Kindness to Strangers
At the beginning of March it’s still winter in Chicago, and I am dying for warmer temperatures and some glimpses of green. But Chicago is still bustling and full of life even in the midst of this cold, dreary weather. From the safety of my warm living room, I posted on the Chicago message board looking for volunteer opportunities; I wanted to see how CouchSurfers around here give back to their community.
One particular reply caught my attention, something about a group called “Chicago Cares”. My mom made a sarcastic comment, “That’s funny, I didn’t know Chicago cared”, but I decided to look into it. Their mission is basically to respond to the most pressing needs of Chicago, in the areas of “education, hunger, health and wellness, senior services, and environment and rehabilitation”. Sherry, an active CouchSurfer in Chicago told me that she regularly volunteers with them, and I could come along with her if I wanted, so we started looking for an event.
We decided upon something called “Read-with-Me at HGS”, where we would be reading with children at a shelter for families affected by domestic violence. HGS, or the House of the Good Shepherd, opened in 1859 to care for battered women and their children. Today, the expansive building has private apartments for each family, so the mother has responsibility over her own home. It was right up my alley, and sounded interesting and simple enough for my first time.
The night of the event I was running late, stuck in some awful city traffic. Things like that make me nervous, but when I finally walked in to the lobby there was Sherry patiently waiting for me. We signed in and made our way to a basement room full of plastic furniture and wall murals, a space that brought me back to my Sunday mornings spent in children’s church. The noise and energy in the room was bouncing off the walls, and I was excited to get started.
The Team Coordinator split us up to read with different kids, and we took a seat at the table. The rambunctious kid I was paired with, Juan, did not seem too interested in reading, but handed me the classic book “Once Upon A Potty”, because he thought it was hilarious. I obliged him and read the story about a little girl named Prudence learning to use the toilet. Reading in the corner, Sherry’s sassy little girl was playing teacher, and scolded her for laughing, because you should not laugh at the teacher.
When the kids could no longer sit still enough to read, and were itching to do something else, we pulled out the craft supplies. In honor of the Olympics, and with materials they were otherwise going to throw away, the kids made medals out of old cds and Mardi Gras bead necklaces. What fun! With only a few minutes left, one of the other volunteers started making origami birds, and I sat amazed at how rapidly an hour and a half had flown by. At eight o’clock, the kids were filing out the door with a few ‘thank yous’, heading back upstairs to their apartments.
Sitting in the lobby again, I asked Sherry how she had gotten involved in volunteering in the first place. She explained that she has been volunteering most of her life, and got involved as soon as she moved to Chicago four years ago. She had worked at a homeless shelter for a few years, and now helps out with Chicago Cares in whatever ways she can. “It’s so gratifying. Especially with the kids it’s like you can’t go wrong, they love it”. We chatted about volunteering, and CouchSurfing, and writing, and both agreed that we had an enjoyable time. We said goodbye and she wished me a speedy trip home. I climbed into my car with the feeling that yes, Chicago does care.