. She has a genuine caring heart and a conviction for justice, by nature that most people don’t have by practice. She fights for the rights of those who cannot fight for themselves, and she does this with integrity every time. Leslie has advocated for a child victim in the middle of the night, helped a stranger in need on the side of the road and then traveled to a second hospital to help another victim of sexual assault all within a 12 hour shift. Leslie is one of those volunteers that make me want to be better. I excel because of our volunteers and their commitments and Leslie is a volunteer that leads the pack. I am blessed to know, and serve, with her.
Jim Niksch - Sergeant First Class, U.S. Army Reserves (Retired) - Volunteer of the Week (November 14, 2016)
Jim Niksch, age 78, is a retired banker and is a graduate of Southern Illinois University. He served 9 years in the U. S. Army Reserve attaining the rank of Sergeant First Class.
In 2010, Niksch attended the Illinois Historic Preservation Agency basic and advanced gravestone restoration courses in order to be a volunteer gravestone worker. Since then he, Joe Hawker and other volunteers have restored about 1200 gravestones in 11 old cemeteries. Most of the old stones were of marble and ranged in size and type from small “infant” to large pedestals which contained several pieces. They were typical of stones common in the 1800s to early 1900s.
The larger stones too heavy for two men to handle were lifted by a tractor using nylon straps to avoid metal to stone contact. Most stones required that foundations had to be removed and were replaced with a crushed limestone material called “road pack”. Prior to resetting, the stones were cleaned with an ammonia and water solution.
Jim, and his friend Joe Hawker, who is a Veteran of both the Navy and Air Force for a total of 8 years of service have now “retired” from grave stone restoration.
Lou Vargas - Vietnam Veteran (1966-1968) - Volunteer of the Week (November 7, 2016)
After fighting to receive his benefits Lou Vargas has made it his mission to help other Veterans receive the benefits and help they deserve. He has since implemented a program at the VFW. His Top Notch Service Officer comes to the VFW on a weekly basis to help veterans in the community get all their deserved benefits. Thanks to this program, veterans are getting help to receive their benefits, without this many veterans would not know where to begin. Lou has been helping to provide this service for more than three years.
Helping veterans navigate the path to their benefits is only one of the many hats Lou Vargas wears as a volunteer. Previously he has served as the commander of the VFW post 9545 in New Lenox, IL. Lou also served as Senior Vice Chairman of Will County VAC, where he received the award for Prestigious Chairman in 2010. Currently Lou serves as Commander of the Stone City Post 2199 VFW, is the Judge advocate for the district 18 VFW, has begun his 11th year as Commander of the Disabled American Veterans of Will County 103, and is the Northern 12th district commander of the DAV.
Lou Vargas doesn’t stop there, he also spends time visiting veterans at the hospital and nursing home. He visits a neighbor veteran who is living with Hodgkin’s Lymphoma twice a week, and offers assistance to him and his family. Lou participates in community service efforts, and helps his neighbors with tasks such as shoveling snow free of charge.
A 94 year old Gold Star Mother who lives in Lou’s neighborhood had a son who was sent to Vietnam when Lou returned. He promised to help the soldier’s mother any way he could. The son was killed in Vietnam in 1968. Lou runs her to doctor appointments, the grocery store, and assists with any other needs she may have. When he discovered that she never received the Gold star from the Marine Corps after her son’s death, Lou took it upon himself to make sure she received it. Lou ensures that he keeps his promise to her son to take care of his mother any way he can.
Lou has been the recipient of the State of Illinois Veteran of the month award for July 2011. He tries to visit Capitol Hill every year to fight for veterans rights. He also makes sure to visit Illinois state senators and representatives to fight for Veterans.
Lou is the true definition of a Veteran Serving Veterans.
Claudia Nelson - Volunteer of the Week (October 31, 2016)
Claudia Nelson is no stranger to volunteerism. For the past 8 years, she has been a Project VITAL volunteer tutor to numerous adults who are learning English as a second, third, or fourth language. She currently meets with 14 students one-to-one at the local library who are from various countries including: Mexico, Poland, Brazil, Jordan, Czech Republic, and Korea. Claudia has dedicated hundreds of hours of volunteer service just in this past year alone.
She comes with much knowledge and experience. Claudia has her Master’s Degree in teaching English as a Second Language. She also lived overseas for 7 years, teaching English in Bratislava, Slovakia. She returns there once a year to lead workshops for the teacher orientation. Claudia’s skills, experience, and compassionate heart help her to have much success with her English language learners.
Claudia says, “My favorite part about being a volunteer ESL tutor is that I get to see how their progress in their English language skills makes a positive impact on their daily lives in their work and leisure time.” Claudia’s students and the VITAL staff are very thankful for her dedication to helping English language learners achieve their goals.
Sheryn Strauss - Volunteer of the Week (October 24, 2016)
Sheryn Strauss has been a volunteer with the Shawnee Alliance Volunteer Money Management Program since 1997.
During Sheryn’s 19 years of volunteer service she has provided assistance to low-income older adults with money management tasks such as: managing income and expenses, writing checks to pay bills, balancing and reconciling bank statements. This unique role as a volunteer has allowed these older adults Sheryn has assisted to remain independent in their own homes.
Sheryn has always been willing to work with challenging situations. Sheryn strives to assist and meet the needs of the clients. Sheryn provides home visits to clients to deliver spending money and food money. She would also shop for the clients if needed. Sheryn will always take the time to visit with her client and inquire about the needs of her client to refer for services in the community if needed. Sheryn makes deliveries to provider agencies so clients have money for food and personal needs.
When asked how she felt about her volunteer experience Sheryn stated “Volunteering has allowed me to meet and assist some very interesting people through the years. I have enjoyed listening to their stories and being available to provide support to those who have no family or support system in their lives. I feel I developed good relationships with the clients I have assisted in the Volunteer Money Management Program.”
Akilah Davis - Volunteer of the Week (October 17, 2016)
This week’s volunteer of the week is a special addition!
Akilah Davis works early mornings for WICS-TV News channel 20, and the Good Day Illinois broadcast reporting some of the biggest stories to viewers across Illinois.
When she isn’t reporting the news, Akilah spends time giving back to the community in any way she can. Since coming to Springfield from the Quad Cities she has become a Volunteer with the Boys and Girls Club of Central Illinois and continues to share her time with the children there.
As if volunteering her time to children isn’t impressive enough Akilah also finds time to emcee important events across the community. Lucky for us here at Serve Illinois we have had the privilege of having Akilah volunteer her time and emcee for our Recognition Day event for the past two years. Having her take the time to recognize National Service members, bring added recognition to our event, and genuinely care about volunteerism efforts is a beautiful thing. We can’t thank her enough!
Stan and Lois Clark - Volunteers of the Week (October 3, 2016)
When it comes to commitment, Stan and Lois Clark are the experts. They have been committed to each other since meeting as children and have since committed their lives to service. Stan and Lois first met in Kentucky as children and they were both involved in Scouts, raising two daughters who earned the Gold Award and a son who earned his Eagle Scout. Stan is an Air Force veteran and Lois continues to work as a nurse. They moved from Kentucky to various locations abroad and then settled in Trenton, Illinois.
They both volunteered with Girl Scouts and Boy Scouts as they raised their children and continue to volunteer with Girl Scouts today. Combined, they have nearly 100 years of volunteering experience! Some of Stan’s previous positions include Co-Leader, Council Facilitator, Canoe Instructor, Camp Director in Greece, Training Coordinator, Registrar, Cookie Cupboard Manager, Troop Cookie Manager, and Troop Organizer Consultant as well as serving on the Board of Directors. Lois has also held many positions including Troop Leader, Neighborhood Chair, Cookie Chair, First Aider, Training Coordinator, Council Facilitator, Town Organizer, and Cookie Committee Chair as well as serving on the Board of Directors.
Perhaps the volunteer role they are most passionate about has been serving as Red Cross instructors for First Aid/CPR/AED courses benefiting Girl Scouts and the local community. They give their time to maintain their certification and to provide courses as needed. If someone needs a course, Stan and Lois will work to find a time a location to make it happen. The impact Stan and Lois have made is not through one of the titles they have held over the years, but by the wonderful example of leadership and service they have shown to countless children and adults.
Stan and Lois Clark have both received the Girl Scouts of the USA Thanks Badge II Award which is the highest adult award.
Marian Gionnette - Volunteer of the Week (September 12, 2016)
Marian has been a volunteer at Crisis Nursery in Urbana for about 10 years. There she helps the staff provide direct child care for families who experiencing a crisis situation.
Marian is credited for being a reliable source of help for the Crisis Nursery. She comes in for extra shifts when needed, and always has a smile on her face! Thanks to Marian the Crisis Nursery has been able to provide services to more families.
She is loved by employees, and other volunteers. Marian is always willing to rock a child, read them a story, make a lunch, and just do whatever needs to be done.
Marian has been a valued volunteer for the Crisis Nursery team. She is dedicated to their mission of preventing child abuse and neglect. The staff is very thankful for her service and dedication to children!
Eric Smith - Volunteer of the Week (September 9, 2016)
“Eric Smith has been and continues to be a monumental part in the growing success of Special Olympics, IL and continues to go above and beyond in his community and in our organization to serve Special Olympics, IL athletes.”
-Lynde Pavich, Area Director for Special Olympics Illinois Area 17/Sangamon
Eric Smith is the former Chief of Police for the Sherman Police Department. In addition to serving his community through law enforcement, Eric has served as a volunteer for the Special Olympics for 11 years. He also serves as the Director for the Illinois Law Enforcement Torch Run (LETR), is an organizer for the Texas Roadhouse Benefit Lunch, and the Springfield Dunkin’ Doughnuts Cop on Rooftop event. Thanks to Eric’s leadership the fundraising for the LETR reached tremendous heights, with $3 Million raised in 2013 and $4 Million reached in 2015.
Eric’s reach spans globally for the Special Olympics’, not just Illinois. In 2015 Eric traveled to Los Angeles to be the LETR Final Leg Runner for the World Games. He couldn’t quite explain the greatness of the experience as he carried the flame of hope through California for two weeks.
Smith, his wife, and daughter all enjoy the rewarding experience of being volunteers for the Special Olympics. His daughter has become a part of the Law Enforcement Torch Run in Kansas! Eric says that volunteering for the Special Olympics has been one of the most rewarding things his family could be a part of.
Special Olympics Illinois is grateful to have him and his continuing dedication.
Mary Cole - Volunteer of the Week (August 29, 2016)
Mary Cole is credited for making a huge impact behind the scenes of the North Morgan County Water Co-op since 1998. When it was revealed that 84.3% of wells in Northern Morgan County were contaminated a serious threat to the health and well-being of those citizens were at stake. Mary, whose husband is on the board of the Co-op, became the point person for the Co-ops members. She handles many of the duties that help make the co-op successful. Mary travels eight hours along the 100 miles of water lines to read the meters; handles the billing and phone calls, and has become well acquainted with the families involved.
Thanks to Mary’s involvement the co-op has been able to address a critical health issue and has secured over 5 million dollars in funding to do so. She has helped to grow partnerships with many communities and organizations. The co-op has been able to work with most of the towns and villages in the area including Jacksonville, Ashland, Virginia, Literberry, Arcadia, and Concord. The Co-ops waterline has even been able to be extended to provide water to the entire village of Arenzville. There are workings in place to connect Virginia as an alternate source of water for Jacksonville in the case of flooding.
Mary’s tireless efforts and support to the North Morgan Water Co-op has allowed the board to focus on building over 100 miles of an interconnected water system that has multiple water sources. There are also workings in place to extend it even further and include more rural families. This system will allow hundreds of families to have a healthy sustainable water source for many years to come. Mary is continually looking for ways to enhance the system in place, and make the paperwork system more efficient as she continues to serve the Co-op.
Madeline Webber - Volunteer of the Week (August 22, 2016)
Madeline Webber is a junior majoring in Social Work at Western Illinois University. She recently made headlines for her service to Loaves and Fishes in Naperville, Illinois.
Madeline is the youngest of five daughters, and when she was younger she remembers having benefited from the services of Loaves and Fishes. Madeline says she had begun volunteer hours at her school Health office but needed a place to continue during the summer. Her first thought was Loaves and Fishes. She had never forgotten the help her family received from them when she was younger, and she has always remained grateful. She believed there was no better place to dedicate her time than the place that had served her and her family years ago.
Madeline says her experience was fun, the atmosphere was very welcoming, and that the people were so happy. She plans to do more volunteer work in the future, and hopes to further her experience in Social Work in Colorado after graduation. She isn’t sure where she wants to focus her degree exactly but she hopes to help those with addictions, or in a hospital or school setting.
Hilda Marshall - Volunteer of the Week (August 15, 2016)
They say the most common reason people volunteer is because they are asked. For Hilda Marshall, being asked turned into 19 years!
In 1996 Hilda's son was attending a summer program at the YMCA of Metropolitan Chicago when she was asked to volunteer as a mentor for Y-pals. What started as a one year commitment working with at risk youth became 19 years of helping young women to become successful.
Hilda’s duties as a mentor have been to focus on helping improve education and literacy. She helps students prepare for college, improve attendance rates, and improve their grades. Yet she tries to ensure there is fun to be had as well. Each year she and her mentees embark on an educational road trip.
Hilda says, “if you give your time to someone or something else, it will be you who receives the most in return.” She maintains many of the relationships she has formed with the young women she has mentored, all the way back to her very first mentee 19 years ago!
Last December Hilda received the Illinois Municipal Retirement Fund Year of the Volunteer Award. With that she was presented with a donation of $1000 for the organization she volunteers with.
Hilda is now in charge of the mentoring program at the YMCA she serves, but she continues to personally mentor youth.
Daniel Olivieri - Volunteer of the Week (August 8, 2016)
At the age of 18 Daniel began volunteering with the American Red Cross in Chicago. The summer before beginning his freshman year of college Daniel became the main point person for the American Red Cross Youth Clubs. The Chicago area had about fifteen clubs at the time, and some were at risk of deactivating. Daniel took the lead and set out to make sure all clubs were registered, active, and had projects for the year. He also helped to open clubs in three new schools.
Daniel continues to work closely with club leadership to ensure the clubs are sustaining from his dorm room in Indiana, and visits whenever he is in the area. Thanks to his creative efforts, two new youth club activities, a Youth Leadership Conference and a Bone Marrow initiative, were initiated.
Currently Daniel has been active in international volunteering. In March he visited Havana Cuba to conduct a research grant on access to healthcare polyclinics in urban areas of Havana. He is active in Timmy Global Health, a non-profit that works to expand access to quality healthcare and empowers volunteers and students to tackle global health challenges. In addition to those, Daniel also volunteers his time to Camp Kesem; a camp aimed to help children affected by cancer at Notre Dame. Daniel maintains a busy schedule, but is always willing to help in any way he can.
Elizabeth Einig - Volunteer of the Week (August 1, 2016)
Elizabeth, a senior from James B. Conant High School in Hoffman Estates, is a mental health advocate for teens. Her own struggles with depression led her to shine a spotlight on the need to help others. To fight the stigma of mental illness and encourage outreach, Elizabeth produced a video and spoke at a gala to help raise $140,000 for a Libertyville counseling center. She has also spearheaded the establishment of a mental health awareness day at Conant that is on its way to becoming an annual week-long event.
In addition, Elizabeth is co-president of the Schaumburg Township Coalition for Positive Youth Development Youth Advisory Council. In this role, she works to promote healthy behaviors, decrease risk factors and improve the quality of life for youth. She serves on the data committee to analyze youth substance use trends in District 211, identify root causes behind the trends and brainstorm ways to address issues. She helps organize events for at-risk teens such as a benefit for pregnant and parenting teens and an instrument drive. She led mental health discussions with over 100 high school students in partnership with the Kennedy Forum and Chicago Community Trust, and facilitated a community Town Hall about teen substance use. This summer she was one of two representatives from Schaumburg to attend the Communities Anti-Drug Coalitions of America training for youth-led civic change.
Elizabeth also volunteers with seniors at Friendship Village, pediatric patients at Alexian Brothers, and reads to local elementary students. She’s a recipient of the President’s Volunteer Service Award, Cook County Sheriff’s Youth Service Medal of Honor, Village of Schaumburg Youth Volunteer of the Year and has earned the Girl Scout Bronze, Silver and Gold Awards. Elizabeth’s passion for volunteering comes from a belief that we’re all connected. Helping someone in need makes all of us stronger.
JC Kids' Lunch Bunch - Volunteer of the Week (July 25, 2016)
This week’s volunteer of the week is a group from Johnston City, IL known as the JC Kids’ Lunch Bunch. This isn’t your average summer lunch program! For the last seven years Johnston City’s Free Will Baptist Church has hosted the summer lunch program. Kids’ and their parents or care providers are able to attend and enjoy a free meal. Thanks to the USDA lunch is served, but kids don’t just have to eat and go home! After the meal the children are engaged in a multitude of activities from bounce houses, musical entertainment, or a fire truck “hose down” to name just a few.
Throughout the week JC Kids’ Lunch Bunch can serve up to as many as 75 children. This wouldn’t be possible without the help of wonderful volunteers. The JC Kids’ Lunch Bunch is all made possible by 100 percent volunteer effort. Each day there are about 15 to 20 volunteers that help serve meals and facilitate activities.
The program runs every day beginning at 11:30 A.M. this month will mark the end of the program until next summer! You can see some of the fun that happens on their Facebook page JC Kids’ Lunch Bunch!
Kayleen Shaw - Volunteer of the Week (July 18, 2016)
Kayleen is in her second year as an AmeriCorps member. She currently serves at Career Connections, sponsored by the YWCA of the Sauk Valley where she assists clients with resume writing, job search, and interviewing. In addition to preparing clients with those endeavors, Kayleen serves in the YWCA’s Career Closet boutique. There she has utilized the skills she learned at Maurice’s clothing store to transform the boutique into a place where women would want to shop. She inventoried all the clothing, sorted by type and size, and then staged the store by putting complete outfits together strategically placed with jewelry and handbags. She even enlisted the help of her mother and grandmother to assist with the endeavor.
Thanks to Kayleen’s mention to Maurice’s staff about the shortage of larger size professional clothing Maurice’s now offers a discount on purchases for every clothing item donated to benefit the boutique. Kayleen’s site supervisor says “She went above and beyond”. The Career Connections Boutique has been transformed into a place where women can shop for career clothes (free of charge) and feel confident in their appearance for their interview, and ultimately starting a new job. The YWCA and ABC AmeriCorps are ecstatic about Kayleen’s worthwhile efforts.
Benny Skelton - Volunteer of the Week (July 11, 2016)
“He uses his gift of unconditional love and understanding to make things easier for those at his site”
Benny Skelton served four terms as an AmeriCorps member at Light the way in Metropolis Illinois. During his service Benny worked as a handyman, and transported clients for trips. Though he was only a part time member, Benny often worked extra hours each day. He was a leader in AmeriCorps, and never missed an opportunity to continue training and help other members. During his service there wasn’t anything he wouldn’t try. Without his efforts many things at the Haven House wouldn’t have been able to take place or be completed. His service at the Haven House made the clients feel comfortable and safe.
Benny’s time as an AmeriCorps member has ended, but he still continues to serve in any way he can. He works hard to make sure Light the Way is a quality place to live for all residents. His continued service and dedication to Light the Way is an example of someone who lives a life of service.
Rachel Baraks - Volunteer of the Week (July 4, 2016)
Rachel Baraks is a long time Quad cities resident who has been making a difference in children’s lives through service. While working on her Masters in Counselor Education, Rachel has been making an impact in a Moline preschool classroom. At Skip-a-Long Child Development Services - Moline Campus, Rachel works with children between the ages of 3 and 5 who are at risk of failure in kindergarten. Since consistency is vital to success for many of these children, Rachel has served two consecutive years in the same class room. Rachel has now become an “integral part of the classroom”. Her implementation of teacher planned activities, reading to students, and various other activities and projects of her own have earned her respect from the classroom teachers.
Rachel has earned the confidence of her students, and has helped them make wonderful strides towards success in literacy. After Rachel’s first year in the classroom almost all the students met Illinois Early Learning Standards for literacy. When she began most students only met 50%, if any of the categories for literacy. Thanks to Rachel’s dedication in the classroom many of the children she worked with were able to move on to kindergarten. Remaining students in the classroom have still been able to benefit from Rachel’s presence and activities.
In addition to Rachel’s success in the classroom, she has become the driving force of the Literacy in the Garden Program at the Quad City Botanical Center in Rock Island, Illinois. There Rachel has spent summers reading nature themed books, and conducting developmental activities for children who visit the garden center. She has also served many community service hours participating in events to enhance literacy in the Quad Cities.
Katie Dunbar - Volunteer of the Week (June 27, 2016)
“Katie is an amazing 8th grader that came to me with an idea for a student led anti bullying group as a 7th grader. The group has now grown to have a worldwide influence and impact, and it helps define the culture of our school.”
– Nick Sutton, Lombard Principal
Katie Dunbar is an eighth grader on a mission to make her community a better place. In 2014, when she was a seventh grader she sought out to help other students throughout her school. She took the initiative to found the Take a stand club after receiving the go ahead from school administration. She then mapped out the frame work, sought out sponsors, and created goals for the clubs future. The Take a stand Club encourages students to seek out a Take a Stand member when they need someone to talk to, or are struggling with something at home or school.
Katie’s efforts have been recognized throughout Lombard Middle School where Katie attends the eighth grade. She has even earned recognition from Galesburg’s Mayor and became the recipient of the City of Galesburg Youth Extra Effort Award. This award is given to youth working to make their community a better place.
Founding the Take A Stand Club also earned Katie Global recognition. She was nominated for the Global Random Acts Organization Caught in the Act Award. This award which had Sixty-seven people nominated all the over the world was earned by Katie. She was surprised with the news at a school assembly! Lombard Middle School is very proud of her efforts and all she has accomplished for the school.
More information about the Take a Stand Club can be found at the Take A Stand Website.
Vinona Summers - Volunteer of the Week (June 20, 2016)
“Mrs. Summers is very active helping out in the 006th District and the community”- Officers Oates and Daily
Vinona Summers was requested to be Our Serve IL Volunteer of the week by two police officers of the Chicago PD. 006th District of Community Alternative Policing (CAPS). Tim Oates and Rasah Daily wanted to ensure Vinona was recognized for her amazing dedication to their district and community.
Each summer the 006th District has an annual event for fallen police officers called “Peace in the Park after Dark". During this event 50-60 children from the community are engaged in a camping experience by sleeping in tents overnight in a park. The CAPS office starts preparing for this event in January. Mrs. Summers spends countless hours and organizes activities for this event from start to finish. She is vital in helping the CAPS office recruit children, secure donors, and plan activities. The 006th District Caps Office wanted to give recognition to Mrs. Vinona Summer’s because “she is an outstanding example of giving back to the community”.
Jacob Martin - Volunteer of the Week (June 13, 2016)
Jacob Martin joined AmeriCorps in August of 2015 as a multi-subject tutor with Belleville AmeriCorps. Jacob continues to go above and beyond as an AmeriCorps member. During site visits and member reviews, Belleville staff has received countless positive remarks about his service.
For example, one of Jacob’s supervising teachers said the following, “Jacob has established positive relationships with both students and adults. He is passionate about working with children. He gets excited about influencing students’ lives and understands the impact he has on the students”.
Another moving example of Jacob's work was from an email sent from the Superintendent of the school district he serves. She stated, “The AmeriCorps member we have at Ellis school is saving a child. He is assigned to touch base with a little kindergartner on a regular basis and if it weren't for their relationship, the kindergartner would probably have to be placed elsewhere. He is golden”.
Jacob continues to impress us with his gifts and talents. We know he will leave his mark at his service site and the program. The Belleville staff is looking forward to the rest of his term of service with AmeriCorps!
Mary Wiesbrock - Volunteer of the Week (June 6, 2016)
To volunteer is a gift to self
good for the soul
Making the body
seem more whole!
Go to a school,
help the little ones
Learn to read and
do their sums!
Go to your
church, always something to do
Even if only to
sit in a pew!
Help to clean,
raise some money
are really crummy!
experience, a nursing home
Help to feed, read
Help to feed,
read a poem!
Start some games,
write a letter
Your being there
makes them feel better!
Or to the
hospital, visit the sick
Auxiliary, take your pick
Of the many
services they offer too
Every patient and
Hold a hand, say
your being there!
In our young
people the future rests
Lead them well to
do their best!"
At age 91, Mary says it is hard to pinpoint a time when she wasn’t volunteering. When she discovered that her hometown of Streator was in need of volunteers she felt she could inspire others with a poem on volunteering. Her poem, "To Volunteer is a Gift to Self", was published in the local paper.
Living in Streator her entire life Mary raised four children who all attended Eagle Grade School. There she became President of Eagle Grade School PTA. Her involvement allowed her to spend many hours helping at fairs, drama programs, and various other activities. She also became a member of the Streatorette’s 4-H club.
In 2003, Mary recalls her first non- school volunteering experience at her Church. Her dedication to service earned her the Pere Marquette Award from the Diocese of Peoria. Along with service to her church, Mary and her husband were caretakers for the Lost Land Cemetery Association. After being a Certified Nurse’s Aide for 18 years at St. Mary’s Hospital she served on the Auxiliary board for five years. For twenty years she volunteered in the Hospice program of the hospital, where she offered company and comfort to patients. She also aided in distributing food to the community with the Shared Foods of Central Illinois for ten years.
Today Mary continues to serve wherever she can. She currently bakes and serves lunch every other month for the Knights of Columbus councel 790, continues to serve at her church, makes holiday breads with another church in the community, and continues to provide care for others by driving them to appointments, delivering groceries, and anything else they may need.
Mary says she wouldn’t trade the friends she has made or the things she helped accomplish through volunteering for anything.
Ann Hyler - Volunteer of the Week (May 30, 2016)
“Every day she volunteers with the food bank she helps more families in need and we are in debt to her service as a community.”-Abby Johnson
Ann joyfully joined the Skills-Based Volunteer program at the Northern Illinois Food Bank in 2015, and has volunteered over 112 hours thus far to help solve hunger in Northern Illinois. She works specifically with the SNAP Volunteer Team, also known as Food Stamp Assistance team, where she tirelessly works to ensure all people who reach out in need of assistance have everything they need to be at peace.
Although she was only trained to help community members apply for SNAP she doesn’t stop there. She listens to all of their needs, and works hard to connect her clients with other resources in their particular area. Because no one is just hungry, Ann connects her clients with other resources including; housing assistance, transportation, and prenatal care just to name a few.
Ann has also volunteered in the warehouse where she helps to pack, sort, and label food products that are sent out to the local pantries in a 13 county service area. She has also assisted the Northern IL Food Bank in reaching local seniors who are in need of food assistance.
Ann is a joy to the Northern IL Food Bank staff. She participates with a team of seven SNAP volunteers who have helped feed hundreds of families in Illinois, and continues to do more and more for the community!
Dominique Wilson - Volunteer of the Week (May 23, 2016)
Dominique Wilson, is a senior at the University of Illinois - Springfield majoring in Communications. Currently he sits as the Springfield campus Student Trustee for the University of Illinois Board of Trustees.
Dominique says he is a true believer that no matter who you are, you can make a difference.
In 2014, Dominque received a grant that allowed him to travel to The Gambia, Africa. Thanks to a surplus of money from his grant Dominique was able to donate additional resources to a school there. The money went toward a pavilion named in honor of Dominique that will house school events. Though he was there for educational purposes, he soon became inspired by a young boy. The boy reminded him of himself when he was young by saying to Dominique, “I want an education.” Dominique remembers saying something similar growing up in Chicago. He now has committed to funding the education of that boy and his little brother for the next five years. He hopes to continue until they finish college. One of Dominique’s biggest goals is to return to The Gambia to visit the boys he sponsors and offer any other services he can.
Dominique continues to remain active with community organizing and is currently active with many other volunteer opportunities. He is a mentor for Big Brothers Big Sisters, and when time allows he enjoys serving with Habitat for Humanity and any other opportunity that may arise.
Set to graduate in May, Dominique plans to complete the LSAT for Commercial Real-Estate. He is considering the next steps in his education in Law, Public Health, or Non-Profit Development.
Sara Stoneski - Volunteer of the Week (May 16, 2016)
Sara is a full-time AmeriCorps member serving her second year at Cypress Creek National Wildlife Refuge through Land of Lincoln AmeriCorps out of Rend Lake College. Sara is extremely dedicated. She had a late start to the program last year after filling a spot for Land of Lincoln after someone left the position early. Even though she started months after everyone else, she completed a full-time volunteer placement in the program, and now, she is at it again. Sara puts in long hours when necessary, but even with all of that work, she always has a great attitude and smile on her face. She is a great asset to the Land of Lincoln AmeriCorps program and the community she serves.
Kenneth Jennings - Volunteer of the Week (May 9, 2016)
Kenneth Jennings is a man who doesn’t like to remain in one place for very long. Instead, he has made it his mission to be out in his community working to protect student athletes, and mentoring many along the way.
In 1988, when he was a junior in high school, Kenneth suffered a paralyzing spinal injury. The injury changed his life in many ways, and the financial strain took a toll on his family. For this reason Kenneth has worked hard to help ensure student athletes are insured. The insurance will help ensure injured athletes and their families do not have to suffer financially. His dedication has allowed him to be instrumental in changing the way Illinois supports the health and safety of its athletes. In 2013 he played a big part in bringing Rocky’s law into existence. This law requires all schools in Illinois provide insurance to protect against financial ruin in the event of a devastating injury.
Instead of letting his injury hold him back Kenneth has chosen to use his life to serve others. He looks at his injury as a new life, and that new life has put him in a position to help others who have similar experiences. Kenneth Jennings has dedicated many hours to peer mentoring young individuals who have suffered spinal injuries. He enjoys sharing his testimony, speaking with medical students, and still loves football. Currently, he is looking to assist in coaching another team, and continues volunteering as a peer mentor for injured athletes at the Rehabilitation Institute of Chicago. Kenneth has also been busy working to finish writing his memoir How Eight Seconds Changed My Life. The title represents the first eight seconds of the game Kenneth was injured.
Kenneth Jennings is a true example that “Everyone can be great, because anyone can serve”- Martin Luther King Jr.
Jennifer Hickey - Volunteer of the Week (May 2, 2016)
Meet Jennifer Hickey, she is a senior majoring in the Social Work, and CAP Programs at the University of Illinois Springfield.
Jennifer is involved in a variety of volunteer opportunities on campus at UIS. She has sustained a heavy involvement in Leadership for Life. Last year she served as the Youth and Ed Committee chair, and coordinated last year’s homecoming service project. Now she has become one of two co-directors for Leadership for Life. She helps to create volunteer projects, facilitate meetings with the executive board and committees, as well as control the budget. In addition to Leadership for Life, Jennifer is the Entertainment Chair for the Dance Marathon at UIS. This second year organization is connected through the Volunteer and Civic Engagement Center. Jennifer’s service includes creating crafts, music lists, and the menu for the marathon event. She also helps to fundraise for Alternative Spring Break, is a CAP Mentor, and CAP peer tutor. Her service as a mentor and peer tutor for the last two years earned her recognition, and she received the Mentor of the Year Award. She is now the senior tutor at Writing Studios on campus.
Though she is very involved on campus, Jennifer’s primary involvement is now at the Autism Clinic through the Hope institute for Children and Families. She has been an intern for the last two semesters, and spends about 25-30 hours a week helping diagnose kids on the ASD spectrum, providing therapy groups for kids and families, and also providing resources for families and the community. For her CAP Senior Symposium and STARS presentation Jennifer has been researching the availability/lack of services surrounding Autism in Illinois, as well as policies that go with it. She plans to graduate in May and pursue a graduate degree in Social Work.
Trina Reynolds-Tyler - Volunteer of the Week (April 25, 2016)
Trina is a 2015-2016 Public Allies AmeriCorps Member. She is noted for being a passionate and genuine volunteer. As a Public Ally, Trina was placed at the Illinois African American Coalition for Prevention. There she coordinates restorative justice and violence prevention activities for youth.
Trina is always eager for new experiences, and driven to learn. She faces challenges with excitement and is quick to volunteer her time and talents. Her peers have recognized her leadership and drive. Therefore she was elected as a Class Representative and nominated to participate in the Peace Circle-Keeper Training.
Trina has also mentored high school students while working at LINK Unlimited, a non-profit focused on college success. Her humanist yet analytical approach allows her to empathize with the people she serves through volunteer work, recognizing the intersections of different experiences and inequalities.
Rachel Maurer - Volunteer of the Week (April 18, 2016)
Rachel Maurer is the Retail Administrator and Social Media Representative with Illini Bank. On March 3rd, 2016 Rachel was the recipient of the Illinois Bankers Association Volunteer of the Year award. This award recognizes a banker who has devoted endless hours to an IBA committee or board, and has gone above and beyond in their efforts to support the IBA and Banking Industry. She actively participates in the Teach Children to Save Campaign each year by doing different activities such as going to class rooms and talking to students. Most recently on April 4th, she met with the Sangamon County METRO 4-H group to discuss savings and financial literacy.
Rachel currently serves on the Women in Banking Committee and is the vice-chair for the Future Leaders Alliance board. She has attended numerous IBA events and training programs, and is a 2011 graduate of the Future Leaders Alliance program through the IBA, and a 2014 graduate of the Dale Carnegie program.
In addition to her work in the banking industry, Rachel currently serves as the treasurer for the local chapter of the National Wild Turkey Federation. She likes Turkey hunting, and likes to joke that occasionally she trades in her “designer bag and five inch heels for some muck boots and a shot gun”. She is also active in her church, and volunteers in the nursery. Although Rachel is clearly busy with her career and service, she says she enjoys spending the majority of her time with her two beautiful daughters ages 4 and 1, and her amazing husband of seven and a half years.
Cassie Jibben - ABC AmeriCorps of Sauk Valley Community College - Volunteer of the Week (April 11, 2016)
Cassie Jibben is a 4th year AmeriCorps member serving at Dillon Elementary School in Rock Falls with kindergarten students. Although this is Cassie's 4th year, this is her 1st year at this site. She has found the task of working with the little ones enjoyable and rewarding, making connection with several of the students. One student in particular was having a rough time and have break downs throughout the day. Cassie had discussed these breakdowns with the teacher but they were both perplexed by what was bothering him. Cassie decided to take this little one for a walk and talk to him about what was going on, seeing if he would open up one on one. Her approach worked. The little guy told her that he was upset because he could not play at recess since he did not have snow pants or snow boots. Knowing that this child comes from a home where finances are an issue, Cassie took it upon herself to seek out items for him. She was able to get him snow pants, snow boots, and a winter coat. Since receiving his items he has become his normal self again and the breakdowns stopped. Cassie did not stop there though. She was able to get additional winter wear to have on hand for her classroom, just in case there are other students struggling with the same issue. Cassie has gone above and beyond for her students and exemplifies the definition of an AmeriCorps member.
Credell Walls - Public Allies Chicago - Volunteer of the Week (April 4, 2016)
“Credell is always pushing the limits of his efforts to support young people and create opportunities where they might not normally exist.”
Empowering under-privileged youth has been a passion for Credell Walls for many years. Growing up under many of the same circumstances as the youth he seeks to empower, Credell understands what needs to be done for youth to succeed. For over 15 years his dedication to the empowerment of youth has been innovative and has created connections on various levels. Credell uses an innovative approach to reach youth by seeking out unique opportunities for them to take part in. Using his plethora of experience and his connections to the community, Credell is able to connect youth with experiences that teaches, includes strength building, and encourages growth. Some examples include Credell’s involvement in the University of Chicago’s efforts to support youth who are dealing with the death of loved ones due to violence. Also his efforts to create a partnership with the juvenile detention center and Safe Humane Chicago have allowed detainees to learn professional skills to care for animals and support emotional healing. This has now been a longstanding program for over three years. He has also been instrumental in the outdoor education of Lost Boyz Inc. His goal is to create memorable opportunities to change lives. His efforts to support this mission include: presenting workshops on bereavement methods, facilitating youth solidarity events, recruiting under-privileged youth to Public Allies, and supporting mentorship opportunities.
Credell is always working to ensure that his connections remain strong and last far after his service with Public Allies. His leadership has been amazing for Public Allies and all they set out to accomplish within their organization. Credell has already changed so many lives and his commitment to service is sure to change many more!
Allison Acevedo's "Citizenship Through Community Service" Students - Volunteers of the Week (March 28, 2016)
Meet Allison Acevedo’s “Citizenship through Community Service” Students!
Pictured here are just a few of the 500 students who brain
storm, plan, and implement volunteer service projects at William B. Orenic Intermediate School in Plainfield, Illinois.
In the “Citizenship through Community Service” class as
well as club LEAD (Leadership, Empathy, Action, and Dedication), Allison
Acevedo instills in students the importance of service in their communities.
So far this year the students have participated in four
different service projects. All of which the students discovered a community need,
determined how to fill it, and participated in the actions needed to do so.
Students have held a book drive for Pre-School students at
Marycrest Early Childhood Center in Joliet. They reached out to their peers and
community to donate books, as well as monetary donations, to increase their
collection. The books were donated during a family reading night held by their school
after which the students read books to the younger children and participated in
literacy based activities with them. This took time and dedication, helping
instill the importance of literacy to the pre-school students.
That same month students began collecting care package
items for Operation Care Package. They created letters and encouraged other
students to write letters and donate items as well. While at the site of
Operation Care Package the students helped package the items by using an
assembly line to sort and move all they had collected. They even decorated the
boxes the items were shipped in, involving students in the entire process.
Later the students planned a visit to Hopeful Tails
Animal rescue. To prepare for their visit, students collected items for “doggie
starter kits”, an idea they thought of themselves. During this service project students donated
kits; blankets for dogs, leashes, collars, tennis balls, and 50 pull toys they
made themselves from t-shirts. The students played with the dogs, walked them,
and gave them baths. They made some very happy dogs that day! Students also
helped give some lucky dogs a great start in their new homes with their “doggie
Their latest service project was a visit to a local food
pantry back in February. Students held a food drive, collecting food to take
with them for their visit. While there, they helped sort food and check
expiration dates. The director of the food pantry says the students “basically
ran the pantry and all it involves”.
Students will have completed nine service projects by the
end of the school year. After each project students are asked to write down
their feelings about what they have done. Many are so humbled and inspired to
do more after each project is completed.
Jan Meadows - Volunteer of the Week (March 21, 2016)
After retiring from teaching Jan Meadows has been very instrumental with providing great services to the students in her community. At Kinsley Jr. High in Normal Jan has orchestrated initiatives with the Promise Council that seeks to remove obstacles that may prevent children from learning. In a community where many of the students are at-risk, Jan has helped to provide a variety of resources to aid in the promise councils initiatives. Jan has recruited volunteers to provide things such as tutoring, hats, gloves, and winter coats. Her work with the Back 2 School Alliance has provided school supplies for up to 3000 students in McLean County. In her spare time Jan continues to teach pre-service elementary education teachers part time. She is the Vice President of the IEA retired chapter in her area, a youth minister at her church, and volunteers for the Education Committee for Schools. She is also a volunteer for Not In our Town for schools (NIOT), where they strive to combat racism and support healthy relationships. Thanks to Jan’s connections in the community her volunteer recruiting grows every year. She has clearly demonstrated the importance of meeting the needs of local children in her community through service.
Angie Zahn - Volunteer of the Week (March 14, 2016)
Angie is truly an amazing volunteer who gives so much to the Girl Scouts and our mission of building leaders for America… girls of courage, confidence and character who make the world a better place.
- Jay Strobel
Angie Zhan is a Managing Broker by profession but a Girl Scout at heart. Currently, she serves on Girl Scouts of Southern Illinois’ (GSSI) Board of Directors as Secretary. Angie previously served as president of the Girl Scouts of River Bluffs Council (legacy council to GSSI). She has been a Girl Scout volunteer and mentor for 29 years. Not only has Angie served on the Board of Directors for many years, she also served as a National Delegate to Girl Scouts of the USA. She has also been a troop leader, a cookie chair, Property Task Force member among many other volunteer activities. If there is a need, Angie is always one of the first to volunteer and say, “I can do that!” Angie is a great supporter of camp, outdoor experience, and programs like Haunted Camp Torqua. Her most important role in GSSI is her work with older girls, and mentoring these girls while they are working on their Girl Scout Gold Award. To date Angie has mentored 7 girls to receive the Girl Scout Gold Award, Girl Scouts’ highest individual award. As a Girl Scout volunteer Angie always strives to ensure all girls benefit from the Girl Scout Leadership Experience. She gives her time, her talent, and her money to ensure that Girl Scouting is a place where girls gain the courage, confidence, and character to make the world a better place for all of us.
Jada Miller - Volunteer of the Week (March 7, 2016)
Jada Miller has been an AmeriCorps Member with Operation AmeriCorps East St. Louis since September 2015. Jada has a true spirit for service and a passion for the youth in East St. Louis. Her positive attitude and ethic of service is not only contagious for her fellow AmeriCorps Members, but recognized by the staff and faculty at Lincoln Middle School as well.
For the Martin Luther King Day of Service, Jada was instrumental in planning her groups’ project. Each project was led by a team of AmeriCorps members; however Jada quickly emerged as the leader of her group. She went above and beyond to secure monetary donations for her project. The My Very Own Blanket Project, where volunteers made fleece tie blankets for youth in a homeless shelter for women and children in East St. Louis yielded 35 blankets.
Jada currently serves at Lincoln Middle school with the Academic Skills Center and was instrumental in the planning and implementation of the skills center. Jada’s communication skills keep the Academic Skills Center team focused and reminded that the true reason they are all there, the one goal they are all working towards, is focused on the youth that they serve. Jada is also extremely talented in providing immediate positive reinforcement to students. When they are doing a good job, she recognizes it. When there is improvement, she encourages it. These small things go a long way in improving student behavior and overall school climate. Jada’s commitment to the youth in her school and community is definitely making a positive impact.
She serves by the motto: “The only thing that beats a failure is a try”. Shermaine’s want to serve her community goes beyond her work in tutoring. Thanks to her efforts Project MORE has seen an increase in donations and support from businesses in the community. It is Shermaine’s hope that services like Project MORE continue to help members of her community defeat illiteracy. She strives to encourage those she works with to know the importance of volunteerism. Shermaine says she has discovered her purpose, gained leadership skills, and has increased confidence through her work with Project MORE. She hopes to continue serving and strengthening communities for many years to come.
Oriel Maxime - Volunteer of the Week (February 22, 2016)
“Oriel has given to Little City and the community by sharing his interests and talents. We are truly thankful to have him as a volunteer”
Oriel volunteers at Little City in Chicago, when he began he set out to make a difference for the staff. He felt empowering the staff would create a large impact on the community. During his time at Little City Oriel worked with their training department to develop creative methods for staff to handle a challenging field of work. His goal was for staff to have better tools to continue their support of individuals with disabilities. Oriel dedicated over 80 hours to educating staff on ways to provide teamwork in the work setting.
Little City has a children’s program where about 80% of the children have severe Autism. With this in mind Oriel developed a creative approach to increase staff morale. He created different tasks set up across the campus for staff to participate in. One of the highlights of those tasks was a sensory room that mimicked the feeling of having autism. This was a unique hands on experience of a day in the life of the children the staff help support daily. Oriel had a great impact on the staff, and continues to check on their progress.
He is a member of American Mensa, has a degree in Applied Mathematics from the Illinois Institute of Technology, and greatly enjoys all aspects of the subject, ranging from the recreational to the highly abstract and technical. He has also done a lot of study in the area of recursive functions, computability, and various complexity classes. He adores games and puzzles of all sorts: he plays them, creates them, and sometimes even publishes them.
Rebecca Ozaki - Volunteer of the Week (February 15, 2016)
Rebecca Ozaki serves as an AmeriCorps VISTA for the Asian American Community Empowerment Project in the Chicago area. There she serves as a Volunteer Manager for her VISTA position. Since entering her position Rebecca has been able to increase the number of volunteers for her host site through some innovative ways. Rebecca began by revising and creating a volunteer program that included a plan she would implement among other VISTA’S in her position. Along with this plan she created a monthly strategic plan for recruiting volunteers and focusing on volunteering retention and opportunity. Thanks to Rebecca’s efforts there is now an internal staff process all staff will use to recruit and work with volunteers at their site. By the end of her term Rebecca will have a full tool kit on the volunteer process that she will share across ten other sites. In her first 6 months Rebecca has re-engaged 23 volunteers and recruited 98 new. She has run 3 volunteer events and added 17 new ones to the organization. In total her efforts have allowed for 605 volunteer hours to be performed in just 6 months. Rebecca’s efforts have ensured that the Asian American Empowerment Project will continue and have sustainability. Her long standing tool kit will continue to help staff in her site, as well as others to increase volunteer work to better serve the community.
Josh Spencer - Volunteer of the Week (February 8, 2016)
Josh discovered the need for children and their families with long-term stays in local hospitals to have a sense of normalcy during the holidays. Many are restricted to the hospital environment during these specials days, so Josh set out to fill this need. In doing so he discovered the Holiday Heroes foundation. They are an organization that strives to meet this need for children, but had been struggling to do so. Josh became a member of the board and helped the organization grow. His impact on the organization is described as “nothing short of incredible”. Thanks to his efforts Josh has helped make it possible for HHF to grow vastly with members and volunteers. He has well increased the staff, events, and financing of the organization. In doing so he has strengthened the foundations ties to the community, and his impact has made it possible for the Holiday Heroes to continue serving children for years to come.
Trevon Jordan - Volunteer of the Week (February 1, 2016)
“Trevon not only works hard, but he pushes himself to go above the necessary requirements of the task, to fulfill and accomplish more than anticipated”
As an AmeriCorps member Trevon served four years of service in the Belleville school district. He was aware of the needs in his community, and remembered attending after school programs with AmeriCorps members. Once able, Trevon decided to also become an AmeriCorps member so he too could assist in serving those needs. Within the school district he became a “positive presence” for the children, tutoring them in both reading and math. He often worked in small groups, was a summer camp counselor, and has been known to be “tackled” by the students on the playground a time or two! During his four year term Trevon never hesitated to get his hands dirty. He participated in 17 service projects in just three months, which was far more than his required six. Upon a quarterly review he had served some of the highest service hours of all the members within his site. Trevon has been described as an inspiration to other AmeriCorps members. His commitment, passion, and reliability have set him apart from others. Both his AmeriCorps site and the school district he serves rely heavily on his dedication. Trevon managed to accomplish his abundance of service to his community while attending college. Since finishing his term Trevon accepted a position within the Belleville school district. He continues to be a person passionate to make a difference in his community.
Lauren Fifarek - Volunteer of the Week (January 25, 2016)
“Lauren infuses everything she does with energy and enthusiasm and it can be truly contagious and exciting to hear”
Lauren Fifarek was an Illinois Public Health Association AmeriCorps member for Erie Family Health Clinic in 2015. There she set out to meet the needs of the community by encouraging people of low income status to utilize the clinic. Lauren visited food pantries, schools, libraries, and community events to provide important health information and increase her efforts to encourage people to visit Erie Health. Her efforts at Erie have formed strong partnerships and connections in the community. Another great example of Laurens efforts is the success of a new prenatal nutrition class offered by Erie. Lauren helped to recruit women to attend the class. She made reminder calls to those who already planned to attend. She also made calls to potential patients who could benefit from the class, and informed them about the important information that would be provided. Each session grew thanks to her efforts. As an added measure Lauren wanted to be sure the next AmeriCorps member had a foundation to build from when she left. She made sure there was a physical reference for them to begin their service. Lauren is now a Full time employee at Erie Health Clinic, and continues to serve the community.
Shanae Drummond - Volunteer of the Week (January 18, 2016)
Shanae is an AmeriCorps member who facilitates a 9th grade leadership class at East St. Louis Sr. High for students with high rates of suspension. Some of the lessons include civic engagement, decision making, conflict resolution, etc. As part of their evaluation, students are tasked with developing and implementing a service activity within their community. Without any assistance these students collected over 200 items to fill donation boxes, allowing them to reach the initial goal of providing five families with a donation. The additional support and dedication of our extended East St. Louis Sr. High School family helped them meet the needs of additional families. AmeriCorps staff thanks Shanae for setting high expectations and modeling integrity through service learning. Because of her leadership, students were able to see the direct impact of community collaboration through their efforts.
This is the first project the students have facilitated since the implementation of the leadership courses in September. They plan to move forward with the next project beginning in January. The students will focus on collecting socks to donate to the homeless. This project will be coordinated with the AmeriCorps MLK day of service on January 18, 2016 and assist in creating "Blessing Bags" for donation on January 26, 2016.
Mandy Bozart - Volunteer of the Week (January 11, 2016)
Mandy Bozart joined AmeriCorps in August 2014, at the Literacy Education for Adults and Families (LEAF) Program as an ESL instructor with Asian Human Services. Coming off a year abroad teaching English in South Korea and already carrying extensive experience, Mandy’s transition into her AmeriCorps position was a natural and rewarding one.
Not only did Mandy excel as a Level 2 ESL instructor—she also earned the respect and admiration of fellow members, employees, and students alike with her drive and passion for adult education. Now in her second year of service, Mandy has taken on even greater responsibilities, stepping up as a true leader. Aside from her primary duties as an ESL instructor, Mandy also serves as the AmeriCorps Team Leader amongst her peers and has taken the initiative to create a citizenship class she will co-teach with another member. The support that Mandy provides Asian Human Services—and the care in which she serves her students—are invaluable, and the program would not be the same without her.
Tom E. “Woody” Woodhouse - Volunteer of the Week (January 4, 2016)
“Woody is a compassionate, reliable, and dedicated volunteer who we are honored to have as a member of our community of caregivers”- Brenda Waremburg, OSF Saint Francis Medical Center
Woody, an 85 year old veteran of Peoria, Illinois, has been volunteering for OSF since September of 2011. Since then he has served over 529.32 plus hours and has made over 1000 visits to the facility. Woody believes the “Good life is helping others”. He visits the Children of OSF weekly every Wednesday. He likes to be present for children when their parents are not able to. He has been described as an “Angel worker” for entertaining the children in the hospital with his presentations of submarines and the Korean War history. Woody uses this presentation as an entertaining learning experience for patients and their families. Woody enjoys giving back to others and makes sure to always make the most of his time and visits to OSF. When he is not entertaining children at the Saint Francis medical Center he participates in National Veteran organizations to promote submarine history.
Ashley Blessing and Rachel Evrard, AmeriCorps Members - Christmas Party 2012
On December 19th, 2012, AmeriCorps members Ashley Blessing and Rachel Evrard planned a Christmas party for children of clients who are involved with Lutheran Social Services of Illinois’ (LSSI) Prisoner and Family Ministry program. 100 clients and their children received two to three gifts per child and all the gifts were purchased with donations from community members and local businesses. LSSI presented its Employment Skills School graduate at the party.
Tony Boyd, AmeriCorps Member - Christmas Tree Recycling 2012
As an Illinois Public Health Association AmeriCorps Member at the Clay County Health Department Tony Boyd duties include promoting Solid Waste Committee projects. One of the many projects that he has been working on is Christmas tree recycling. Tony believes that the simple act of recycling a biodegradable object will lead communities to recycle other objects that may not be biodegradable. When real Christmas trees are recycled they become more than a “one time” use item. The Christmas trees collected will not only be recycled, they will be reused and ultimately this will reduce the landfill waste. All three “R’s” are used for Christmas tree recycling.
Tony hopes that the community’s efforts make a difference and help inspire others to reduce, reuse and recycle not only for the holidays, but the whole year through.
Youth Volunteers Create Camp S.C.O.R.E.
The Effingham County 4-H Youth Ambassadors (ECYA), consisting of 22 youth, decided they wanted to help other youth have the opportunity to learn about leadership. Paige Logan, a 15 year-old from Altamont, IL and Haley Hahn, a 16 year-old from Effingham, IL began grant writing so the ECYA could hold a leadership camp in their area. After writing four different grants, Paige was notified by Farm Credit System Foundation, Inc. that they were supporting ECYA and were awarded the Douglas D. Sims Fund for Rural Leadership grant for $10,000 to host a leadership camp.
All ECYA members were thrilled and the planning began. Camp S.C.O.R.E. (Skills Created together to Reach Excellence) was the name chosen for their Leadership Camp. Sixty five area youth were delegates at Camp S.C.O.R.E. and are now better prepared to step up and demonstrate needed leadership skills. For more information, please visit the Effingham County 4-H.
Lifting for Lend-A-Hand VIII Raises over $30,000
Dan Cotter and Mike Abramson, attorneys and competitive weight lifters, used their muscles to raise more than $30,000 to benefit Chicago area kids at the American Powerlifting Federation / Amateur American Powerlifting Federation Summer Bash 7.
Cotter lifted a total of 1,510.0 pounds and came in first place in the Masters 1 category (ages 40-44). Abramson totaled 1,449 lbs, coming in first in the Men's Open division at a bodyweight of 181 lbs with a personal record squat of 601 lbs. Cotter has been raising money for kids with his unique fundraising tactic for the last eight years. Abramson, Cotter's training partner, joined in the fundraising effort for the first time this year. Abramson cited the potential for a profound impact on the lives of both mentor and mentee as a reason for his joining the Lifting campaign.
To date, Lifting for Lend-A-Hand has raised over $150,000 for the Lawyers Lend-A-Hand to Youth program.
Sarah Stoner - 19,000 Hours of Service
Proctor Service Auxiliary member and volunteer Sarah Stoner recently received a pin for 19,000 hours of service, giving her the most accumulated hours by any active volunteer at Proctor Hospital in Peoria. "I sure enjoy volunteering and I often wonder how my life would be different if I hadn't met all these great people I've met through the years."
Sarah still works six afternoons and two mornings each month. Sarah has volunteered with Proctor since 1971. She resides in East Peoria with her husband Donald. The couple has four children, five grandchildren, and two great grandchildren.
Troop 181 Gives Back
In 2009, Boy Scout Troop 181 of Downers Grove gave a total of 4,794 hours of service to their community. The 17 Scouts and their leaders have volunteered for many events and organizations including; "Diveheart" a group that provides scuba diving classes for special needs children and wounded veterans, Operation Support our Troops, Illinois (OSTIL), and Downers Grove "Recycle Extravaganza." Troop 181 looks forward to continuing to live by the Scout Slogan of "do a good turn daily!"