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2020 Volunteer Spotlight

Vicki Coletta

Vicki Coletta - Volunteer of the Week (December 28, 2020)

YWCA Metropolitan Chicago is dedicated to eliminating racism, empowering women, and promoting peace, justice, freedom, and dignity for all. Vicki Coletta, a volunteer with the Project HELP program, embodies their mission for their community through her service. Vicki has been volunteering with Project HELP for over 20 years and the need for her leadership as a change maker in child abuse prevention is great. In DuPage County alone, there were 3,775 children reported as abused or neglected as of 2015. Abused or neglected children are at greater risk of academic problems, school failure, social and emotional problems, substance use, and juvenile delinquency.

In 2019, Vicki volunteered as a direct service parent mentor, advisory board member, and community representative. She gave 33.5 hours of her time to continuing education hours in order to qualify as a volunteer parent mentor, a standard required by Project HELP’s accrediting 

agency, which also helped their program earn the highest possible AAA rating. This past year she served two different families with weekly one-on-one parent mentor sessions, while also completing 29 home visits, directly serving families for 72.5 impactful hours.

Vicki also served over 20 hours to advise, advocate, and promote Project HELP. The monetary value of the hours she served alone is over $3,300. As a result of her service, Project HELP served 67 families (257 individuals) in the parent mentor program and 1,000 parents and caregivers through educational workshops in 2019. During the ongoing COVID-19 crisis, Vicki developed an idea to call the community to spread resources individually through wellness calls. As of today the program has completed over 165 calls to the community, connecting families with critical resources while also raising funds to send directly to families in crisis.

Samantha Feinburg

Samantha Feinberg - Volunteer of the Week (December 21, 2020)

Balance Boxes is a youth led registered 501(c)3 organization. Balance boxes provides students in low-income communities with academic and enjoyable activities. Each box is created with a designated theme in order to ensure the boxes can be made specifically to each child’s liking. Balance Boxes can include a variation of the following: books (picture and/or chapter books), educational games, school supplies, a theme-related toy, art projects, and games. The boxes also are equipped with an easy to make meal and/or kid-friendly snack to keep the child 

engaged in the activity. One of the unique factors of Balance Boxes is that each of the families are provided with information to register their child for free one to one virtual tutoring.

Samantha Feinberg is the co-founder of this organization. She is a 16 year old from Deerfield, IL and has provided over 850 students with boxes all over the state of Illinois. Through this effort, she has learned how to get strategic partnerships to further the reach of her organization and has already secured 75 of them! She has raised $28,000 and helped train 50 students to volunteer with the organization so they can give back to their communities as well. She has done this all during a global pandemic and has already achieved so much in just four short months.

Pete Troesch

Pete Troesch - Volunteer of the Week (December 14, 2020)

Pete Troesch is a long-time volunteer at the Prairie Aviation Museum in Bloomington, IL. With an all-volunteer staff dedicated to the preservation of aviation history through education, entertainment and inspiration, Pete coordinates the museum’s preservation and maintenance efforts. Starting up Wednesday Workdays, Pete organized and led volunteers to complete 305 projects in the past year.

Pete’s prioritizing efforts keep volunteers focused with a sense of purpose. Inside the museum – entrances painted, new displays mounted, building repairs made and handouts created.

Outside – aircraft cleaned, buffed and polished, tires replaced, rust removed and new coats of paint applied. He also led the reorganization of the museum’s offsite hanger where larger restoration projects take place, allowing for increased storage when space is a premium. One of his biggest efforts was in the cockpit restoration of a T-33 Shooting Star along with work on the canopy and viewing stands. While the hard work in preserving this aircraft continues, this effort adds one more aircraft visitors can climb into and get the pilot’s point of view.

It is simple; Pete Troesch’s volunteer efforts with the Museum’s aircraft and exhibits keep visitors coming back. Word gets out quickly when a normally closed-up aircraft is now open for viewing or best yet, when visitors can climb into the cockpit and “strap on a jet.” Engine displays, rotating beacons, repair of ground power units, added computer displays, and the layout of the airpark keep Pete busy. He is the first to admit that he did not do all these things, but he is the organizing influence, welcoming personality, and “There I Was” storyteller that recruits and retains fellow volunteers. Pete’s efforts not only produce new incentives for people to visit, but do so in a safe and secure manner for visitors of all ages.

Ramsin Benjamin

Ramsin Benjamin - Volunteer of the Week (December 7, 2020)

Ramsin Benjamin is a first generation Assyrian-American who was born and raised in Chicago, Illinois where he attended Lane Technical High School. He currently resides in Skokie, IL and obtained his BA in Political Science from Northeastern Illinois University. Ramsin is a leading advocate in the Illinois Assyrian-American community. He served as the inaugural Executive Director for the Assyrian American Chamber of Commerce, growing the organization to 133 members throughout 22 different cities and towns and is also the current Treasurer for the Assyrian National Council of Illinois.

Ramsin is a co-founder and current Executive Board member of Vote Assyrian, a community civic engagement organization that strives to inspire and empower Assyrian-Americans to build a better future for themselves and their community through civic engagement. In that volunteer role, Ramsin was able to successfully obtain over $110,000 dollars in grant money for the organization to get Assyrian households counted in Illinois for the 2020 Census. Over the five year span of Vote Assyrian, Ramsin and his organization have successfully managed to register tens of thousands of new voters, over 5,000 of which came before the primary election in 2018. These new voters are often immigrants who are coming from countries where voting is prohibited as well, so being able to help them exercise their right to vote is truly a powerful act of service.

Tammy Moore

Tammy Moore - Volunteer of the Week (November 30, 2020)

When Tammy Moore finished nursing school last December, she knew 2020 would bring many new and exciting changes: taking the state licensing exam to become a Registered Nurse (RN), transitioning into the health care industry after two-plus decades working in finance, and more. Then the Coronavirus 

Pandemic hit. Despite the disruption however, Tammy says she’s still busy, volunteering every week with the American Red Cross and Northern Illinois Food Bank while also looking for a job as a newly-certified RN.

At the Food Bank, she helps distribute groceries twice a week via My Pantry Express (MPX), a pilot online food pantry program – something she finds immensely fulfilling, especially during such an uncertain time. “[The pandemic] is affecting so many people in so many different ways,” she says. “So many people – their jobs have been furloughed, they’re laid off, or they work hourly and their hours are reduced. They need help with groceries even more because they have less income now.” That need is what keeps her coming back.

“We’ve had people tell us, ‘I wouldn’t have been able to make dinner tonight without these groceries,'” Tammy shares. “And it just makes you want to help more.” Tammy still feels comfortable volunteering during the COVID-19 outbreak because of precautions the Food Bank has put into place, such as following social distancing guidelines, using gloves, and streamlining operations processes to reduce the number of people who come into contact with shared items.“ If you take the proper precautions – social distancing, washing your hands, using hand sanitizer – you can [volunteer] in a safe way while still helping neighbors who desperately need our help. I don’t want people to be afraid to volunteer.”

In times of crisis, volunteers like Tammy make all the difference in the ability to make sure no one goes hungry in Northern Illinois. Learn more about how Northern Illinois Food Bank is responding to the coronavirus pandemic and how you can help here.

Roxy Baker

Roxy Baker - Volunteer of the Week (November 23, 2020)

Roxy Baker has been volunteering at Sophia's Kitchen in Peoria, IL since 2012 and enjoys cooking for the hundreds who come each day to eat. All of the food she has available to her is donated, so she never knows when she arrives what may be in store for her that day. Sophia’s Kitchen quickly learned that Roxy can take any ingredient and make it into a delicious dish. In 

fact, Monday afternoons quickly became their personal version of the cooking show Chopped.

Roxy makes Thanksgiving at Sophia's Kitchen very special with her delicious cranberry salad. She whips up enough to feed 500 people who come for a home cooked turkey dinner on the Thursday before Thanksgiving. Usually, Sophia's Kitchen hosts this feast as a plated meal for their guests. Students travel over an hour from Pontiac to graciously serve as wait staff. Tables are decked out with tablecloths and decorations to add to the festivities as well. With COVID-19 restrictions however, this year the feast will be served as a carry out meal, and of course, Roxy's cranberry salad will complete it!

Roxy's giving heart is a major asset for Sophia's Kitchen, where they feed 200 to 500 people each weekday in one of the poorest zip codes in the U.S. Those who come to eat know they will be treated with dignity that starts with a meal made not just to fill a stomach, but to show they deserve good things too. Roxy is a fierce leader in spreading kindness and demanding respect for everyone. No matter what she is doing, it is certain that Roxy always acts as an advocate for those in need. Her work has led to many canned food drives, which are much needed as Sophia’s Kitchen has pledged to fill 1,000 Christmas baskets this upcoming holiday season. For information on how you can help, please visit

Jordynn Huskisson

Jordynn Huskisson - Volunteer of the Week (November 16, 2020)

Jordynn Huskisson is a 10 year old 5th grade student who lives in Fisher, IL. She loves going to school and has been a straight-A student since kindergarten. In addition to her passion for learning, she is currently the Little Miss of the Midwest and reigns over 6 states, often traveling many hours. During her free time, Jordynn enjoys acting, singing, playing sports, and gymnastics.

Jordynn started her own 501(c) 3 organization called Blankets of Hope by Jordynn where she makes tie blankets for kids with cancer. She has made over 500 blankets since starting the project in August of 2018. While it may not 

sound like a lot, the amount of energy and time put into each blanket is monumental, often taking about 2 hours to cut and tie each one by hang. She personally delivers each one with a stuffed animal and a children’s book. She finds seeing the smiles on children’s faces the most rewarding aspect of her service.

Jordynn loves to volunteer and typically gets in about 25 hours a week, though she is now working creatively to find volunteer opportunities during the COVID-19 pandemic. She volunteers at food pantries, Feed our Kids, Special Olympics, Ronald McDonald house, St Jude, cancer benefits, Make a Wish, and The Alzheimer’s Network to name a few. Jordynn also tries to help others who support different organizations by asking people to donate and highlighting their acts of service on her social media.

Lonnie Ritchason

Lonnie Ritchason - Volunteer of the Week (November 9, 2020)

Lonnie Ritchason is a U.S. Army Veteran who served from 1965 to 1969. Like most veterans, Lonnie has never stopped serving his country. Lonnie has been a workhorse for the True Patriots Care organization for the last 11 years. The True Patriots’ mission is to honor Troops, Veterans, and First Responders with the dignity and respect they deserve. The organization installs 3 X 5 ft. flags in what is referred to as "Healing Field" in order to remember our country’s heroes. They remembered and honored WWII Veterans & Rosie the Riveters in August at their "Remember 45 our Greatest Generation" tribute and have also held tributes that 

that welcomed home Vietnam veterans, honored Korean War veterans, and each year on September 11th, they install 2976 Flags to memorialize the fallen heroes of 9/11.

In 2006, the True Patriots Care started to install flags at the funerals of our country’s fallen heroes as well. This aspect of the True Patriots Care in particular is very special to Lonnie. In the last two years, Lonnie has personally installed flags at the funerals of 93 locations in Illinois. As the organization said goodbye to 6 Police officers, 4 firemen, and 83 Veterans, Lonnie assisted in each one of the tributes no matter the time of day or weather conditions.

In addition to his work with the Patriots, Lonnie is always ready to help those in his community no matter the task. For example, when a friend needed a special needs ramp built, Lonnie acted quickly on the request and got it done. Lonnie also often assists an older woman he knows whenever she needs help and will drive over to her home. Most recently, Lonnie was going to meet a friend at his home and on the way he noticed a neighbor raking up apples so he helped pick them all up for him. Lonnie is truly a shining example of a veteran that is still serving and acting as a true patriot.

Joan Bortolon

Joan Bortolon - Volunteer of the Week (November 2, 2020)

Joan Bortolon currently serves as the President of Land of Lincoln Honor Flight in Springfield, IL which honors WWII, Korean era, and Vietnam era veterans with a free trip to Washington, D.C. to visit memorials dedicated to their service. 

This hub was established in 2009 to show gratitude for veteran sacrifice and service. Joan was one of the original Executive Board members serving as Secretary from 2009-2013 and President from 2014 to present day. In its 11 years of operation, Land of Lincoln Honor Flight has served 4,639 Central Illinois veterans on 59 flights. Land of Lincoln Honor Flight is a 501(c)3 charitable organization with an annual operating budget of approximately $500,000, which allows for six flights each year. All staff are volunteer and no on-going funds are available for operations; all money is raised by donations from the general public. The administrative cost for the organization is less than 1%, so virtually every dollar raised supports the veteran flights.

Joan oversees the daily operations of the organization and the seven-member board; she helps plan and attends most fundraising events in the 25,000 sq. mi territory, makes public appearances to promote their mission, maintains the veteran waitlist, contacts veterans for flights, trains all guardians and volunteers, and tends to all details of the flight day itinerary. Joan has the proud distinction of having been on all 59 flights and meeting and thanking every single veteran served by this hub. Although all honor flights nationally were grounded in 2020, Joan and the Board are currently working on planning for 2021 and finding alternative ways to ensure the 700 veterans on the waiting list feel appreciated.

Joan was born and raised in Dolton, IL and earned her Bachelors and Masters of Science in Political Science at Illinois State University. She retired in 2017 from her Assistant Human Resources Director/Bureau Chief position with the Illinois Department of Human Services after 40 years of service with the State of Illinois. She is honored to be the daughter of a WWII D-day paratrooper.

Bill and Linda Hardesty

Bill and Karen Hardesty - Volunteers of the Week (October 26, 2020)

Bill and Karen Hardesty are faithful volunteers of Catholic Charities of Coles, Douglas, & Edgar Counties. For over 20 years, they have been working an average of 3 days a week for 4-5 

hours each. Since July of 2000 (when records started being kept), they have worked over 20,800 hours. Catholic Charities doesn’t have many employees, so volunteers are their lifeblood. If they had to hire additional employees, they wouldn’t be able to help their communities as much as they do currently.

Bill works primarily in the maintenance shop, repairing broken furniture so it can be sold or given away. By repairing the furniture, Catholic Charities not only receives more money, but they also don’t have to pay a disposal fee to remove it. Bill also helps with maintenance issues so they don’t have to pay for service calls. He is truly an asset to their team and knows more about their building than any of their employees do. Karen mainly helps by sorting and cleaning houseware items. These items are then taken to the sales floor for sale or donation to their clients. When she finishes with the housewares, she then works in the clothing section. Bill and Karen continue to donate their time to help others and have served Catholic Charities longer than any of their employees. They are an indispensable husband and wife team, and are both willing to do anything that is needed to effectively serve the many clients of Catholic Charities.

Louie Herrera

Louie Herrera - Volunteer of the Week (October 19, 2020)

Louie Herrera is an extraordinary volunteer for the Lakeview Pantry not only because of his dedication to the mission of providing food for those in need, but also because of his radiant and positive energy.

During the COVID-19 pandemic when not all volunteers felt comfortable coming into the pantry to donate their time, Louie was able to step in and provide service when it was most needed. He took on extra shifts and volunteered several days of the week. As an independent nonprofit, Lakeview Pantry relies greatly on their volunteers and the service they are able to provide to their communities.

Louie has been a Lakeview Pantry volunteer since spring of 2019, and has been an integral part of their mission. He helps out in many ways at the pantry, but his main role is acting as the 

pantry’s receptionist. This role is vital to the pantry’s success because Louie makes sure that clients have their questions answered and always feel individually recognized. He takes all of the pantry’s calls as well as aids clients during distribution. Louie has a way of brightening every day with laughter and making both fellow volunteers and clients feel seen and heard.

Cathy Schwartz

Cathy Schwartz - Volunteer of the Week (October 12, 2020)

Cathy Schwartz is recognized for her leadership skills and her positive impact on the Springfield community. Her work with the King’s Daughters Organization in particular has been truly rewarding to the city of Springfield and has highlighted Cathy’s selfless dedication to civil service.

Cathy became a member of the King’s Daughters Organization (KDO) in 2002 and was involved in its restructuring after the closing of their home for aged woman in 2006, which KDO had run for 111 years. She served as first vice president and then president from 2008-2010. As first vice president, she chaired the committee working with the Community Foundation and initiated their grant program which has now given over $1.5 million dollars

to programs in order to enhance the lives of the elderly. Her presidency was marked with a focus on teamwork among members and a legacy of giving dollars through grants and volunteering.

Cathy has also served on the 125th KDO Anniversary committee and is currently chair of the History committee. During this time, the organization recognized much of their rich history was being lost. For example, 100 year old documents were not being stored properly and the categorization methods for these documents did not grant ease of access. As chair, Cathy set out to design a plan to combat these issues and put thousands of hours into the project. Thanks to Cathy and her team, KDO now has valuable documents such as board minutes, annual reports, news articles, pictures, and more in a searchable, digital format.

The impact of Cathy’s work on this project is immeasurable to her community. Residents will eventually have access to this precious information and will recognize not only the rich history of their community, but also the value of volunteering. In addition to her work with KDO, Cathy has also worked with Habitat for Humanity, the Springfield Figure Skating board, Springfield Parks Foundation, Springfield High School’s Red Black Gala, and Helping Hands Shelter.

Megan Philpot

Megan Philpot- Volunteer of the Week (October 12, 2020)

Megan Philpot has always been a go getter, but her participation in helping families during the COVID-19 pandemic has been nothing short of awe-inspiring. When a local Facebook group called Springfield Families Helping Families was created, Megan immediately became involved and is one of the most active participants helping to support the needs of those posting on the page.

Not only does Megan work to help families within her community, but she also spends time each day delivering meals to children who are unable to participate in meal pickup at their 

school. She has even helped to organize 10 other volunteers to assist with this effort and works closely with the group to ensure efficiency in their delivery routes. When it came to her attention that most of the families the group was supporting would also be without food for the weekends, Megan worked in partnership to address this need by supplying breakfast as well.

Beyond her additional contributions to these newly organized projects, Megan continues supporting the organizations she participated in previously. She is still fulfilling her role as Secretary with Junior League of Springfield and acts a volunteer/board member for Land of Lincoln Bookshare, Downtown Springfield Inc, Jaycees, and Off Duty Springfield.

Jason Bates

Jason Bates - Volunteer of the Week (September 28, 2020)

Jason Bates has worked consistently to improve his community and the lives of those around him. He is an active member and volunteer for many organizations including, but not limited to, the Levitt AMP Galva Music Series, Heartland Connections, Galva Wall of Fame, The Three Saint Johns Knights of Columbus, Honor Flight of the Quad Cities, Galva Sons of the American Legion, and Shave for the Brave.

Jason is always the first person to step up and volunteer when there is a cause in need of help. Particularly, he has been heavily involved in making Henry County, Illinois a musically diverse destination. Between Heartland Connections and the Levitt AMP Galva Music Series, hundreds of artists from all over the world, including Grammy winners and up and coming artists, have performed in the area. Jason has been instrumental in not only bringing these artists to Henry County, but also in showing the community that it is possible to experience world class music in a rural setting.

The most rewarding aspect of Jason’s actions is the fact that these concerts have become powerful community building events. As a result of their creation, many Henry County residents have become inspired to offer their time to new projects working to better the area. Over the past two years, over 15,000 people have been able to experience free, live music in part because of Jason’s contributions and his dedication to his community.

Vincent Mckinney

Vincent McKinney - Volunteer of the Week (September 21, 2020)

Vincent McKinney was first drawn to Scouting over 8 years ago due to a profound interest in nature. He has served countless hours helping others in some of the most demanding leadership positions, spent many weeks surrounded by nature, and lived by the motto of “Do a good turn daily.” Recognizing that there was an information deficit regarding environmental preservation in his school and community, 13 year old Vincent came up with the idea of creating the Wayne City School Herpetarium and forming a school herpetology club as his Eagle Scout Service Project.

Vincent’s efforts to enact these new resources for his school required many different fundraisers and promotional events. After a year of hard work, the Herpetarium now includes 14 large terrariums that house 15 different species and 19 total reptiles and amphibians. It also includes all of the food, medicine, and supplies needed to care for and maintain the reptiles and their enclosures. The Herpetarium also benefits the school because it educates students about different reptile species, teaches students about reptile behavior in a hands-on environment, and encourages respect for the animals.

Vincent’s creation of the Wayne City School Herpetology Club also gave dozens of students the chance to gain valuable leadership skills by being appointed to positions as Officers and Zoo Keepers to oversee the care and maintenance of the different species, along with dozens of general members who maintain the Herpetarium on a daily basis and give educational tours and demonstrations to other classes, schools, and the general public.

Vincent was recently chosen as the recipient for the Eagle Scout Service Project of the Year Award for the Greater St. Louis Area Council, and won the Jr. Herpetologist Award for the 2020 International Herpetological Symposium. Through multiple fundraisers, he has helped raise over $14,000, with nearly 2,000 volunteer hours donated toward his project to date.

Liz Linden

Liz Linden - Volunteer of the Week (September 14, 2020)

Liz Linden works at London Middle School in Wheeling, IL to run CHiL—an afterschool program that provides homework assistance to high-needs students. As a special education teacher, Liz puts much of her time, patience, and emotional energy into ensuring the wellbeing of her students. Her compassion doesn’t stop there, however, as she also works selflessly to improve the lives of many she doesn’t know.

Liz found the Hanul Family Alliance’s call for meal delivery drivers through the volunteer agency HandsOn Suburban Chicago. She dedicates a few hours each week to transport 

food packages to three households in need.

She typically has very limited or no contact with the seniors she assists. She simply knocks on their doors, leaves the food outside of their apartments, and then takes photos to verify that she has left the packages at the clients’ doors. In a recent interview regarding her volunteer service, Liz stated, “Although I can’t afford to buy it for them, I can give my time and the little gas money it takes to deliver it. It’s the least I can do in this situation. I wish I could do more.”

The Hanul Family Alliance primarily serves elderly Korean-Americans and other immigrant populations. With the global rise of hate crimes targeting individuals of Asian descent, many within that community fear not only for their health, but also their physical safety. Liz’s work enables those who cannot obtain food for themselves to receive culturally appropriate meals. It is through her continued support and kindness that she is able to work against the fear that allows racial scapegoating to persist within these communities.

Nakia Pinkston

Nakia Pinkston - Volunteer of the Week (September 7, 2020)

Nakia Pinkston has worked tirelessly to contribute much of her time and efforts to the AmeriCorps program Chicago HOPES for Kids. Through her service, Nakia is able to support an after-school program at their partner shelter, Believe, in Margaret’s Village and is an active part of the program’s outreach team. Nakia is often commended for her ability to remain flexible, devoted, creative, and tenacious when working towards new opportunities.

When Chicago HOPES for Kids was invited to bring their after-school program into the Believe shelter on the southeast side of Chicago, Nakia immediately jumped into a leadership role with a great sense of energy. She began by including programming for a wider range of students that focused on slightly younger and slightly older students. She also made it a point to recognize the needs of the children they were serving by creating meaningful relationships with parents and students in order to understand their schedules.

Nakia also works hard to promote Chicago HOPES for Kids by attending community meetings, speaking to large groups of behalf of the program, and recruiting new volunteers. Nakia has attended WestSide Ministers Coalition meetings, South Shore Community meetings, and Austin Coming Together meetings. It is through her diligent and consistent efforts within the community that Chicago HOPES for Kids is able to participate within the community and connect families to great opportunities. Nakia is a talented advocate for Chicago HOPES for Kids and people experiencing homelessness.

Most recently Nakia responded to the COVID-19 situation in Chicago by embracing new calls to service without hesitation. She continued to serve at the Believe shelter until they were no longer accepting volunteers and then transitioned into creating and distributing materials necessary for students. She also began volunteering regularly at the Greater Chicago Food Depository and Frieda’s Place, a soup kitchen in the Back of the Yards neighborhood, in order to directly address the growing rate of food insecurity during the public health crisis.

Susan Whitfield

Susan Whitfield - Volunteer of the Week (June 1, 2020)

Susan Whitfield has been a non-medical volunteer of the McHenry County Medical Reserve Corps (MRC) since 2006. She found out about the MRC after researching a masters degree paper on pandemic preparedness that was published in 2007, and was used internationally for preparation for the 2009 H1N1 Influenza pandemic. With the MRC, she answered phone lines, and did entry paperwork for a Point of Dispensing (POD) when a vaccine became available. She also volunteered for the phone lines during a whooping cough outbreak. She appreciates the training through the MRC that she has received for CPR, AED, Disaster Mental First Aid, Stop the Bleed, Bloodborne 

Pathogens, and PPE and hopes to never use it as a member of the security team at her large church. She also serves as an Emergency Operations Center volunteer at the McHenry County Emergency Management Agency.

Early in the COVID-19 crisis, Susan realized that masks of all sorts would be in short supply. She also knew that one of the best ways to combat stress and anxiety is to engage in physical activity. She started a private Facebook Group to catalog mask making patterns and she initially sewed about 80 masks for the medical and healthcare community. These were donated to donors at a blood drive at her church, a home healthcare agency, and the Superhero patterns went to a hospital. But when the statewide mask protocol was announced for the general public, she realized that a mask had to be developed that was simpler and faster to produce. She dove into a large stash of tie-dyed t-shirts to produce the “Woodstock” pattern, named for her town and a nod to the everlasting style, and put up signs for the free masks outside her house. Members of the community and a screen printer donated more t-shirts to be recycled, and to date, over 850 masks have been made and distributed. “In the midst of the crisis, I realized how I had already been blessed with time, skill, and material to help meet the needs of other people. Seeing the people drive up and select masks - this has been more fun than Trick or Treat!”, said Whitfield.

Demetrius Lowery

Demetrius Lowery - Volunteer of the Week (May 25, 2020)

Demetrius, who served in the Army until 1991, is now continuing his lifelong dream of serving others and and his country through AmeriCorps at Housing Forward in Maywood.

During COVID-19, Demetrius has been working 

to consistently provide meals to clients who have been moved from a rotating overnight emergency shelter program to individual accommodations where they can safely shelter in place. Demetrius is supporting other 100 people, which is double what would normally be in the shelter

With limited resources, Demetrius volunteers his personal vehicle to deliver breakfast and lunch. "At times we find ourselves struggling to keep this effort going, but we know we are still better off than the clients we are serving. We keep getting up each day to make sure they are taken care of."

Damon and Aidan playing bag pipes

Damon and Aidan McParland - Volunteers of the Week (May 18, 2020)

Damon and Aidan McParland are a father and son team who enjoy sharing their love of bagpiping with others. Damon is a Chinese teacher at Iles School in Springfield, and Aidan is a senior at Springfield High School.

During COVID-19, both Damon and Aidan decided that they wanted to use their gift of music to help their community, so they formed “UnitedWePipe.” This duo is now playing 

concerts where all the proceeds go to the COVID-19 Response Fund administered by the United Way of Central Illinois and the Community Fund of the Land of Lincoln.

For a minimum donation of $25, UnitedWePipe will visit the donors neighbor and play a 15-20 minute concert, while ensuring social distance. In just a few short weeks, Damon and Aidan have raised hundreds of dollars to the COVID-19 Response Fund.

Damon says, “we are hoping to have many more performances to raise money and connect people during these trying time with music.” To learn more about this father son team, visit their website.

Kyle Grzybowski with masks

Kyle Grzybowski - Volunteer of the Week (May 11, 2020)

Kyle is an eighth-grade student at Aux Sable Middle School in the Plainfield School District who has a passion for engineering. After taking technology and science classes at school, and taking part in robotics competitions, Kyle became interested in 3D printing, so his parents got him a printer for Christmas. Soon after, Kyle learned from a neighbor, who is a nurse at Edward Hospital in Naperville, that medical staff were running low on face shields.

Now, Kyle is spending his time away from school during COVID-19 to print face shields for 

those nurses and doctors. It takes about 2 hours per shield to print, and he has already made dozens.

Kyle also has plans to make 3D printed ear guards that can be attached to the adjustable face shields he has already created. "I'm going to keep printing them and if (his neighbor)doesn't need them, I'll give them to other hospitals," Kyle said.

Courtney Morrison

Courtney Morrison - Volunteer of the Week (April 27, 2020)

Courtney Morrison joined AmeriCorps to help tell people's stories. Through he United Way of Metropolitan Chicago, Courtney captures stories of impact within the United Way Neighborhood Network communities using photo, video and audio capabilities. Her role provides the opportunity for her to interact with nonprofit leaders, community leaders, parents and students. In addition to her service role, she is a strategic partner on a member-led committee focused on creating training opportunities for her fellow Corps members.

When COVID-19 began to impact Courtney's communities, her service shifted towards capturing stories virtually, developing PSAs for United Way’s COVID Relief Fund and serving as a member on the Relief Response Team. While on the response team she responds to the needs of individuals and families seeking assistance. Click here to watch Courtney's Relief fund PSA. Courtney continues to go above and beyond the call of duty!

A 2018 graduate from Northwestern University, she studied TV/Film and Journalism, and is a recipient of the School of Communications’ Creative Writing Certificate. Since graduation, she has worked in freelance photography and on commercial film sets, and she is most excited to meet new faces by the grace of her camera lens. With a yearning to tell stories about humanity and social impact, she joined AmeriCorps through the United Way of Metropolitan Chicago to dive into the nonprofit sector. As the Neighborhood Multimedia Journalist, she is learning more about the city she’s lived near her entire life while uncovering new storytelling methods to communicate impact, growth and history, all at once.

Kayla DeMay

Kayla DeMay - Volunteer of the Week (April 20, 2020)

Kayla DeMay, a first-year AmeriCorps Member at Sauk Valley College’ ABC AmeriCorps program, serves in the long-term care department at Hammond Henry Hospital in Geneseo, Illinois. Her service year has focused on providing relevant activities to enhance the 

quality of life for senior residents. Her duties & focus have shifted since COVID-19 hit. She has been helping with staff and patient screening for COVID symptoms as they enter the hospital, as well as taking temperatures. She is also assisting the hospital volunteer department with newsletter assembly and volunteer recognition.

Kayla will be completing her Bachelor of Science in Nursing from Trinity College of Nursing & Health Sciences in August, 2020. Illinois is fortunate to have Kayla and her AmeriCorps colleagues onboard during these uncertain times. She willingly assists where needed and utilizes her nursing skills to help stop the spread of COVID-19.

Learn how you can serve through AmeriCorps at

dan harris

Dan Harris - Volunteer of the Week (April 13, 2020)

Dan Harris is Kennedy Middle Grade School's Family and Community Liaison in Kankakee. His job description could never include all that he does to support the students, families, staff, and administration of Kennedy. Although hired as a part-time position, which is grant funded, he volunteers additional time to the school well outside his normal position.

Dan has been referred to as the lowest paid social worker, teacher, guidance counselor, and administrator. Each day, he arrives with a smile on his face and a gait in his step that reassures everyone that he is there to serve. He routinely 

checks in the office to see if any students need support; family concerns, social/emotional, organization, and academic progress. He moves in and out of classrooms, quietly respecting the instruction and discussion, but letting these students know that he is another person "in their corner".

He is sometimes seen teaching students chess during their recess, stressing the importance of strategies as they relate to life; always thinking of how the current move will affect the future move. When parents visit the school, he offers a firm handshake and enough conversation to gain trust, knowing that the support will be most effective when his trust has been gained.

Schools are now closed due to the COVID-19 pandemic, but Dan remains a valuable team member. He arrives every day to greet families coming to Kennedy for food distribution. He delivers Chromebooks, work packets, and food to families who have indicated they do not have transportation. He knocks on doors of students who have lost touch with their teachers, providing strong encouragement to get connected. He boosts everyone's morale during a time that it's needed most.

Kennedy's Principal, Cynthia Veronda, stated, "Sure, Dan Harris is a part-time employee for Kankakee School District 111. But, his dedication to the students and families of Kennedy Middle Grade School and Kankakee School District, as a whole, is hishis full-time passion."

brooke ray

Brooke Ray - Volunteer of the Week (April 6, 2020)

Brooke Ray is having an unexpected senior year during COVID-19, but she is rising to the challenge! Since Tuscola High School, like all other schools in Illinois, is closed, Brooke is volunteering her time at the Douglas County Emergency Operations Center (EOC). She is organized, creative, and she thinks outside the box. During the response effort, she began helping compile situation reports, but now she has taken the lead role on resource 

management and tracking. She is helping to sort, organize, and distribute personal protective equipment (PPE) to local fire responders, fire departments, police departments, and nursing homes. As long as the EOC is open, she plans to learn, adapt, and volunteer to help Douglas County communities!

When she is not responding to pandemics, Brooke is a Fire Explorer in Champaign City Post 207 and Champaign County Post 31, and she is a probationary member of the Tuscola Fire Department.

james deloach

James DeLoach - Volunteer of the Week (March 30, 2020)

As many face uncertainties about where their next meal may come from during the COVID-19 pandemic, James DeLoach stepped up at Lakeview Pantry in Chicago to ensure that those in need receive food swiftly and safely. James is a high school math and science teacher. He has been volunteering at Lakeview Pantry since summer 2019, but he has truly stepped up during the crisis and volunteers several days out of the week.

At Lakeview Pantry, James takes on many roles while volunteering. He organizes inventory, prepares the pantry for distribution by sorting and restocking, packs boxes for distribution, and overall helps to serve clients in need. Lakeview Pantry’s mission is to eliminate hunger and increase the independence of their clients. As an independent nonprofit, they rely on volunteers to help execute that mission. James’s service is crucial during this uncertain time.

On a typical day at one of Lakeview’s locations, the pantry will serve around 175 households with a team of about 12 volunteers. During the time of the pandemic, they have seen an increase of almost 40% in demand for our food programs. Their essential, sometimes life-saving services are clearly needed now more than ever. Volunteers such as James make the mission possible. Find out more about Lakeview Pantry at

Lynn Schmelzle Ehmen

Lynn Schmelzle Ehmen - Volunteer of the Week (March 23, 2020)

When schools and business had to close their doors due to COVID-19, Lynn stepped up to help her neighbors! She drove all over the Springfield area to deliver food and supplies to those in need. When that need continued to grow, she formed a group of people who could work with her to make deliveries. She also partnered with donors to raise funds to purchase more supplies for those in need. Her volunteer effort served as a ray of light during a dark time for many.

Lynn is a mother of four, who moved to Springfield twenty-two years ago after graduating with a degree in Business from WIU. 

Along with her duties as the bookkeeper for her husband’s financial planning firm, she is extremely active with the YMCA. She gives individual lessons, mentors the younger instructors, and signs up to teach as many baby swim classes as she can. During home swim meets, you can find her organizing and preparing the “best concessions in Illinois”; providing breakfast, lunch, and dinner for the athletes and their families while raising money for the team. Lynn was also on a fundraising team that raised over $400,000 for the new downtown YMCA and works with the coaches to secure sponsorship donations every year for the swim team and for the Strong Kids scholarship program.

Lucille Martinek-Website photo

Lucille Martinek - Volunteer of the Week (March 16, 2020)​

Lucille Martinek has been nominated for her commitment and dedication to serving others in her community.  Lucille Martinek is the oldest volunteer serving at Memorial Medical Center. Memorial Medical Center is a Magnet-designated, acute care hospital in Springfield that offers comprehensive inpatient and outpatient services. Since 1970, Memorial has been a teaching hospital affiliated with SIU School of Medicine to provide clinical training for residents.  

Lucille doesn't let being the oldest volunteer at Memorial Medical Center stop her from sharing 

her time and talent with the Rehab Grads – a group for patients, and their loved ones, who have completed one of Memorial's inpatient rehab programs. For more than 10 years, Lucille has enjoyed working on projects with her fellow volunteers and has served nearly 550 hours.

At 96-years-old, Lucille continues to be a shining example of service to others and Memorial is honored to have Lucille as part of their volunteer team. 

James Rucker

James Rucker - Volunteer of the Week (March 09, 2020)

James Rucker was not sure what to do with his life when AmeriCorps called him to serve.

“The mistakes I made in my youth had eaten me up,” James said when looking back to his time prior to his service. James’ dream was to play collegiate football, but after graduating from Lanphier High School in Springfield, his lack of focus and self-confidence led him to giving up on that dream. That all changed when AmeriCorps opened a new door for him. Through his service with the City of Springfield 

at their Land of Lincoln Goodwill site, James began mentoring youth. James helped his mentees set goals, realize the power of teamwork, and work to empower themselves. He found that in helping the youth at Goodwill he was growing as a person. He gained that self-confidence he was lacking for so very long. “Working with the kids motivated me. It forced me to act like an adult for the first time and also taught me to be consistent and remain humble. It turned my life around.”

And just like his mentees, James set a goal and got on the path to achieving it. Earlier this year he received a letter of intent to play college football at Ottawa University in Kansas. Through the help of AmeriCorps, the City of Springfield, and Land of Lincoln Goodwill, James is about to live his dream and continue to help others live theirs!

Katherine Buchanan

Katherine Buchanan - Volunteer of the Week (March 02, 2020)

Katherine Buchanan was nominated for her creative mind and drive to help bring the Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (STEM) program to children in O'Fallon, Illinois. She is a proud member of the Girl Scouts of Southern Illinois.  Girl Scouts of Southern Illinois is a nationwide organization whose mission is to build girls of courage, confidence and character who make the world a better place. 

Katherine's role in serving includes organizing and holding STEM sessions as part of the O'Fallon Public Library summer reading program. This program was run with 2-45 minute sessions on Wednesdays for 6 weeks in May-July. The attendees of the session were grades K-2nd from 1pm to 1:45pm and 3rd -5th from 2:15 P.M. until 3:00 P.M. The topics of discussion during the sessions were weather, physics, chemistry, electricity, space and robotics. Total attendees for this event was between 20 to 75 children.

Katherine's hard work and dedication led her to earn the Girl Scout Gold Award, the highest honor from the Girl Scouts of Southern Illinois. She and the Girl Scouts of Southern Illinois are also award recipients of the Illinois Governor's Hometown Award. 

Katherine has always had the heart to serve others. She has been a Girl Scout since kindergarten and considered a Girl Scout for life.  Girl Scouts of Southern Illinois members and staff speak very highly of Katherine and state that she is leader of tomorrow.

Ya'Shika Reed

Ya'Shika Reed - Volunteer of the Week (February 21, 2020)

Ya'Shika Reed is being nominated for her go-getter attitude and the excellent work she does for the children she serves at Macon County CASA.  CASA stands for Court Appointed Special Advocates. CASA is a national association in the United States that supports and promotes court-appointed advocates for abused or neglected children in order to provide children with a safe and healthy environment in permanent homes.  CASA relies on community volunteers to act as a "voice in court" for abused and neglected children to safeguard the children's best interests and ensure that they are placed in safe homes as quickly as possible.

As a volunteer advocate, Ya'Shika currently works two cases; however, during her 2 year tenure, she has advocated for a total of 18 children. Ya'Shika spends quality time with her children by engaging with them in a variety of different environments, such as school, home, and out in the community. Ya'Shika goes the extra mile by providing assistance with homework or being that consistent – supportive person in their lives. All parties involved with Ya'Shika’s cases says Ya'Shika is a great person to work with, easy-going, helpful and has pure passion for advocating for the best interests of the children she serves. When Ya'Shika is not advocating for her CASA children, she is providing case management services to youth in the Decatur community at Homework Hang Out.  

Ya'Shika comments that becoming a CASA volunteer has helped define how she can become a better individual to support and add value to the lives of others. Ya'Shika loves the amazing children she meets and is thankful she can help provide a better opportunity to children in foster care.

Dejanai Dunn

Dejanai Dunn - Volunteer of the Week (February 17, 2020)​

Dejanai has been nominated for her consistency and dedication to serving students at Laketown Elementary School’s 21st Century Afterschool Learning Center.

Dejanai is a senior at Lanphier High School and is currently serving her second term as an AmeriCorps Member for Springfield Urban League. The Springfield Urban League Inc is a nonprofit, nonpartisan, civil rights and community-based movement that serves nearly 9,000 people annually whose mission is to 

enable those who struggle to secure economic self-reliance, parity, power, and civil rights.

Dejanai serves as a youth mentor at Laketown Elementary School’s 21st Century Afterschool Learning Center. She enjoys working with the students and challenging them to be the best that they can be. Dejanai mentors a minimum of four days a week, while still maintaining a 3.8 GPA. Also, Dejanai is an active member of Lanphier High School’s dance team. Dejanai is quiet yet assertive and fully committed to making Laketown Elementary School’s 21st Century Afterschool Program a quality program that students are excited to attend. Miss Dejanai, as students call her, is a very dedicated and conscientious worker.

Host Site Supervisor Dylan Flowers says, “Dejanai is one of my most consistent team members, she is flexible always willing to handle the different situations that come up during the program.” Dejanai dependability makes her a vital asset to the afterschool program at Laketown.   

After high school, Dejanai plans to attend college in Texas and pursue a degree in the field of mental health, eventually obtain her master’s degree and become an inspirational psychologist. Through her service, education, and experiences, she plans to continue inspiring and helping others and credits AmeriCorps for strengthening her passion for serving.

Michelle Harley

Michelle Harley - Volunteer of the Week (February 10, 2020)

Michelle Harley is being nominated due to her hard work and enormously positive attitude while serving at the Seasoned Circle Café located in East St. Louis, IL.

Michelle Harley is an AmeriCorps member for Lessie Bates Davis Neighborhood House. The Lessie Bates Davis Neighborhood House is a United Methodist Community Center whose mission is to improve the quality of life for residents of all ages by providing quality early childhood development services, 

comprehensive youth services, individual and family support services, services to older adults, and housing economic development services which will help move individuals and families out of poverty.

At any given time, more than 50 seniors attend the Seasoned Circle Café to engage in reactional activities, sing, and enjoy a hot breakfast and lunch. During these times, Michelle is seen almost everywhere. Michelle is seen serving breakfast and lunch to the seniors, engaging in reactional activities, and often times playing games with the seniors. Michelle embodies the definition of hard work. She is the first to arrive and the last to leave. She ensures that all seniors leaves the Café in a happy mood and mindset. Michelle goes to different tables, cracking jokes and addressing the seniors by their first name. Michelle's mindset is to get things done in a positive way and by serving at the Seasoned Circle Café, she does just that. Many seniors at the Café have stated that Michelle's smile and warm energy is something that they look forward to throughout the day. Michelle said that serving for AmeriCorps was one of the best decisions she has made. 

Santos Ferrer

Santos Ferrer - Volunteer of the Week (February 03, 2020)

Santos Ferrer has been nominated for her positive attitude and persistence to help students achieve their goals. Santos is a Foster Grandparent for Tri-County Opportunities Council. The Tri-County Opportunities Council is a Community Action Agency in Rock Falls, IL, whose mission is to strengthen and enable low-income people to become self-sufficient through the attaining of necessary skills, knowledge, motivations, and opportunities.

Santos serves at Jefferson Elementary SPS School in Sterling, IL. Jefferson Elementary School is the top school in bilingual services for 

District #5 (Sterling Public Schools). Santos helps students in the second grade master the English language with extra help with spelling, reading, and math facts.

She takes the time to get to know each student personally and build relationships that go beyond the classroom. She also will support students by attending student activities outside of school hours. These activities will include church confirmations, choral concerts, and other community activities.

As Santos approaches her 4th year of being a Foster Grandparent for Tri-County Opportunities Council, she has received tremendous support and gratitude from teachers, students, and the community. Santos's daughter comments, "whether we are at church or a parade or just at the grocery store, there are always kids coming up say “Hi Grandma."” Santos is passionate and committed to providing services to her students and foster children to help better equip them for the future.

Millie Website

Milred "Millie" Belobraydic - Volunteer of the Week (January 27, 2020)

Mildred “Millie” Belobraydic has been nominated for her strong leadership skills and dedication to impact her community. Millie was born in East St. Louis, Illinois and married at 18 to her husband Lou. Millie and Lou have six beautiful children.

For ten years, Millie and a group of ladies known as the “auxiliary without a hospital” and later known as the Golden Girls devoted their 

lives to establishing a hospital on the east side of the Mississippi River in the downstate Metro-East Illinois area. This hospital establishment is a project that Millie never gave up on and because of her hard work, Anderson Hospital was birthed. The hospital is the region’s leader in maternity care and maintains a strong collaboration with major research/teaching hospitals in St. Louis, Missouri

Millie served as the first Volunteer Director for the Anderson Hospital in efforts to recruit and grow the vision of the hospital. Today, membership in Anderson Auxiliary exceeds more than 200 volunteers who provide services in the gift shop, information desk, and parking lot shuttle to surgery centers. In addition to her hospital work, Millie has served on the Chamber of Commerce Board of Directors, the Maryville Comprehensive Planning Board and Centennial Committee. She also served as a school secretary for 23 years.

Millie has dedicated her entire life to ensure everyone she comes in contact with has access to healthcare services. In recognition of her dedication, Millie received the Kimmel Award from Southern Illinois University Edwardsville, President’s Call to Service Award, Founder’s Award from Anderson Hospital, Fred Winters Community Service Award from the Village of Maryville and Women of Distinction Award from the Springfield Diocese. All of these awards are examples of what leaders and members of Millie’s community think of her work for community betterment and volunteer leadership.

James Baugh

James Baugh - Volunteer of the Week (January 20, 2020)​

James Baugh has been nominated for his commitment to providing weather forecasts and disaster response work to emergency response teams across the state and nationwide as well as the victims of disasters.  James is an Emergency Medical Technician (EMT) for Superior Ambulance. James is alumni of Mississippi State University where he received his degree in Operational Meteorology and continued his education at Purdue University Global, pursing his Master of Science in Emergency and Disaster Management and Homeland Security.

James volunteers at Storm Tech Solutions. Storm Tech Solutions is a weather tracking and consulting company that offers real-time and advance forecasting, along with storm tracking services, disaster response, recovery and restoration. He is their go-to source for weather information for first responders, companies, and organizations across the state of Illinois and the nation. He provides forecasts on a frequent basis along with recurring updates depicting the hazards and clearer detail as the event gets closer. James is passionate about ensuring people are always prepare and ready for a storm. He has partnered with a local community college to increase their Meteorology Education Program so that the students are better equipped to relay the hazards within the field to the public and first response communities.

Paul Fieth

Paul Feith - Volunteer of the Week (January 13, 2020)

Paul Feith has been nominated for his creative thinking and problem solving methods using technology to help organizations run more efficiently into the right direction. Paul resides in Aurora, Illinois. He gives back to his community by serving two organizations: Giving DuPage and Habitat for Humanity of Illinois. Giving DuPage is a non-for-profit Volunteer Center in the DuPage County whose mission is to promote giving and volunteering. Habitat for Humanity of Illinois is a state supported 

organization whose mission is bringing people together to build homes, communities and hope. Paul has served with Giving DuPage for the past 10 years and served Habitat for Humanity of Illinois for 9 years.

Paul is the owner of Paul Gregory media. Paul and his company's staff have donated over 80 hours of in-kind professional services to Giving DuPage and Habitat for Humanity of Illinois in 2019. Their skills-based volunteering has included web editing, social media marketing, graphics design and event/program support. Paul Is a former Board member of Giving DuPage, but still continues to participate in strategic meetings & discussions about the future plans for the organization.

Paul's expertise and unique contribution to providing technology-based solutions for marketing and board governance include creating graphic design work to produce the first-ever annual reports for Giving DuPage and Habitat for Humanity of Illinois. Other contributions include creating a "Build Happy" campaign to raise $60,000 for Habitat for Humanity of Illinois and selecting a volunteer app software as the platform for the Giving DuPage volunteer portal site. These accomplishments only begin to skim the surface of Paul's impact during his time serving both organizations.

 Paul Feith is well-known for his generosity in the DuPage County. His services provided have been said to be a blessing.

Ann dillard

Ann Dillard - Volunteer of the Week (January 6, 2020)​

Ann Dillard has been nominated for her hard work and dedication to meet the needs of children and adults throughout Giant City School District in Southern Illinois. Giant City School District #130 is a public school in rural Southern Illinois with a small student population of over 200 students. Giant City School recently received the U.S. Department of Education Blue Ribbon School Awards for Excellence in education, staff and volunteers. 

Ann has served as a volunteer for the Giant City School District #130 for many years providing extra educational assistance to faculty and students. Ann Dillard makes it her priority to meet the needs of every child or adult she encounters. Ann's willingness to share her time and talents with schools in the district has provided the precious service of time for students and staff in a rural school.

The strategies Ann delivers to classrooms as a former educator, using her experiences for the greater good, allow students and staff to learn extra tips and strategies for success. She has also been instrumental in helping student increase test scores. This experiential learning approach has impacted over 200 students and over 20 teachers at Giant City school. Ann's positive outlook on life and her love learning makes it easy for her to commit to service in her community.