Volunteering with Chicago Cares

I’d been in a bit of a rut with volunteering.  I’ve been working toward some certification exams and my travel schedule has been hectic and two scheduled weekly volunteer gigs were suffering.  I felt like I couldn’t be counted on, which is the opposite of what volunteering should be.  I made a couple of changes and I am liking this new thing enough to talk about it.

I forget where I first saw Chicago Cares, but I’m sure Twitter had something to do with it.  It is an organization that partners with local programs to coordinate and promote volunteer opportunities.  Programs are vetted, volunteer leaders are trained, and opportunities are posted online in a calendar for people to sign up and participate.

The events are posted in a calendar form and can be sorted by type, but I just looked at the whole month.  On whatever random day that was, I saw an event that evening for volunteers to bring their dogs to a senior living center to socialize with residents.  I clicked in, figuring the dog would have to be therapy certified, which I am too lazy to do.  But, no.  Just a friendly dog with proof of vaccinations.

I emailed my vet, who sent me a pdf of Fiona’s vaccination record.  I registered on the website and signed up for the event the same day.  I was a little bit worried because I was new and I wasn’t 100% sure how Fiona would do with wheelchairs and walkers, but she was great.  We signed up for a similar event at a rehab center a few weeks later.

Then I decided to try something different and have done two events working with – or maybe just entertaining – kids.  Dog not included.  It is so easy to just get online, see what is available for any given day and sign up.  You know the only thing that is difficult?  The slots fill up so fast!

Chicago Cares has been tweeting that they are partnering with fifty new non-profits, so I expect there will be plenty more opportunities for one-shot volunteering with organizations all across the city.  Maybe in your own neighborhood, maybe getting out and seeing other neighborhoods.  It’s like the video says, we should be taking care of each other.

<p><a href=”https://vimeo.com/164622761″>The Heart of a Volunteer by Chicago Cares</a> from <a href=”https://vimeo.com/chicagocares”>Chicago Cares</a> on <a href=”https://vimeo.com”>Vimeo</a&gt;.</p>



New Favorite Charity – Adopt a Classroom

I forget where I first heard of Adopt-a- Classroom, but the premise was very familiar:

Teachers spend a lot of their own money for stuff needed in the classroom.  School budgets are tight, parents can’t always afford supplies and teachers want the best for their students. 

So teachers can go on this website and make a request for resources.  Donors can search for a particular school or teacher to support, or browse the database for a classroom that sparks their interests.  Once a donation is made for a particular classroom, the program hooks up the teacher with its partners to spend the money as effectively as possible. 

So.  There are lots of schools in Chicago that could use some help.  I found a teacher that wanted to buy some books for a classroom library to encourage her bilingual second graders to read.  It is not news that most low income students lack books at home, and we all know that starting early is good.  I liked this project for three reasons:

1.       Chicago

2.       The teacher could use my donation right away, as opposed to waiting for other donors to fully fund a project

3.       Duh.  Books.  Reading.

Also, my nephew Alex is in second grade.  So I made my donation.  I received an acknowledgement right away.  A couple of weeks later, I received a letter from the teacher:

Thank you so much for adopting my classroom. Your generosity is greatly appreciated. My students will be thrilled to know that someone is thinking of them and cares enough to donate money so that we can have more books in our classroom library. My students are incredibly motivated and love diving into new books. They are constantly asking me if I have more books about different topics and I always try to find what they are asking for. I know that they will be more motivated if they are interested in what they are reading. My students are in a bilingual spanish classroom, and are just beginning to read in English. They are grabbing the English books off the shelves and are extremely excited to show me what they are learning as they read those books as well. Thank you again for your donation. I will put it to good use and my students will be so grateful.

Later that night I received another e-mail.  The teacher I sponsored had done her shopping and sent me another note, along with a detailed list of her purchases.  By “detailed list” I mean the titles of each book and how much each one cost so that I could see that my entire donation went to the classroom.  Scholastic books is one of the partners.  I didn’t need that much detail to believe that my dollars were going to a good place, but it was very nice to see.

Charity Navigator gave Adopt-a-Classroom four stars last year.  You can find them at adoptaclassroom.org.

Kiva Surprise

Kiva - loans that change lives

One of the fun things about Kiva is that nice little surprise of, “Your loan has been repaid!”  My last loan was made to a lady in Senegal who, instead of repaying in increments, repaid in one lump sum at the end of the lending period.

So I went back online to find a new borrower.  And there are plenty.

I started simply reviewing the list as Kiva has it sorted.  Then I sorted for women.  You might find it unreasonable that I am only want to lend to women, but empowering women is a big part of the reason that I participate and if you don’t like it then you can go online and lend some money to a man.
(Incidentally, my other outstanding Kiva loan is to a man.  I wanted to jump in when Kiva started lending in the U.S. and the women in the program were already fully funded.)

Then I looked at different parts of the world.  My first loan was to a lady in Paraguay and the second was a lady in Samoa.  I found several that appeal to me in Cambodia and settled on a lady named Sophat.  Her husband is a teacher and she tends to their farm, planting vegetables to sell for a profit.  Her loan is for the purpose of purchasing a hand tractor to plow the land.

If you are interested in the work Kiva is doing, please visit the website.

P.S.  In the time it took me to write this blog, Sophat was fully funded!

First Groupon

I joined Groupon a few months ago, and just made my first purchase.  At lunch today, a friend asked me about the process, so I figured I ought to write about it.


You register at the website.  Then Groupon informs you, by e-mail, of deals with businesses in the area.  You can also search the website if you are looking for something in particular.  It seems to me that many of the best ones are for restaurants and other personal services.

Chapter 1:

I received an e-mail saying that Asha Salon and Spa has an offer.  One hour massage and half hour facial for $82.


Asha is not my regular place by any stretch.  It is a very nice Aveda establishment, but rather pricey for my needs.  This deal was basically 50% off.  The catch with Groupon is that you pay for the service up front.  So there was no way I was waiting more than a billing cycle for my appointments.

After taking my credit card information, Groupon sent me an e-mail with an order number and redemption code.  It had a link to redeem it and was also printable.

Chapter 2:

I remembered that Asha is in Schaumburg, by my office (which is how I found it).  I hate staying in Schaumburg after work, so it was either drive out there on Saturday (rolls eyes) or take a half day off.

I chose the latter.

I went online to redeem the Groupon.  The instructions were specific that the appointment had to be made online – no phone calls to the salon.  Weird.  And worse, the website wasn’t working for me.  I logged back on later and it was fine – I think it had something to do with the pop up menus.

Asha’s web site asked me to pick three dates and times and they got back to me with which worked, and then I had to confirm the appointment.  All set.

Chapter 3:

I arrived 15 minutes early, per the instructions.  I was helped right away and led to the dressing room.  I had just stepped out the door when the aesthetician came for me.  Both appointments were great.  No one made me like less-than-a-full-fare-client, which I think is important.  (The travel industry hasn’t picked up on that trick yet.)

When I checked out, the lady at the register asked for my Groupon certificate.  And that was it.  Pleasure doing business with you.

Note:  Tipping etiquette says that we should base our gratuity of the full price of the service, not the Groupon price.  I was familiar with the practice, but appreciated the reminder from Groupon.  However, by the time I got to the appointment, I had forgotten the full prices.  I knew the total was 50% off, but hadn’t remember how much was for which service.  I may have skimped on someone.  Will know better next time.

Final Analysis:

I will certainly use Groupon’s service again if the deal is right.  But I am still not inclined to go trolling the website searching for it.

I Love Patch.com

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Patch.com is the best thing ever.  The Winnetka-Glencoe Patch just did a profile of Rich Weiner, the Executive Director at a Refuge for Saving the Wildlife, where I have volunteered for so long I don’t even remember.
And here is a link to the article.

How to Contribute without Spending a Dime

We’ve been hearing a lot lately about “donor fatigue”, which dictionary.com defines as, “a general weariness and diminished public response to requests for aid to needy people or donations to charitable causes”.
Between the natural disasters and the puppy mill raids and the increased need for services in this economy, it is easy to see how people might start to grow weary of the concept of “giving”.
The other day, Jacqueline, who blogs at 365 Give, reminded me that there are several ways to “contribute” online without shelling out the cash.  She pointed me to Click to Give, a website that supports six charities in different areas of need.  The concept is that all we need do is click a link, and the site’s advertisers make a small donation to the cause.  Clicking through the six links for the six causes doesn’t take much time, even when I am conscientious about looking at the advertisements.
The Greater Good Network is a group of websites that does similar work.  They have a “click to give” program as well as merchandise sales that support charitable causes, include many Fair Trade items that I am flagging for the holiday season.   According to their website, in 2010 they contributed over $400,000 to the Petfinder Foundation alone.  Not an animal lover?  They also contributed $579,000 to the National breast Cancer Foundation.
Finally, if you really enjoy wasting time on the internet, Free Rice is a website that has games to make charitable contributions.  There are six subject areas (when did they add Literature?!) with multiple choice trivia questions.  For each question that you answer correctly, 10 grains of rice are donated by advertisers.  That doesn’t sound like much, but I have cleared 600 grains just while fooling around for this post!
So if you are like me and spend too much time online, please visit these sites. Every click counts!
Also posted to Glenview Patch.

Adopting the Puppy

As I mentioned, we went nine days without a dog before we cracked.

As a rescue volunteer (albeit with exotic parrots), I am committed to pet adoption. I also understand that my home is not the best for every dog. What with the cat and an African Grey parrot. Not every dog can manage with other pets.

There is also a question of adopting a puppy or an adult dog. There are pros and cons with both. We just went through end-of-life with a senior dog, so I hope you won’t judge me for wanting a younger dog, but I have also had great experiences with adopting an adult that was already housetrained and could adapt quickly to my home environment.

I went to the Internet. Petfinder.com is a great website that pulls together information on adoptable animals from shelters across the country. It allows searches by type of animal (cat, dog, bird, etc.), size, approximate age and even breed. There are profiles on the available pets including any information the rescue has gathered (like whether a dog is known to be good with kids) and pictures. Most also have links to the rescue’s website.

I talked with two different rescues about different dogs and decided to go with Wright Way Rescue, which has an adoption center in Niles. Wright Way rescues dogs and cats from downstate shelters with very high euthanasia rates, including an awful lot of puppies.

The process was interesting. I put in my online application right away. Many rescues, including the one where I volunteer, ask people to complete the application before meeting the animal. This is particularly prevalent in rescues where pets are primarily in foster care, or don’t have open hours for the public to visit. I know it turns off some people, but I also understand why it is a good idea for some rescues.
In Wright Way’s case, the dogs are driven to Niles from downstate, so they look for some reasonable reassurance that a family is serious before putting the animal through the trip. However, the benefit offered in exchange is that Wright Way offers the option to “reserve” a dog or cat – meaning they will hold the pet for you while you are waiting for an appointment to meet. In my case, I reserved a puppy a week ago that wasn’t yet available because he was too young.

On the day of the appointment, Wright Way asks for a good 60-90 minutes of your time in order to meet the pet and go through their orientation video, with time for questions. In my case, the questions were about crate training, which I have never done before. They also have a supply shop onsite, with proceeds going to support rescue efforts. It is worth noting that Wright Way has lost the lease on their building in Niles and is raising funds to purchase a permanent facility.

At the end of the appointment, I had adopted the puppy.

There are lots and lots of rescues out there doing great work. There is a huge need for volunteers, fundraisers and foster homes. And I hope you will consider pet adoption as your first option.

Adapted Post for Patch.com