Among all those honored by officials with HandsOn Suburban Chicago earlier this month was a Buffalo Grove High School senior, who was named the volunteer agency's "Emerging Young Leader."
Michael LaRue was singled out for his more than 100 hours of volunteering as an after-school mentor at London Middle School in Wheeling.
"The most part I've worked with the same student," he says, "however, there were times when I worked with up to four at a time."
He said during his freshman year he started volunteering at Riley Elementary School in Arlington Heights helping students twice a week after school with their assignments.
"I was involved in their homework club program as a student when the program first started," LaRue says. "I have always wanted to help people since I was little, but I didn't know how to until I started high school."
At London, he comes twice a week, as part of the CHIL mentoring program -- the acronym stands for Cooper, Holmes and London -- designed by Wheeling Township Elementary District 21, with a grant from HandsOn Suburban Chicago.
"It's a win-win," says Gregg Crocker, the district's community service education director.
Volunteers spend two hours with students, concentrating on academics first -- including skill building, reading, homework and research on long-term projects -- as well as positive relationships, including leadership and communication, and problem solving.
What started at London nearly three years ago now takes in the other two middle schools in District 21 -- Holmes Junior High in Wheeling and Cooper Middle School in Buffalo Grove.
Crocker estimates that nearly 45 volunteers report to the three schools. They include students from Buffalo Grove, Wheeling and Stevenson high schools, as well as senior citizens and other adults in between jobs looking to do something meaningful.
LaRue, he says, has been one of their most committed volunteers.
"He's been successful working with all different types of students, including those who are hard to reach," Crocker says. "But he's also given up a lot of his time. I've often seen him walking from the high school to London, just to get there."
Emily Mihalcean, youth program manager for HandsOn Suburban Chicago, agrees, and adds that the students flock to LaRue when he arrives.
"One of the students he worked with was so inspired by Michael that he wrote about him in a paper for school," Mihalcean says.
The CHIL program succeeds, Crocker adds, because of the connections made between the middle school students and the teens and adults who come to help them.
"Our students never miss," Crocker says. "They always come. In fact, their attendance is higher on those days, when they get to spend two hours after school with a mentor, than on other days. So it's definitely been successful."
LaRue has benefitted from the experience as well. Next fall, he intends to attend Oakton University in Rochester, Mich., which has an active volunteer program and where he earned a scholarship.
"I now know that once I go off to college I want to continue helping people and am considering a degree in education," LaRue says.
He's even looking beyond that, to possibly serving in the Peace Corps or with AmeriCorps in domestic-based social service agencies, such as HandsOn Suburban Chicago.