How Chicago Cares Is Redefining Volunteerism and What It Means for You

Chicago Cares is redefining volunteerism to bring people power to the work of change. We create service experiences that shake us up so that we can go out and change the world. This is at the core of our mission.
How Chicago Cares Is Redefining Volunteerism and What It Means for You
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Chicago Cares is redefining volunteerism to bring people power to the work of change. We create service experiences that shake us up so that we can go out and change the world. This is at the core of our mission. In a time of great disconnection, Chicago Cares is setting people on a path to deeper engagement.

To do this, we emphasize mutuality. By flipping the script on traditional volunteerism, we create mutual experiences that make empathy possible and our interconnectedness visible. We are all in this together, and we all have something to contribute to build a more vibrant and equitable city.   

Through this approach, volunteers get connected, educated and activated. Ninety-five percent of Chicago Cares’ volunteers are more likely to engage civically in new and different ways. Volunteers find diverse and deeper opportunities to make an impact – ways to make their voice heard, support communities and strategically give. Once we are all acting together with purpose, we are more impactful.

Mutuality in Action

Since 2017, Chicago Cares has shifted its programs to focus on a community-driven approach based on mutuality. What do we mean by mutuality in this context? We mean that volunteer service should be about the act of sharing, rather than the act of giving.  We all have things to give and to learn from one another. So, we believe that service can and should be a mutual exchange between neighbors, rather than a transactional act of charity.

What does this look like in practice? Volunteer programs such as our family vision board nights connect volunteers and families living in affordable housing to talk about each individual’s vision for the future – sharing their dreams and aspirations with one another. Our Real Talk series also brings volunteers together to learn from one another. As we experienced the isolation brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic, we realized the strong need for connection. The Real Talk series brings small and diverse groups of volunteers together virtually to discuss issues from racial healing and repair to veteran’s issues through moderated facilitation.To ensure mutuality, we offer an educational component at every project we facilitate, and we often welcome community members to share their lived experiences. Volunteer projects and educational forums are co-designed with organizations on Chicago’s South and West sides to make sure we are achieving community goals and serving “with,” not “to.” Volunteers are educated on the community’s assets and challenges and learn about the aspirations neighborhoods hold for themselves.

Finding Opportunities That Are Right for You

Regardless of where you live, you can find opportunities that foster a sense of mutuality and interdependence. Through meaningful volunteer opportunities, you can grow personally, while making an impact. Here are a few things to look for in a volunteer experience:

  1.  Opportunity to Build Meaningful Relationships Across Lines of Difference: By volunteering side-by-side with others, we learn that sometimes the only divide between us is our zip code and that our differences bring life to our communities. Identify opportunities that allow you to collaborate with those whose communities, backgrounds and life experiences may be different from yours.
  2. Education that Expands your Worldview: Look for projects that help you to learn about the community from the community. Discover more about key social issues by learning with and from one another.
  3. Long-Term Impact: Ensure that the project is more than a one-off engagement. The more organizations collaborate, the more wide-reaching the impact will often be. Consider the following questions: Is the project tied to a larger initiative? Are other organizations and entities connected to the work?

At Chicago Cares, we know that service can help us build the empathic and connected communities we need. It can be a force for a more caring and just society. We invite you to get involved in your own community and to help build the cities we all deserve.

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Go to the profile of Sue Carter Kahl
4 months ago

This shift is so needed. Thanks for sharing the ways that you are building connection and ongoing engagement!