Need an antidote to hectic schedules that keep families from being close?
Volunteer together. The simple act of doing a good thing for others gives parents and their children quality time together. Many nonprofits offer opportunities for families to help out.
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"There are a number of reasons why parents and their children volunteer together," explains Northwest Suburban Special Recreation Association's volunteer coordinator Jason Stubbeman. "Sometimes children volunteer and their parents learn about the program and love it. Some parents are looking for something to do with their children." The Rolling Meadows organization serves special needs participants with Special Olympics teams and hundreds of programs.
"We have one-time volunteer opportunities and weekly program commitments," Stubbeman said.
Lori Anderson and her family have been helping at NWSRA for more than 20 years. Lori's son Billy, 33, has enrolled in the organization's offerings since he was 9 years old. Lori and her husband Bill, longtime Arlington Heights residents, wanted to help NWSRA and at the same time empower participants and foster confidence. "At the time there was a stigma about children with disabilities," Anderson said.
Anderson recruited PTA parents and her then 8-year-old daughter, Jennifer, to help plan a fashion show that would feature participants as models. Bill picked up the job as escort for jittery models. More than 20 years later, the Special Leisure Services Foundation's Gold Medal Fashion Show is a major fundraiser for NWSRA and many of the same volunteers are still involved including the Andersons.
Billy, a volunteer custodian at Rolling Meadows High School, looks forward to his modeling gig with the fashion show every year. "I'm with my friends," he said, admitting that he likes holding hands with his girlfriend, Allyson Houser, onstage.
Billy's sister, Jennifer Ubert, of Palatine, has made volunteering a way of life.
"I've always been an advocate for volunteering. We're very blessed, so we try to give back." She and husband Scott both volunteer for NWSRA and for the American Cancer Society's Relay For Life. Even Jennifer's 3-year-old son, Ryan, helps out -- they recently helped bake and sell cookies to raise money for the cancer fundraiser.
For Gregg Handrich of Libertyville, it was his kids who fueled the idea of volunteering. His son, Eric, signed on to help Feed My Starving Children fill hundreds of bags with nutritive dried grains. The Christian nonprofit ships the hand-packed food bags to children in 70 countries worldwide. Eric's sister, Rachel, and her high school basketball team also donated their time to help make food bags.
The whole family joined to help when FMSC brought its mobile unit to the Lake Forest school where mom, Julie, teaches. Eric, Rachel and their younger sister, Madeline, were right alongside. "It's not just writing a check. You're investing your time and energy. It's pretty intense, but it's a neat thing to be providing manual labor," Gregg Handrich said.
Marilyn Maurella, FMSC Chicagoland development adviser, talked about the parent-child and grandparent-child pairs she meets when they come to pack food bags.
"We see relationships restored. Parents can communicate in a non-shameful way how blessed we are in our lives. We see kids as young as 5 and intergenerational groups as well as companies fulfilling their philanthropic objectives."
Gregg Handrich says his family also sometimes helps to set up cots and prepare meals for his weekly volunteer shift at PADS Lake County, an organization that provides food and shelter to homeless people. "It's a great support system for a lot of people," he said.
Looking to find out more about careers in health, Huntley High School senior Leena Wahlstedt turned to Elgin's Sherman Hospital and volunteered in the emergency room.
"I like it a lot," Leena said. "It gives me good experience. I can wheel people to their cars, to different floors. I can help the nurses when they need help."
With Leena heading off to college next year, her mom Clara decided that their time together was getting short, so she joined her daughter in the emergency room. "I like getting involved," Clara said. "We are very close and we can do a lot together."
Lori Anderson, who teaches fourth grade at Grove Avenue Elementary School in Barrington, described her philosophy on volunteering:
"I had a student who told me that the secret to living is giving. We put that on our board at school."