Giving Kids the Essentials to Succeed

Giving Kids the Essentials to Succeed

As the weather turns colder in Chicago, many of us start taking out our winter clothes from storage or look to purchase new gear to stay warm. Unfortunately, there are kids in Chicago that don’t have this luxury. In fact, many children don’t even have the basic essentials in any season, let alone warm jackets and clothes for the winter. Almost 200,000 children in Chicago live in poverty, which is a staggering number. For Cradles to Crayons, their mission is to help make life better for these children in need by providing them the essentials they need to thrive.

I was recently connected to Cradles to Crayons because my family had some baby clothes to donate. We wanted to make sure that the donated clothes went to a cause or organization that will ensure the items reached kids who would need them most. Fortunately we found giveNkind, a nonprofit that helps connect donors with organizations needing the donations, which matched us with Cradles to Crayons. After dropping off the bags of donations at their facility on the northwest side of the city, the staff was kind enough to give me a tour of “The Giving Factory” and explain what they do there. The Giving Factory houses Cradles to Crayons’ local business and volunteer operations. The organization’s mission inspired me to learn more. In fact, I signed up to volunteer at The Giving Factory and also had a great opportunity to sit down and talk with their executive director, Bernard Cherkasov.

For many people, a single event can inspire and have a positive impact on the direction of their life. For Cherkasov, that was the case when he was a young child. “I have a vivid memory of being 9 years old and us receiving a box of boots and coats for us. I remember the sense of going to school the next day, wearing my brand new coat and feeling so excited that there are people in this world who really cared for us and really wanted us to do well,” he recalled. Years later after studying law in college and then working as an attorney, he saw a chance to become more hands-on in nonprofit and to be part of the change that he wanted to see in the world. The first opportunity that convinced Cherkasov that nonprofit was where he needed to be, was at Equality Illinois, whose mission is to secure, protect and defend the civil rights of LGBTQ Illinoisans, which he led for 7 years. But his memory as a child receiving services similar to what Cradles to Crayons provides stayed with him. “When I heard that Cradles to Crayons was looking to expand to Chicago I knew this was my mission and I wanted to be part of it,” he said.

Cradles to Crayons was originally started in Boston and the Chicago location opened in August 2016. Since that time, the Chicago branch has served 49,000 children (from birth to age 12) and looks to expand that impact even more. With just over a year of operation in Chicago, Cradles to Crayons has worked hard to get a foothold in the city and gain the trust of the community that their work is reaching the kids in need. For Cherkasov, getting established in a new city and gaining that trust of volunteers, donors, and the community has been one of the top achievements of the organization so far. The organization realized its impact was working when they noticed many returning volunteers and referrals. Running The Giving Factory to serve thousands of kids and building a strong base of volunteers and donors is hard work, so it’s incredible that Cradles to Crayons Chicago currently only has 13 staff members! Bernard said this speaks to the importance of the army of volunteers and generosity of the community in their mission.

The Giving Factory

When I volunteered at The Giving Factory a couple of weeks ago, I could feel the impact I had as an individual and how the organization empowers their volunteers to embrace the mission. The Giving Factory is a large warehouse and when you step inside you immediately see the vast amounts of donated material, which include clothes, shoes, backpacks, books, diapers, strollers and an assortment of baby items. Even though there was a tremendous amount of items stacked everywhere, the warehouse was neatly organized in stations.

The process of taking a donated item and getting it to its final form as a kid pack is purposefully detailed to make it as efficient as possible. The first step is to fill out a note with a positive message using markers and crayons for a recipient of one of the kid packs. Then you are directed to a station that the volunteer coordinator deems as a high priority for that day and time. For example, I helped sort clothes into different bins by age and gender and also ensured the clothes were of high quality. There are motivational quotes posted all over the facility that inspire you as you work. One quote in particular resonated with me: “Quality = Dignity”, which is central to Cradles to Crayons approach. Donations are required to be new or nearly new condition before they are delivered to a child. To these children, receiving items that are new helps support their dignity, which is so important.

When I asked Cherkasov who the main beneficiaries of Cradles to Crayons’ services are, his answer opened my eyes to the actual impact of their organization. “I feel we benefit all of Chicago,” he responded. Aside from the Chicagoland kids they serve by providing high quality essentials, Cherkasov explained that the volunteers experience a transformation as well. “Chicagoans that can contribute and volunteer, it is a transformative experience because every moment you spend in The Giving Factory, sorting products for quality, or cleaning toys, or putting together outfits, or customizing the kid pack orders, you know that you’re adding purpose to your own life.” Cherkasov pointed out this transformation is especially important when kids are volunteering and providing these services for another kid. He recounted a story of a little girl who volunteered with her family at The Giving Factory. When the volunteering session was over, the girl asked if she could stay longer. When her mother told her they needed to go, the girl asked if she could come back another time with her friends and possibly even host her birthday party at The Giving Factory. The mother was moved to tears to hear her daughter speak those words.

Volunteering for two hours next to a group of students from a local high school and college students from Northwestern University, I saw how people from all walks of life can band together to make a difference. But most importantly, seeing those students sorting through the donated clothes to ensure the clothes were in good condition, you can see young people comprehending how simple things like having nice clothes that fit could impact a child. Watching the future of our society giving back was pretty amazing.

Call to Action

There are many ways to make an impact with Cradles to Crayons. Check out their Take Action page to see how you can make a difference. Whether you’re donating goods or money, spreading the word, or volunteering at The Giving Factory, your efforts will directly impact a child’s life immediately. To see examples of the impact that volunteers can have, here are some sunshine stories from the grateful families and kids.

Openlands: Connecting People to Nature in Chicago

Openlands: Connecting People to Nature in Chicago

At the Volunteer Expo in late February, Chicago Rises had a chance to connect with some amazing organizations. One of the them was Openlands. We hope to partner with Openlands to help spread the word on their mission to connect all of us to nature here!

 

Connecting People to Nature in Chicago

Founded in 1963 as a program of the Welfare Council of Metropolitan Chicago, Openlands has been at the very forefront of the urban conservation movement. As one of the first organizations in the United States to address environmental issues within a metropolitan region, their/our work has focused on people as much as on the nature, and Openlands strives to foster a great appreciation among the residents of Chicago for the natural areas around them.

Through the years Openlands has helped protect more than 55,000 acres of land for public parks and forest preserves, wildlife refuges, land and water greenway corridors, urban farms, and community gardens. Openlands’ work in Chicago empowers residents to care for their city by improving the health and wellness of their neighbors, engaging in the greening of their streets and schools, and caring for their local parks and community gardens.

Join the Openlands Community and Get Involved

Become a TreeKeeper, volunteer, plant trees, include your whole workplace or start a community garden. Here are a few of the ways you can get involved with Openlands this spring:

TreeKeepers work throughout the region to keep trees healthy, administering proper care and promptly recognizing and reporting harmful pests. New TreeKeepers complete an eight-day professional certification course and join a network of over 1,800 internationally-respected volunteers. Once you complete the course and are certified, TreeKeepers are an egalitarian network – everyone can get involved right away. It is a commitment to taking responsibility for the care of our city, there are volunteering opportunities most weekends between April and October, and it is a great way to spend your weekends outdoors.

Birds in my Neighborhood® is taught by volunteers at Chicago Public Schools with the goal of fostering youth interest in the natural world. Openlands believes school gardens and birds can be the entrée to connect youth with a long-term passion for the environment, and Birds in my Neighborhood supports the observation of birds in students’ schoolyards and neighborhood blocks. Openlands is always looking for willing adults to help with Birds in my Neighborhood field trips and to assist this great program that is reaching 1500 students across Chicago.

TreePlanters Grants – Openlands believes we must engage and communicate with local residents who benefit most directly from the trees in their neighborhood. TreePlanters Grants facilitate community tree plantings, bringing neighbors together in the community goal of healthy trees. Grant applicants will identify a planting location and gather volunteers interested in helping. On planting day Openlands provides tools and training to all volunteers, and with help from TreeKeepers, will educate communities on best practices to keep trees healthy.

To learn more about these or any of Openlands’ conservation programs, please visit www.openlands.org or contact info@openlands.org.

Giving Thanks Chicago Style

Giving Thanks Chicago Style

What does Thanksgiving mean for you? Last night, I received a pleasant reminder on what Turkey day and everyday should mean. I was walking home after some holiday grocery shopping. When I was a couple of blocks away from home, I received a call from my front door intercom. I answered it and a strange voice asked for me.

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Taking time to reflect before rising again

Taking time to reflect before rising again

One of the most important ways to improve and enjoy life is having the ability to reflect and adjust. Here at Chicago Rises, we are doing just that. You haven’t heard from us in a little bit, but we assure you we are not going anywhere!

We’ve been listening to feedback and thinking about what we really want to accomplish with Chicago Rises. Our intimate and focused team is ready to take our energy to spread all that is good in this great city. This includes a newly designed web site coming soon that will help better inform, share, spread, engage and hopefully inspire you, our fellow Chicagoans.

Sharing positive stories to spread hope, excitement and belief in Chicago

Please stay tuned, we hope you rise with us.

 

Granting A Wish Organization

Granting A Wish Organization

When you donate something, ideally you wish your donation would go to someone who really needed it. Recently I had the opportunity to donate some diapers and baby clothes and fulfill this wish. I decided again to use the web site of our good friends at Zealous Good. This time, they matched my donation with a couple of places, including the Grant A Wish organization.

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