Volunteering made simple
Lend a helping hand to the many organizations around the city with ongoing volunteer opportunities.
Lincoln Park Zoo
Everyone is a fan of this free oasis in the city. Now you can give back by becoming a zoo volunteer. Call 312-742-2124 or fill out a volunteer application online at lpzoo.org/info/employment/volunteers.html and mail it in.
One Brick is a San Francisco–based national organization that hooks busy people up with flexible volunteer opportunities suited to their interests. After volunteering, gather at a restaurant or café to hang out and get acquainted. Visit onebrick.org.
Urban Art Retreat
Urban Art Retreat, a small grassroots nonprofit organization that provides art and enrichment programs, is staffed entirely by volunteers. If you have a way with plants, you may be interested in gardening or leading botany classes for children. Other opportunities include office assistants, mentors and media helpers, among other positions. Call 773-542-9126 or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.
Chicago Cares Live the Dream
Perfect for busy do-gooders, Chicago Cares offers more than 200 volunteer opportunities every month—sans long-term commitments. Parents can even enroll their kids in volunteer opportunities. Volunteers must be at least 12 years old. Regischicagocares.org or by calling 312-780-0800.
Help kids in the community focus on leadership skills, academic excellence, and violence and drug prevention by serving as a tutors, mentors, group activity leaders, coaches, chaperones or guest speakers. To find out current volunteer opportunities, call 773-506-7474.
Horizons for Youth
“But Mom, he started it!” If you have a brother or sister, you’re familiar with that phrase. Foster a sibling relationship that doesn’t involve tattling, competitiveness or rivalry: Horizons for Youth is looking for big brothers and sisters. Horizons offers scholarships, enrichment programs and one-on-one mentoring to kids starting at the grade-school level. Big siblings attend monthly Child Enrichment Outings and help their little sibs make it through those scary formative years. Volunteers with less time can act as a surrogate big bro or sis at monthly outings, or serve on the junior board. Call 312-627-9031 orhorizons-for-youth.org.
University of Chicago Medical Center
Mom always wanted you to become a doctor, but the closest you came was watching ER back in the Clooney days. It’s not too late: Assist those who save lives at University of Chicago Medical Center (um, almost like being a doc). Volunteers can read books, play cards and play games with patients, which helps ease the stress of a hospital stay. For a full list of positions, uchospitals.edu/contact/volunteer.html or call 773-702-4421.
Susan G. Komen Race for the Cure
Join something big: the world’s largest network of breast-cancer survivors and activists. Founded when Nancy G. Brinker made a promise to her dying sister that she would do everything in her power to end breast cancer, Komen for the Cure is now the nation’s largest funding source for research dedicated solely to breast cancer. The org’s goal is to empower survivors, ensure quality care for all and save lives by energizing science to find the cures. Visit komenchicago.org/get-involved/volunteer/ to complete an application online.
Ronald McDonald House
This international nonprofit offers innovative ways to improve the health and wellness of children. No surprise then that the org offers some creative ways to get involved. Party people can plan and help run one of the special events and fund-raisers throughout the year. Volunteers also are needed for weekly events, including art night and bake night, where families and volunteers cook up pretty or yummy projects. The organization has multiple locations in the area. Call 630-623-5300 or visit rmhccni.org/pages/volunteer.php to view and download an application form.
Ever wish you could go back in time and give a bright-eyed, younger you some advice? While you can’t do that, you can share your wisdom with another brilliant young mind by mentoring a student at Chicago Scholars. The organization gives financial support, school and career advice to exceptional area students. You’ll guide an economically disadvantaged high schooler through the college-application process all the way through his college graduation, laying the foundation for success in the professional world. For those who want less of a commitment, the organization accepts volunteers for a wide range of jobs. Call 312-784-3300 or visit chicagoscholars.org.
Wright Plus Tour Guide
No doubt about it, this city’s renowned architecture inspires. Expand your knowledge by becoming a tour leader for the Wright Plus organization. Learn about the history and restorations of Frank Lloyd Wright’s Home and Studio in Oak Park and his Hyde Park Robie House. Volunteers take intensive courses, then lead public and private tour groups and work in the museum shop. Call 708-848-1976.
Habitat for Humanity
You don’t have to think global and act local anymore. You can think local and act global, think global and act global or, er, any of the endless combinations with Habitat for Humanity. The nonprofit aims to eliminate homelessness by building affordable shelters around the world. Construct a house in your own community by volunteering for the Windy City Habitat for Humanity, or build an abode in a faraway land with the Global Village program. Call Habitat for Humanity at 800-422-4828 or the Chicago location at 312-563-0296 or visit windycityhabitat.org.
National Runaway Switchboard
More than 1.6 million kids run away from home every year. Help these youths in crisis by volunteering for the National Runaway Switchboard, a local 24-hour hotline dedicated to keeping runaways off the streets. Volunteers answer calls from kids and their families, helping them find solutions and resources. A 40-hour training session and a one-year commitment to work two hours per week is required. Volunteers must be at least 16 years old. Commitment-phobes can still help by joining the Street Team, which distributes brochures and other info around Chicago. E-mail email@example.com or call 773-289-1726.
Big Brothers Big Sisters
The oldest and largest youth-mentoring organization connects volunteers with children and teenagers ages 6–18 for one-on-one mentoring relationships. Pairs meet two to four times a month for a fun activity like basketball, playing board games, grabbing a bite or holding a chat session in school. Visit bbbschgo.org or call 312-427-0637.
This org helps 7th- to 12th-grade teens in the Cabrini-Green community by offering school guidance, activities and general encouragement. Volunteers usually meet with kids once a week for two hours at the Cabrini Connections headquarters (800 W Huron St) for homework and social activities. Visit cabriniconnections.net or call 312-492-9614.
A nonprofit child-welfare org serving the west-suburban Berwyn area, Youth Crossroads’ volunteer program ranges from positions on the board of directors to the Connections Program, which helps middle-school kids build healthy relationships through after-school activities. Visit youthcrossroads.org or call 708-484-7400.
Chicago Children’s Museum
With more than 500,000 visitors a year, the museum needs volunteers. Current opportunities include interacting with families and kids, lending artistic talents to the art studio, helping the youngest visitors in the early-learning studio and organizing special events and workshops. Volunteers must be 16 years of age or older. Call 312-464-7652 for more information or visit chicagochildrensmuseum.org to fill out an application online.
Surviving on ramen and Slim Jims during college is hard enough—now imagine feeling truly hungry. The Lakeview Pantry has provided food, clothing, household items and home delivery to people in need since 1970. To participate, contact Erin Stephens at 773-525-1777 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
East Village Youth Program
Remember how foggy life after high school seemed when you were 15? Remind kids that a bright future (and better parties) await at college by volunteering for the East Village Youth Program. Working with students in grades 5–12, EVYP brings up the idea of college—abstract to many students without college-grad parents—as a real possibility. Volunteers mentor students two to four times a month. During meetings, students build study skills, visit colleges, explore careers and—on the lighter side—play games and take field trips. Visit EVYP.org or call 312-275-0440.
Mercy Home for Boys & Girls
As Duffy once said, “Give me mercy.” Okay, we only wish she were talking about the wonderful Mercy Home, which offers a long-term residential home, aftercare, tutoring and mentoring programs to neglected and abused girls and boys. Mercy Home matches each volunteer with a youth and suggests fun activities for you and your mentee. Visit mercyhome.org or call 312-738-7552.
Little Brothers-Friends of the Elderly
By volunteering with LBFE, you can be a friend to someone who could use the companionship. The organization matches you with one of its seniors in the hopes of creating a long-standing, intergenerational friendship. As a Visiting Volunteer, you'll spend time with your senior, talking, listening and helping out with small tasks. LBFE also hosts outings that bring the elderly out of their homes or extended care facilities for a day of recreation, a field trip or a luncheon. Driver and delivery volunteers are needed year-round. Call 312-455-1000 or littlebrotherschicago.org.
Recording for the Blind & Dyslexic
Finally, a volunteer opportunity for people who just like to listen to themselves talk. Lend your vocal cords to a noble cause with Recording for the Blind & Dyslexic, a nonprofit that develops an audio library of textbooks for people who cannot effectively read print. Volunteers are needed to make recordings in all kinds of subjects—especially accounting, math and Spanish—but all are welcome. For more information, call 312-236-8715.
Chicago History Museum
Living in the past? You might as well do it right. You can help arrange school groups or assist the marketing department, among other duties, and in return you'll get opportunities to be part of some of the big events that take place at the museum throughout the year. Positions range from a six-month to one-year time commitment, and volunteers commit an average of three to six hours a week. For more information, call Marne Bariso at 312-799-2274.
This family-oriented nonprofit runs a variety of programs that help keep kids and families out of risky situations by providing long-term help from infancy onward. Services includes foster care, adoption services, child care, tutoring, early childhood education and parenting support. Contact Jennifer Collins at 773-867-7362 or e-mail email@example.com.
Girls in the Game
Love sports? Share your passion and become a coach for area girls ages 6–18. Commit your afternoons or sign up to lead a three-hour Game Day. At these events, groups of girls rotate through three stations: traditional sports (basketball, soccer), alternative sports (kickboxing, dance, lacrosse) and health topics (body image, nutrition, self-esteem). Game Days are scheduled throughout the year at locations across the city. Contact Kate Shaughnessy at 312-633-4263 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Pan-African Association: Refugee Mentor
The Pan-African Association aims to help refugees and recent immigrants adjust to life in Chicago through assistance with English education, employment services and health care. Sign up to be a mentor who acts as a personal liaison for an individual. You could end up tutoring a young person struggling with schoolwork, helping someone fill out a job application or just acting as a trustworthy friend through a difficult transition. This is also an opportunity for cultural exchange and language practice. Call 773-381-9723 ext. 24 or visit the association at 6163 N Broadway to fill out the application.
Aquinas Literacy Center
Studies show that adult learners can improve by one grade level with just 35 hours of tutoring. This adult-learning center has a waiting list of ESL students seeking its services. Volunteers are trained and certified by ProLiteracy America and can arrange their own weekly 90-minute sessions with the student. Located on the Near South Side, the center focuses on providing basic economic and social survival skills for people new to the United States. Call 773-927-0512 for more information.
The Chicago Lights Tutoring Program at Fourth Presbyterian Church has been serving 1st to 12th graders residing in the Cabrini-Green and other low-income areas for more than 40 years. Volunteer tutors help kids with homework assignments or spend quality time with them in the computer lab or art workshop. Contact Meghan Stegemann at email@example.com.
I-GO Car Sharing
I-GO is Chicago's only car-share nonprofit organization, providing car rentals for as low as $6.75 an hour at convenient pickup locations all over the city. I-GO members earn one hour of driving credit for every hour of volunteering. Earn driving credits by raising awareness in your community or helping at events. For more information, contact Lauren Hugel at firstname.lastname@example.org.