Featured as our Riser of January is Hugo Colin. At 16 years old, Hugh volunteers his time at various nursing homes, hospitals, and non-profits around Chicago offering tribute performances to Elvis Presley, and he pulls out all the stops. Between the costumes and the dynamic performances, Hugo is sure to show his audiences a good time.
How did you start doing this work? In kindergarten, I was six years old, and I performed my first Elvis songs just for fun for my school’s first annual PTA Talent Show. While I was in elementary school, I learned to perform a different Elvis song each year. I have been an Elvis fan all my life, and singing these great songs made me realize that lots of people still like to hear Elvis’ hits. After my final talent show in 8th grade, I really wanted to continue performing because I saw how happy people were to see this type of entertainment. The following summer, I started volunteering at local senior nursing homes and not for profit organizations (NFPOs) such as the Ronald McDonald House, Shriners Children’s Hospital, and the Misericordia Home.
Why do you keep doing it? Having the opportunity to volunteer my ‘tribute to Elvis’ performances for seniors and friends with special needs is a big honor. My family helps me out all the time. We see that the people sometimes look down and uninterested but then they start tapping their feet, dancing in their seats, and by the end of my show they all are bursting with happiness. Maybe because most of them remember the music from their teenage years, or maybe because they are Elvis fans, too. Elvis songs just get people feeling young and full of excitement. The energy that I bring to nursing homes and hospitals makes them feel as happy as I am to be there.
Do you think celebrating what you have is important? I can say that it is important to me, as an Elvis fan, to share my talent and and do what I can to add a little more happiness to the lives of my audience at nursing homes and hospitals. We all get to enjoy ourselves during the tribute show, and the enthusiasm stays with the my new friends as they leave. I get to celebrate my gift every time I make someone happy during my performance. This makes me the most proud of myself and my family and is why I love to perform for others. I know many will be even more happy waiting for me to return for my next performance with them.
What is your favorite quote? I’ll quote Elvis here because this is exactly how it is for me when my family and I walk into a new place and see that we have a tough crowd. But once I get going, they put their worries aside for a while and start enjoying themselves: “Some people tap their feet, some people snap their fingers, and some people sway back and forth. I just sorta do ’em all together, I guess.” I’ve had the opportunity to perform for audiences of all ages and a few that don’t speak English. Great music speaks many languages. Music makes people feel good. Elvis music makes people feel even better. And I am glad to do what I love to do for them.
If you could teach any subject, what would you teach? After thinking this over, I decided on history. Maybe music history. Kids my age know a few Elvis songs because of the Disney movie, “Lilo & Stitch” and his biggest hits or else not at all. I would like to teach kids the history of rock’n’roll and all the different styles that lead up to the first sounds of rock’n’roll. Actually, I do mention a small bit of historical information as I introduce each song. That helps teach or remind the audience of a point in time when the music was new. These great songs that Elvis recorded over 60 years ago and recognized around the world will live on for another generation to appreciate, with a little help from me.
If you could pass a message to a large group of people, what would it be? “Volunteer any way you can; if you have a talent, share it.” Year after year, I enjoyed performing Elvis songs but after I graduated elementary school and knew I wouldn’t have anymore talent shows, I decided to volunteer at places in my neighborhood. I do get bookings for paid performances now, but I still look forward to the volunteer shows at great NFPOs around Chicago. Our small act of kindness is a special way to give back for all our blessings.
CALL TO ACTION
Check out Hugo’s Instagram, @hugoselvista, for information about his performances around Chicago!
Winter break ushered in temperatures in the single digits and the days of below-zero windchills have carried into the new year. The January cold may be an indication of dark winter days and cabin fever yet to come, but it also marks the return of a beloved Chicago tradition: Soup and Bread at The Hideout.
In a major metropolitan area like Chicago, a chance to bump elbows with your neighbors and break bread together in a small, cozy setting may sound like a vestige of a bygone era, but every Wednesday through March, Soup and Bread serves as an opportunity for community members to do just that. Each week volunteer chefs bring a soup—and plenty of it—to share with anyone who cares to drop by. Partakers pay a donation in an amount of their choosing and then enjoy the offerings of the day, along with delicious bread donated by Publican Quality Bread. All proceeds are donated to local nonprofits combating hunger in Chicago, like the Greater Chicago Food Depository.
Call to Action
We all know that heavy winter feeling that beckons us inside, shielding us from the harsh elements right beyond our doors. But summon the intrepid winter traveler within you (you know you have one if you live here) and check out Soup and Bread, which kicked off its tenth season this week at The Hideout. Sample some outstanding food (with vegan, vegetarian, and gluten-free options often available), enjoy some camaraderie with your fellow Chicagoans, and support important causes that serve Chicago’s most vulnerable citizens. You’ll be glad you did.
Fancy yourself quite the cook? Consider making a pot of your favorite soup for Soup and Bread this season! Email email@example.com to get in touch with the organizers.
You’re never too young to learn the importance of giving back, and Families Helping Families Chicagoland [FHFC] knows it.
Families Helping Families Chicagoland aims to improve the lives of low income families and foster children in the Chicagoland area. The charity collaborates with different social service agencies, homeless shelters, and schools to find needs they can help fulfill. To meet those needs, they hold monthly donation collections, sponsor foster children for their birthdays, and host hands-on events. These events give children opportunities to immerse themselves in the idea of giving back.
Families Helping Families Chicagoland started with founder and president Amy Newman four years ago. Inspired by her mother, a woman who was all about giving back, Newman wanted to find a way to help kids for the holidays. She began collecting donations, and with the help of others, was able to help 200 kids all from her own home.
Since then, Families Helping Families has grown, now complete with its own board of directors, and even a junior board. All 12 board members are volunteers and actively involved in pick-ups, drop-offs and running events. The junior board helps to plan and spread the word about events.
“Getting children involved is very important to FHFC. We feel that giving back is something to be modeled, so our children see it as [a necessity], not just a choice,” Newman said.
With four years under her belt, Newman has enjoyed watching all kinds of people come together to make a difference. The most rewarding part is “seeing the relief on people’s faces” and knowing that they’ve helped make hard times a little easier.
Call to Action
Want to get involved?
- Visit FHFC’s facebook page to find info about their events and volunteer opportunities.
- Visit their website to find out how to donate.
Every time we post an article here at Chicago Rises, we make sure to include a call to action – we want readers to engage with the community and help in any way they can. And we want to show that anyone can volunteer and improve this beautiful city.
So, we decided to talk to one outstanding Chicago citizen each month, and ask them how they got to this point. Hopefully, their stories will inspire others to follow their steps and give back to the community.
Our Riser of December is Justin Cabrera, a senior at Loyola University Chicago. Justin dedicates at least one day of every week to volunteer with The Labre Ministry, a student-led homeless outreach. They prepare food for the homeless and go to multiple Chicago neighborhoods to distribute it. But most importantly, they make sure they connect with whomever they are helping – they sit with the people, chat with them, hang out for a bit and give them food. Justin’s outstanding engagement through the past four years led to a leadership position – but how did he first get involved with Labre? Fortunately, I got the chance to interview him and find more about his experience in Chicago.
How did you decide to join Labre? “My freshman year I actually got into a little bit of trouble, and the school asked me what I wanted to do throughout my years here in Loyola. I said I wanted to get involved in community service, so I started to go to Labre and it was great. I did this type of service back home, and I wanted to keep doing it in Loyola, it just so happens that it kind of fell into my hands unexpectedly, like a blessing in disguise. And if you ask other Labre leaders, many of them will tell similar stories – that it started as mandatory community service, but they kept doing it.”
Why do you keep going? “When I started I went every week almost, and even after I fulfilled my hours I thought wait, I really like this, so I kept going. Going into my sophomore year they offered me a leadership role. It was cool because now I could actually lead other students and have a final saying in some decisions in the organization.”
Do you think celebrating what you have is important? “Before we go out, I always tell my group to think about what we have and what these people don’t have, because it provides them with more perspective. Remembering how lucky we are, and being aware of it is something we should celebrate.”
What is your favorite quote? “I can do all things, through Christ who strengthens me.”
If you could teach any subject, what would you teach? “Sports. I would want to coach, and be a tutor on the side. There is a lot we learn on the field that we can apply to real life.”
If you could pass a message to a large group of people, what would it be? “Be present in the moment and don’t take things for granted. We have busy lives and sometimes we forget to stop and just worry about what is going on right now, rather than what we did in the past or what we are going to do in the future. So, I always try to focus on the present. When we are out with Labre in a circle, talking to one of the people on the streets, we try to be in that moment and listen to what they have to say. We might think that we are doing them a favor and changing their lives, but in fact they are changing ours.”
Call to action
Got inspired? If you are a student at Loyola University Chicago you can always join Labre during one of their weekly outings through the organization’s website.
If you do not attend Loyola, but still want to help feed the homeless, there are many other volunteering opportunities across the city. For instance, Chicago Rises has attended the monthly HashtagLunchbag events, where you can put together lunch bags in a super fun environment! To learn more or to RSVP to an upcoming event you can access their website or their Facebook page. Also, check our events tab to see if there are any upcoming events that you can join.
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.
Winter is coming, and everyone can feel it. Learn how you can help Chicago warm up with the help of Button and Zipper!
Temperatures are dropping in Chicago, which means it’s time to turn on the heater, make a hot chocolate and snuggle under the blankets.
However, for the thousands of homeless people living in the Chicago area, that won’t be possible. Homelessness and poverty affect Chicago year-round, but they need special attention during this season.
Thankfully, some Chicagoans dedicate their days to making sure no one is cold this winter. One of them is Nancy, also known as Ira’s mom, the cofounder of Button and Zipper.
I interviewed her during the October event of HashtagLunchbag, where she collected winter coats. We decided to have a chat on the balcony – we were wearing no jackets and it was 32 degrees outside. It really put the whole issue into perspective.
Her son, Ira, lives in Denver, so Button and Zipper operates in both cities. When asked about how the organization came to be, Nancy said that Ira grew up in Chicago, watching her give back to the community, which influenced him to come up with the Button and Zipper idea.
One of their main goals is to “help kids make it”. For instance, one of their projects, Dress Up The Grad, aims to support at risk high school students for graduation. Still, right now they focused on helping everyone that needs winter coats. Ira’s mom mentioned that Button and Zipper is currently working on multiple new projects, and as it grows hopefully the word will keep spreading and we’ll keep hearing about their programs and their impact on the city.
Right now, Button and Zipper works as the middleman, partnering with different agencies to organize coat drives and then take donations to whoever needs it. If you want to donate winter coats, receive donated coats, or learn more about what they do, contact them directly.
Call to action
If you are ready to donate, check their drop-off locations and see which one is most convenient to you!
Thank you, Button and Zipper, for talking to us about your amazing organization, and we urge all our readers to take some time this month to separate winter coats that you don’t wear anymore. That old jacket thrown in the back of your closet can be someone’s light at the end of the tunnel.
Photo by Blake Lisk on Unsplash