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2021 Volunteer Spotlight

Elizabeth Barth

Elizabeth Barth- Volunteer of the Week (December 27, 2021)

Tinley Park eighth-grader Elizabeth Barth is a passionate and kind volunteer who during the holiday season thought of a way to give back to veterans and say thank you for their service. Elizabeth gifted handmade blankets and gift 

baskets to Manteno Veterans Home residents on Wednesday morning during a special coffee and cookie gathering in honor of her service project, Warming Up our Veterans.

Elizabeth, several of her friends, and sometimes her mom, Julie, spent around five hours each day for four weeks selecting, cutting and tying fabric to make 180 blankets, one for each veteran at the Manteno home. She collected more than 180 donations, ending up with a surplus of funds and plenty of blanket scraps, which she plans to turn around into gifted neck pillows and handmade wreaths for the 87 residents at the LaSalle Veterans Home.

“They just did so much for us,” Barth said. “They were willing to give their life for us and for our safety. I wanted to make them smile and make them feel appreciated.”

Kennedi Bickham

Kennedi Bickham- Volunteer of the Week (December 20, 2021)

In Chicago's 18th ward, there are 13 elementary and high schools that service families who live below the national poverty line. Many of the families struggle to pay for clothing, shoes, school supplies, books, textiles and furniture. One volunteer, Kennedi Bickham, believes that all people should have a good quality of life and access to basic needs. Through her service, she learned that there are many people in the community who are working hard and being responsible with what they have, but are still falling short with being able to purchase items for their families.

In 2010 while in her scout troop meeting, Kennedi was given an assignment that required each troop member to go through their closets and fill up a bag with items that they had not worn in a year. All of the members did what was asked and came to the next meeting with their bags full of stuff. After sorting the donations, the members were allowed to "shop" the tables and take the items that they wanted for no cost and leftover items were donated to a local shelter for women and children. Thus, it was at Kennedi's scout meeting that the project "Swap and Share" was born

Since Swap and Share’s inception in 2013 more than 900 community members have been served, 287 volunteers have served the community, thousands of donated items have been collected, more than 18,000 pounds of clothing, shoes and textiles have been recycled and re-used, 6 shelters have been serviced, and 1,865 volunteers hours have been logged. Kennedi has also received three grants to support her project.

Kennedi's service has demonstrated that you are never too young to make a difference in your community. At a young age, Kennedi learned the very important lesson of the necessity of having wise and resourceful mentors in her life. She cherishes the mentors that she has and pays it forward by mentoring younger students at her school, church and within other organizations. A challenge that Kennedi has experienced is dealing with the negative stigma that many people attach to second-hand items. To overcome this challenge, Kennedi had to educate and raise awareness of what it means to be environmentally responsible as consumers. She worked with the We Organization, participated in WeDay, and partnered with Savers to learn more about sustainability and educate other volunteers and community members.

Terry Smith

Terry Smith- Volunteer of the Week (December 13, 2021)

Terry Smith has a passion for preserving natural resources in his community. As a certified Master Gardner and Master Naturalist with the University of Illinois Extension, Terry has dedicated his time to volunteering among the prairie, forests, community food and botanical gardens in Coles County. Through his dedication to conservation, Terry has become an essential volunteer for a host of community non-profits including Grand Prairie Friends, a conservation land trust which preserves, manages and restores over 1,200 acres in the region. His time with Grand Prairie Friends has produced safe trails, monitored for endangered bat species, educated scouts and planted native pollinator gardens.

When not conserving nature, Terry dedicates time to youth outreach in his community as a 4H robotics team leader- their most recent accomplishment was the building of a “farmbot”, currently on display at Mattoon’s Cross Country Mall. Rounding out his compassion for others, Terry is an active volunteer in Sarah Bush Lincoln Health Center’s “Plant a Row for the Hungry” garden program.

“Where there is a wheelbarrow, there is a way”, and Terry’s community-minded spirit, love of people, and “handy man skills” makes him an excellent organizer and leader in volunteer efforts.

Grace Schell

Grace Schell, Remembering Grace's Kindness- Volunteer of the Week (December 6, 2021)

To spread kindness, compassion, generosity, love, faith, smiles, giving freely of one’s time and talents, and being the best version of yourself… These were the things Grace Schell instilled in herself and those around her. She saw a need within her school, community, and the world to be more than she was the day 

before to change someone’s day for the better. Grace’s focus was always to make someone feel better and to help others in need no matter the circumstances. It is for these reasons that Serve Illinois would like to honor Grace’s memory as our volunteer of the week.

Grace used her track and cross country platform to touch the lives of athletes all over the tristate area. She would take her message to meets and make contact with other athletes in order to instill in them to #BeLikeGrace. Grace used all forms of social media to create kindness in real time. She would post and encourage those as well as reach out to those in need or troubled. She made sure to take time to pack extra snacks, work with those with disabilities, and focus on the needs of others even if that meant her needs came 2nd or even 3rd.

Graces impact has now gone across the world. The message #belikegrace has been in 4 separate countries supported by Olympic runner Genevieve Lacruze and Grace has received state recognition by Senator Jill Tracy and Senator Dick Durbin. Grace has taught others that the quality you put out into the world truly means something and your life can impact others if you are just willing to try. Additionally, Grace’s life is memorialized through the #BeLikeGrace Scholarship which is awarded yearly to a high school senior who exemplifies the following pillars: faith, kindness, generosity, compassion, positivity, and striving to be the best version of yourself.

Toni Miller

Toni Miller- Volunteer of the Week (November 29, 2021)

In 2015 a group of individuals in Monroe County, IL came together to form a non-profit to serve families and residents in need throughout the county. They provide food security, housing, rent/mortgage assistance, medical assistance, clothing, utilities and job coaching, budgeting and more as a volunteer driven organization. Approximately 4 years ago Toni Miller, who retired from the local public school district as first a bus driver and then guidance secretary for many years, joined the organization to volunteer as a member of the food security committee. She had previously volunteered at the St. Louis food bank and once she was retired, chose to volunteer in her own community.

Upon her joining House of Neighborly Service, Toni began coordinating the emergency food pantry. She inventoried and coordinated with local food drives at schools, scouts and churches. She shortly afterward began bi-weekly trips to a local Pizza Hut and gathered, packaged and froze pizza weekly to provide for those in need and give them an extra treat. She then developed a relationship with a St. Louis Panera Bread Company and gathered their day old bread and pastry items on a weekly basis. She also packaged and froze those items as well. All of this was then distributed weekly to families in need, a weekly delivery to the seniors in the low income apartments in two towns in our county, and she developed relationships with local butcher shops to gather their meat contributions and she was sure to shop with them as well.

During the pandemic, Toni packaged numerous "COVID bags" of food and hygiene items as families were struggling greatly. The organization offered a cooking class prior to the pandemic and she made sure food items were available to those attending along with groceries to take home. The cooking class focused on serving those families who depended upon food pantries and needed way to provide nutritious, delicious and budget stretching menus. For the second summer, she has worked on feeding our families through our summer lunch program which has not been easy as the pandemic affected the ability to get plentiful food items and budget friendly items. This summer she is in full control of this program and is feeding 125 plus families each week with meat, vegetables, produce, dairy and other items needed. She is coordinating all of this simultaneously, without losing energy, with no complaints.

Ryan He

Ryan He- Volunteer of the Week (November 22, 2021)

The Douglas-Hart Nature Center in Mattoon offers several summer camps to youth ages 5-11. There were many students enrolled in these popular programs but not enough counselors. Ryan He, who had previously attended and enjoyed these camps, volunteered as a junior counselor for three camps over this past summer. Since many of the young campers had been learning remotely and unable to play and learn together, Ryan worked hard to facilitate a fun and enriching experience for the campers. Ryan was an astounding role model for the campers. He had a positive attitude, was punctual, and created a safe environment.

Ryan also volunteered with The Whiteside Garden in Charleston, a five-acre garden with many rare plants. Ryan helped weed the bog garden for several hours over the summer. His work helped make sure the delicate plants in the bog garden were able to grow and thrive. Ryan also volunteers with the Charleston Community Band to put on outdoor concerts as a band member. These concerts are well-attended and much appreciated by the Charleston Community (and a much-needed community boost).

During the pandemic, like other areas in the state of Illinois, the east-central Illinois area desperately needed personal protective equipment. Ryan used his own 3D printer and the skills he learned from the UIUC 3D maker lab to make 3D-printed face shields and donated them to both the local community and to Carle Foundation Hospital in Champaign County. These face shields were able to provide an additional layer of protection against COVID. Over the course of many months, Ryan donated 100+ face shields to Carle Hospital, 20+ face shields to Sarah Bush Health Center in Coles County, and many more to Eastern Illinois University, friends and neighbors, and his own high school. His donations have been crucial in protecting the community.

Nate Curtis

Nate Curtis- Volunteer of the Week (November 15, 2021)

Nate Curtis is a dedicated classroom volunteer with the Glen Ellyn Children’s Resource Center, an organization that serves children from families seeking academic support. Nate volunteered right before the pandemic hit in March of 2020, and the following school year he stepped up to tutor again through an online format. Most recently, he volunteered as an intern/teaching assistant (in-person) for GECRC's summer program.

All of GECRC's students meet low income and academic risk guidelines and most come from refugee or immigrant families. Annually, the program serves nearly 200 students. 

Nate demonstrated best practices by insuring the students' safety and keeping them engaged in the classroom. A great majority of GECRC's students come from minority backgrounds, and Nate's cultural sensitivity helped create a comfortable environment for the kids.

Nate makes sure to entertain and join the students in activities they are passionate about, such as activities including sports and gymnastics. Nate also helped the students prepare presentations about community heroes. He is very much set on providing his best efforts for the sake of the students and the organization. Nate is always willing to step up to challenges and help deescalate difficult situations.

Nate's name is often mentioned in high praises among GECRC's staff. He displays a positive, kind, and fun attitude and makes sure that energy is present wherever he goes. He has a way of getting the students excited about the work they are doing and makes sure they are happy to be there.

George Galvan

George Galvan- Volunteer of the Week (November 8, 2021)

As a retired educator, George Galvan has devoted his time to addressing the needs of his senior community through service. George has volunteered for several agencies within the Arlington Heights Senior Center. One of these agencies is Catholic Charities, an institution that provides a number of services to help keep seniors in their homes. Before Catholic Charities discontinued their Money Management program, George would meet with clients to 

help them with their financial needs, such as paying bills. He was also a receptionist for Catholic Charities, assisting clients and directing them to the help that they needed.

For sixteen years, George used his time and talents and volunteered in various ways to support seniors; whether it was to help raise funds, assist seniors with their financial matters, or to deliver a meal to a homebound resident. His leadership and creativity are evident in leading current events group, which filled to capacity, on a weekly basis for fourteen years. Many of Catholic Charities clients come from different backgrounds.

George has had a great impact on the senior community. He also served on the Arlington Heights Senior Center Inc. board, which is the fund-raising body for the Arlington Heights Senior Center. Through his volunteer efforts, the Arlington Heights Senior Center Inc. board has raised thousands of dollars to donate to the Senior Center for senior residents to benefit and enjoy. The Arlington Heights Senior Center houses eight separate agencies. One of these agencies is the Nurses Club Lending Closet. The Lending Closet loans out durable medical equipment to residents in our community. The Arlington Heights Senior Center Inc. board, through their fundraising efforts, is able to purchase medical equipment for our Lending Closet upon request.

George has received the Presidential Lifetime Achievement Award for volunteering over 4,000 hours to one organization, and has served a total of 6500 hours. George exemplifies what it means to give back to your community, and his compassion has certainly made an impact on the lives of others in his community.

Jillian Neece

Jillian Neece- Volunteer of the Week (November 1, 2021)

Jillian Neece has been serving as an AmeriCorps member at Severson Dells since March of 2021. In her brief time serving, she has made a huge impact on their Community Science programs. 

She has supported 75 volunteers in their efforts to collect data on plants and animals around Winnebago County through training in the classroom and in the field, support in data entry, data analysis, and answering any questions along the way.

Jillian’s leadership in this program has significantly improved volunteer engagement and retention and the quality and quantity of data collected. This data helps inform natural resource management across the Forest Preserves of Winnebago County and education programming at Severson Dells Nature Center.

In June and July, Jillian went above and beyond in the wake of the Chemtool Fire in Rockton, IL. She attended a public information session the week after the fire and saw firsthand just how uniformed the public was and how much misinformation was out there. The following day she asked if she could take on the huge project of translating the large quantities of environmental data being released by the Illinois Environmental Protection Agency. In the weeks that followed she translated hundreds of pages of data into two blogs.

This work was noticed by the Illinois Association of News Broadcasters who invited her to speak at their annual conference in Rockford. After that experience she created a document to help reporters navigate the wide range of local, state, federal and nonprofit agencies and the data and information they have.

Jagger Barnes

Jagger Barnes- Volunteer of the Week (October 25, 2021)

Jagger Barnes is a strong, thoughtful, compassionate, dedicated, and service-minded 15 year old. She is on the SaLT: Service and Learning Together leadership board, and she takes every opportunity to make a difference putting service above herself.

During the pandemic, SaLT was unable to provide service-learning trips to students. In May of 2020, SaLT was inspired to pivot their efforts to serve the local community, and Shop N’ Drop was created in the areas of Highwood and Highland Park, IL. Shop N’ Drop is designed to engage community members to support local families facing food insecurity due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Jagger soon became the strongest youth force making this project a reality.

Jagger’s role as a dual language speaker has been to contact all 100+ families that they serve each week! With adult support, Jagger check-ins with every family to makes sure they needs are being met and to see if there is anything special they might need that week (i.e diapers, cleaning supplies, certain foods, etc.) She even translates important information regularly regarding vaccines, job searches, or rent concerns. As a student leader for SaLT, Jagger has given hundreds of hours to Shop N’ Drop, but after understanding some of the greater needs of our families’ children, she also took on two other special projects - Love2Learn and DreamBIG.

Love2Learn provides free, weekly, one-hour, one-on-one, in-person math/reading tutoring by high school students for K-5 children. DreamBIG provides free, weekly, one hour, one-on-one/small group, in-person coaching sessions by high school students for K-6 children. Jagger provides each family with a trusted and compassionate translator and friend. Her commitment has been amazing as she did not miss a beat each week calling and connecting with 100+ families since May 2020. Throughout some of our families’ darkest days, she has been a source of light and hope.

Jagger has she also has taken every opportunity to join other service events. Jagger was an amazingly strong participant in the service-learning trips to Orlando. She provided care and comfort to terminally ill children at Give Kids the World. Jagger also went to New Orleans to work with local nonprofits to help restore and learn about this city’s unique communities and culture. Jagger is motivated daily to make a difference for others. She sincerely identifies her work in service as her life’s purpose. She is truly a LIGHT for those she works wit and so many others in her community.

Jeanne Vance

Jeanne Vance- Volunteer of the Week (June 28, 2021)

Jeanne Vance has been a volunteer for AmeriCorps Seniors for four years. Jeanne has been a valuable volunteer and works at a school developed by her daughter, Wanikka Vance, called the Foundation 4 Advancement. Foundation 4 Advancement is a private school that strives to develop a child to his/her full potential! Jeanne provides the children a nurturing environment and engages the children to work hard to believe in themselves. Jeanne works daily as a volunteer not only helping with the curriculum, but also with work assignments for the children. She also assists the children one on one with tablet training. 

Jeanne is always pitching in to help by assisting with lunch, sanitizing the stations, and keeping the facility clean.

Jeanne Vance has been a volunteer for AmeriCorps Seniors for four years. Jeanne has been a valuable volunteer and works at a school developed by her daughter, Wanikka Vance, called the Foundation 4 Advancement. Foundation 4 Advancement is a private school that strives to develop a child to his/her full potential! Jeanne provides the children a nurturing environment and engages the children to work hard to believe in themselves. Jeanne works daily as a volunteer not only helping with the curriculum, but also with work assignments for the children. She also assists the children one on one with tablet training. Jeanne is always pitching in to help by assisting with lunch, sanitizing the stations, and keeping the facility clean.

Marilyn Hermann

Marilyn Hermann- Volunteer of the Week (June 21, 2021)

Marilyn Hermann remembers the day well—March 10, 2020. As an AmeriCorps Seniors RSVP volunteer, she spent several hours a week at the Lutheran Home in Arlington Heights leading groups in quilting, conversation and mind bender games, as well as contributing her own crafts to the home’s gift shop. On that day she learned that due to the COVID-19 pandemic restrictions, the home would be closed to all outside visitors. Marilyn couldn’t return that week or at best “not for a while.”

Marilyn took a deep breath and decided that a lockdown would not get in the way of connecting with the home’s residents, most of 

whom were now close friends. It was only a matter of getting creative. "I was missing all my friends and visits since in a normal month I would have visited, at that time, in nine units—some every week—and others twice a month,” she said. “The one I was missing most was the ‘Coffee and Chat’ group every Thursday morning.” Marilyn knew there was more than one way to connect. To keep the residents engaged, she re-designed her “Chat with Marilyn” program from in-person to weekly emails, which she sent to the activities director who, in turn distributed them to the Coffee and Chat participants now confined to their rooms.

Her audience has expanded to several residents she has yet to meet. Now they can’t wait to connect with her face to face. Those whom she knows from the “in-person” days have said they can hear her voice when they read her newsletters. Now, Marilyn’s weekly chat pages have extended beyond the walls of the Lutheran Home. She shared them with relatives and friends, who, in turn sent them to their friends. As it turns out, she has made new friends living in other senior facilities out of state.

Marilyn hopes that by Christmas 2021, everyone’s life will have returned to normal, so she can resume her favorite volunteer project which was sadly missed last year—becoming Mrs. Santa Claus for all the unit parties.

Stefan Cudjoe

Stefan Cudjoe- Volunteer of the Week (June 14, 2021)

Stefan Cudjoe has volunteered his time and talents with Chicago Cares, Chicago’s leading volunteer mobilizer, for the past two years. He is an energetic volunteer leader for a program called Real Talk, which brings together community members and volunteers to discuss current events and issues facing their communities.

Through the program, Stefan does an incredible job building connections between both volunteers and community members, and he creates an encouraging space for everyone to 

build empathy by sharing their perspectives and lived experiences.

During the COVID-19 pandemic, Stefan even innovated with Chicago Cares to provide the program virtually! In doing this, he helped volunteers maintain a space where they could safely connect while physically social distancing. Stefan is an exemplary volunteer with Chicago Cares, and they are so grateful for his continued service!

Aparna Ramakrishnan

Aparna Ramakrishnan- Volunteer of the Week (June 7, 2021)

Aparna Ramakrishnan is a high school student dedicated to making a difference. After her own struggles with mental health, she is committed to providing mental health education and accessible resources for students. She created a 

peer-led nonprofit called Beyond Charity that provides mental health presentations and drives discussions on healthy coping strategies. As a result of her efforts to destigmatize mental health, she has given 22 presentations domestically and internationally to over 6,000 students. Additionally, she also worked with Representative Mussman and Yang-Rohr to create HB1778 which mandates schools to include mental health resources on the backs of student identification cards. After testifying before multiple committees, her bill, the Beyond Charity Law, recently passed both the Illinois House and Senate.

Aparna has changed the face of mental health through her efforts and created a community where students are empowered. Her volunteerism, persistence, and kindness make her a perfect candidate for volunteer of the week. She plans to continue her nonprofit and legislative efforts throughout her life, hoping that nobody will have to endure the same challenges she did.

Ron Novak

Ron Novak- Volunteer of the Week (May 31, 2021)

Ron Novak, aka Grandpa Ron, has served as a Foster Grandparent for 10 years at Franklin Elementary in Sterling, IL. He says this is the most rewarding work that he has ever done. On March 12th, 2020 all Foster Grandparents were sent home by the schools along with all the 

students. Grandpa Ron had been assigned one student to work closely with that year. As the year began, the student had difficulties reading and had made so much progress until the dismissal of school. With the student’s parental permission, Grandpa Ron made a home visit to see his student and encourage him to keep up the good work. He was even able to give his big sisters tips on how to help their brother continue to succeed in his studies.

Grandpa Ron cannot make it through Walmart without having one of his past students stop him to say hello. Grandpa Ron is loved by the entire staff at Franklin and goes above and beyond to spread sunshine with his co-volunteers and volunteer site.

Stan Cebrzynski

Stan Cebrzynski- Volunteer of the Week (May 24, 2021)

Stan Cebrzynski of Wonder Lake, IL joined Senior Services Associates as a volunteer in 2016. He served as a Friendly Visitor, a program that connects eligible seniors over 60 years of age, living in Kane, Kendall and McHenry Counties with carefully screened volunteers who want to make a difference in the lives of seniors. Since 1996, this program has been making friendship matches, while successfully connecting volunteers with hundreds of seniors in need of companionship.

After volunteering as a friendly visitor, Stan was bit by the volunteer bug and hasn’t stopped ever since. 

Stan enrolled as an AmeriCorps Seniors member (previously volunteering with AmeriCorps RSVP) and has taken on a variety of assignments. Stan has worked with Catholic Charities as a Meals on Wheels delivery volunteer, drives seniors to necessary medical appointments, and when asked, also picked up food and other essential items during the COVID-19 shelter in place order. Stan also finds time during the holidays to deliver meals and gifts to local seniors. To date, Stan has recorded almost 700 hours as an AmeriCorps member.

Hasumati Patel

Hasumati Patel- Volunteer of the Week (May 17, 2021)

Mrs. Hasumati Patel has been volunteering her time and talents to the Westview School Community since December, 2016. After raising 3 children that each attended Westview decades ago, Mrs. Patel came across an article about the elementary school in a community newsletter. 

The article indicated that the school welcomed volunteers from the community. As an individual who likes to contribute to her community, Mrs. Patel met with the principal to determine how she might be able to help.

Since then, Mrs. Patel has been spending 2-3 hours in the morning, 3 days per week, working with students in small groups. She plays games, supports children with assignments, reads books aloud, and listens to students from 3rd, 4th, and 5th grade read aloud to her. Children appreciate her gentle and nurturing manner and for many, she has become a surrogate grandmother!

They say that it takes a village to raise a child, and Westview School is so appreciative to have Mrs. Patel as a positive, contributing member of their school community!

Chris Brown

Chris Brown- Volunteer of the Week (May 10, 2021)

Chris Brown is from Le Roy, Illinois. 13 years ago, on April 1, 2008, he lost his eyesight. Chris is very intelligent and knew that he did not want losing his sight to stop him from learning and living. He has overcome so much adversity. He is a passionate reader and uses assisted technology to read, use social media, and function independently. He has been a volunteer at Le Roy Elementary School (his childhood school) for several years now.

Last year he asked to work with the students. He listens attentively and interacts with students in a sincere way. The students absolutely love reading with him. Not only does he listen to students read, but he also has lunch once a week with a small group of 3rd graders. They assist him with getting his tray, walk to a quiet room, and they engage in meaningful conversations. He lets them share parts of their lives and tries to guide them with practical ways to deal with peer pressure and social situations. He genuinely cares about their well-being and goes out of his way to connect with all students. He also spends one afternoon a week in the classroom assisting with writing and math. He moves about and helps in whatever way he can.

Since the schools shut down during the pandemic, Chris graciously provided his email so that students could still check in with him. Some of the students are sending audio recordings of them reading to him. When he was sent one of these recordings, he responded with, “I could only listen for a few seconds and had to stop the recording because tears were flowing.” He eventually was able to listen to the whole recording.

The Le Roy Elementary building is a pre k-6 elementary school in central Illinois. They have several students with autism, mental and physical challenges, and health compromised students. They are an inclusive school and their students are compassionate and interact with all students. Seeing their students assist Mr. Brown is the essence of the human spirit and goodness that they hope would be the standard everywhere in the world.

Annette Day

Annette Day- Volunteer of the Week (May 3rd, 2021)

For more than four decades Annette Day has been a volunteer and messenger for Easterseals DuPage & Fox Valley. She has dedicated her time and skills to fundraising and outreach efforts that support the early identification and treatment of developmental delays in infants and children. As a weekly volunteer to the development department, she offers much-needed administrative support to the fundraising team by preparing materials for events, helping process donations and pitching in however necessary to keep the department 

running smoothly. Annette is also responsible for organizing assessment kits so therapists can evaluate a child’s development and establish an individualized treatment plan. By ensuring these kits are complete and organized, therapists have the tools to assess a child’s skills and set therapeutic goals for their future. Her volunteerism helps make it possible for Easterseals DuPage & Fox Valley to serve 1,000 children each week across 64 communities.

As the mother of a child with cerebral palsy and a former Board member, Annette is an incredible ambassador for Easterseals. By sharing her personal experience and commitment, she inspires contributions that make a transformative impact on the organization. Annette also connects parent-to-parent and helps maintain a library of resources for families who are new to Easterseals. She helps parents, siblings and caregivers of children with disabilities find a community of support. She is thorough, dependable and uncompromising when it comes to the quality of her work and her dedication. Annette has logged more hours than any other volunteer within the organization, and is an integral part of the support system that helps build healthy families and empowers children to reach their goals.

Lisa Hickman

Lisa Hickman- Volunteer of the Week (April 26, 2021)

The Douglas-Hart Nature Center is a non-profit, foundation-owned Nature Center in Mattoon, IL. Lisa Hickman has been an active festival volunteer at the Douglas-Hart Nature Center, helping fill countless festival positions with her family, organize festival prep, make festival donations, and even help create and run entire stations for the Haunted Hike Festival. Haunted Hike is the center’s biggest event of the year, where they transform their trails into a family friendly haunted house setting (with a different theme each year) so families can walk through and create memories together.

On top of all her other duties, Lisa has also been a huge help in redoing the park benches at another one of their properties, the Friendship Garden. The Friendship Garden is a small plot of land inspired by the English Tea Gardens that the Founder, Hellen Douglas-Hart, loved in her travels. Families can come to go on picnics, do photography, have weddings, go on walks, or attend some of the events hosted at the property. Thanks to Lisa’s help and attention to quality and detail, families will have a wonderful place to sit and enjoy the gorgeous plants, trees, and atmosphere that the Friendship Garden has to offer for many years to come. The Douglas-Hart Foundation is so grateful for everything that Lisa has done. She has helped staff so much and impacted families in the community greatly.

Ed Rubio

Ed Rubio - Volunteer of the Week (April 19, 2021)

Ed Rubio has been an incredible addition to the Housing Forward volunteer team in Maywood, IL. Housing Forward’s mission is to transition people from housing crisis to housing stability. They offer a full range of programs and services that are participant centered, integrated, modeled using best practices, and designed to reduce the length of time and impact of trauma associated with homelessness and housing instability.

In January 2021, a team was formed to assist with heavy lifting and moving needs for the organization, and Ed has been there every step of the way since its creation. For such a new team, it is incredible to have his enthusiastic support and willingness to help whenever he is called upon. Ed’s work with Housing Forward varies depending upon their needs. For example, he often helps with moving heavy furniture from the basement to the attic and helps move boxes from one office to another. Whatever the job, he is always quick to respond and more than willing to help. Ed is a main part of the reason why this team has been so successful and Housing Forward can’t thank him enough for the service and dedication he has provided to both the organization and their community.

Jo Fredell Higgins

Jo Fredell Higgins - Volunteer of the Week (April 12, 2021)

Jo Fredell Higgins has generously contributed her time, energy, and expertise to the Aurora community since moving there in 1971. She has combined her passions for literature, photography, and service to positively impact the lives of thousands of area residents.

For more than three decades, Jo has selflessly sought to make a difference in the lives of Aurora area residents, especially immigrants and children, through the Adult Literacy program at Waubonsee Community College. She first started as a volunteer and then later became a program manager. Through her leadership, 1,000 adults and children learn the English language each year. Jo also chaired the Aurora Township Youth Commission for 20 years and was named Chairman Emeritus by the Aurora Township Board of Trustees in January 2017.

She has been equally committed to the research and preservation of local history. She served 16 years as Chairman of the City of Aurora’s Grand Army of the Republic Commission, volunteered at the Aurora Historical Society, and has published texts on the unique history of communities such as Aurora, Naperville, DeKalb, Geneva and Montgomery.

Michael Sehr

Michael Sehr - Volunteer of the Week (April 5, 2021)

The John Howard Association (JHA) independently monitors correctional facilities, policies and practices, and advances reforms needed to achieve a fair, humane and effective criminal justice system. Their work drives change that improves the lives and outcomes for people in prison, and demands better use of limited taxpayer-funded resources. The organization reads every letter and email sent to them, and listens to all voicemails. In a typical year, JHA receives over 5,000 letters from prisoners as well as hundreds of calls and emails from their loved ones and advocates. Until the offices closed, Michael volunteered on a weekly basis, reading letters, researching and 

identifying accurate information, and drafting thorough responses. As a retired attorney, Michael has been assigned letters with more complex legal and non-legal questions as well as those that require a sophisticated understanding of statutes.

Prior to his volunteering with JHA, Michael regularly interviewed prisoners as part of lawsuits brought by the Uptown People’s Law Center. Building on that, he began volunteering with JHA three years ago, and since that time has continued to demonstrate a significant commitment to the people incarcerated across Illinois. His unique, holistic approach to writing letters and responses to prisoners involves going to great lengths to understand not only what the letter-writer is asking for, but also to pinpoint information that could make the difference for each individual.

In reading the letters, and visiting the facilities Michael has become passionate about prisoner access to legal information. Prior to the pandemic, Michael regularly participated in monitoring visits to state prisons, and during a visit would independently investigate the quality of each prison law library, interview staff and prisoners to identify the available resources and ways in which unmet needs impact people reliant on the library to further their cases.

Michael is a lifelong Chicagoan and a graduate of Loyola University and the University of Chicago Law School. His 40-year legal career included litigating cases in trial and appellate courts throughout the United States as well as serving as a senior officer in a major insurance company. Michael has also been an active volunteer with Interfaith Action Evanston soup kitchens and overnight shelters. Michael and his wife, Lisa, are also active members of the Jewish Reconstructionist Congregation of Evanston, most recently organizing the synagogue’s participation in the “Walk for Warmth” fundraiser for Evanston’s Emergency Overnight Shelter. Michael is a student at Northwestern University’s Osher Lifelong Learning Institute where he’s leads classes on World War II and the American Civil War.

Saretha Russell

Saretha Russell - Volunteer of the Week (March 29, 2021)

Saretha Russell is an exceptional volunteer who is admired for her hard work, team play, and positive attitude while serving at the Seasoned Circle Café located in East St. Louis, IL. Saretha is an AmeriCorps member for Lessie Bates Davis Neighborhood House, a United Methodist Community Center.

Many restaurants, grocery stores, and other outlets for food and essential items have been negatively impacted the COVID-19 pandemic, but that does not stop the fire and passion burning in Saretha’s heart. She remains a valuable asset and team player to the Seasoned Circle Café. Days after many sites and agencies shut down, Saretha remained committed by continually serving at the Café. At the café, she prepares well over 150 meals a day for the 

seniors that reside in the St. Clair county area. Saretha stated that, “We must take care of our seniors and we have to show them that we are there for them even if the doors are shut.”

Saretha is the first to show up and the last to leave, bringing her radio with her every day to make sure that she and others are dancing and boosting energy while serving. Many employees at the Café have stated that Saretha is a joy to have in the kitchen and that her happy spirit makes the days go by quicker. Saretha loves serving for AmeriCorps because she loves to serve and doing so makes her happy.

Hilary Graham

Hilary Graham - Volunteer of the Week (March 22, 2021)

Hillary Graham is a Cat Care volunteer with The Anti-Cruelty Society in Chicago. The Anti-Cruelty Society is a comprehensive animal welfare organization whose mission is to build a community of caring by helping pets and educating people. Hilary is an exceptional volunteer who has attended various cat socialization projects like: High Arousal Play, Spa Treatment, and In-Kennel Clicker (cat) training.

Hillary has an indomitable will to help the cats in their care remain social and her efforts 

greatly improves their chances of being adopted. Since attending the different trainings listed above, Hillary is now eligible to work in their Cat Rehabilitation Ward, where she puts her skills and boundless love for homeless cats to top use in a sensitive and difficult program.

Despite the often difficult situations volunteers find themselves in when devoting help in these tense areas, Hillary always maintains a bright, friendly and funny personality and this helps attendant staff just as well. Hillary is also a Foster Program volunteer and joined the COVID-19 Emergency Response Volunteer team. It is no surprise she is doing just as well as in these brave endeavors as well.

Sarah Dynia

Sarah Dynia- Volunteer of the Week (March 15th, 2021)

In November of 2010, Sarah Dynia founded her own nonprofit organization, Stuffed Love, in Oak Lawn, IL. Although she was only in eighth grade, she recognized the importance of service and how she could contribute something to help others in need. Stuffed Love’s mission is to share “that little bit of hope” through hand-stitched heart pillows to all those that need it. Now, over 10 years later, Stuffed Love has continued to distribute thousands of hand-stitched pillows each year. So far, Stuffed Love has partnered with many organizations across the country and shared that little bit of hope with veterans, individuals with developmental disabilities, those facing economic difficulties, and more.

Currently, Stuffed Love’s biggest project is working with Conquering CHD, a national organization dedicated to support and advocacy for individuals and families affected by congenital heart defects. The hand-stitched heart pillows are distributed to 14 states in their Conquering CHD Kits and are used to prop up IVs, provide comfort after heart surgery, and as a treasured memento for the difficult times the family has survived. In addition to Stuffed Love, Sarah continues to volunteer in her community through organizations like the White Sox Volunteer Corps and Hugh O’Brian Youth Leadership program (HOBY). Her most important mission is to continue sharing that little bit of hope as a volunteer, community member, and aspiring physician. Sarah was also recently the winner of the Cook County Commission on Women’s Issues Unsung Heroine Award.

Kurt Mohr

Kurt Mohr- Volunteer of the Week (March 8th, 2021)

Kurt Mohr is the quintessence of a volunteer who gives for all the right reasons. After successfully completing Literacy Volunteers of Illinois’ required training in September of 2019, he started volunteering for the Jump Start tutoring program. He works with incarcerated youth at IYC-Warrenville. Kurt started out committing to 2 hours a week, but he enjoyed the experience so much he then signed on to 4 

hours weekly. Now Kurt is serving as an AmeriCorps member, tutoring the youth at IYC-Warrenville 10 hours a week.

Kurt usually helps the youth with Math and Science. He says, “Math was always particularly difficult for me in school, and I went to college ill prepared for the math requirements of my chemistry major.” He took remedial math in college and goes on to say that “because it was so difficult, I can often understand where our students have problems… the same places I did.” The 1 to 1 interaction with students is what Kurt finds most rewarding especially when “they suddenly understand something they didn’t before.” Every day after working with the kids, Kurt says, “I feel a little younger than when I walked in!”

Kurt’s humility and humor define him. He is patient and passionate about tutoring the youth and guiding them toward a better future. Kurt is also a CASA volunteer and serves as an ELL tutor mentoring a young man from Venezuela who recently immigrated to the U.S. Kurt’s gifts are our treasures. LVI is grateful for all his hard work, and we are fortunate to have Kurt on our team!

Jessie Meyer

Jessie Meyer - Volunteer of the Week (March 1st, 2021)

Jessie Meyer has been an active volunteer at the Share Food Share Love Food Pantry since its inception in December 2015. She has done intake for client registration, stocked shelves, received deliveries and picked up donations, coordinated fundraising, cleaned, carried food, assisted clients, and taken phone calls. If it needs to be done, Jessie will do it. She is kind and sweet, sensitive and respectful. Clients often remark on her warmth. She also manages the Pantry Facebook page.

When COVID-19 shut many pantries down and kept many of the regular volunteers at home due to being higher risk, Jessie stepped up and helped recruit and train new volunteers, along with continuing to ensure that everyone was working in a safe environment. She championed a new process allowing clients to stay in their cars while required registration information was taken and she worked tirelessly to make sure that those in need of food assistance still continued to receive the much needed food.

She has juggled hours to her own work schedule as a hair stylist and part-time nanny to be able to pick up food every week and be at the twice weekly distributions. Her organizational strengths have proved invaluable in keeping the pantry operations running smoothly, even in the face of ever-changing pandemic challenges.

Jessie has always had a passion for helping those in need. At the Share Food Share Love Food Pantry, she puts the safety of both volunteers and clients at the forefront of everything she does. She is looking forward to the day when clients again can be invited back inside to choose their own food. Until then, she will continue to pack the bags with the food that she hopes everyone will use to keep themselves well fed and healthy.

Herman Barnett

Herman Barnett - Volunteer of the Week (February 22, 2021)

Herman Barnett is 71 years young and has been a Foster Grandparent for 6 years. AmeriCorps Seniors volunteers who serve within the Foster Grandparent program provide the kind of comfort and love that sets a child on a path to a successful future within their communities. Herman serves at Mt. Vernon, a Chicago Public School on the far southwest side of the city 5 days a week for 30 or more hours a week. Herman assists the teaching staff in the classrooms by mentoring and tutoring students in 2nd-8th grade.

Herman’s presence has had a positive impact on the children at his site, especially with the boys he tutors and mentors, acting as a strong black role model for them. He helps the children set educational goals, work through conflict resolution, and also coaches the boys and girls basketball teams at the school and the students who participate in the Special Olympics. Herman sacrifices his time on the weekend to attend games and other recreational activities with the students and staff as well. Herman also makes time to talk to students about important life choices and shares his own experiences on growing up in Chicago’s south side. Not only is he loved and respected by the students, but the teachers and community also love and appreciate his energy and dedication to the school.

Shriya Mehta

Shriya Mehta - Volunteer of the Week (February 16, 2021)

Shriya Mehta is the founder of PERIOD @ Hinsdale, IL, a chapter of the national PERIOD non-profit organization that aims to combat period poverty through education, advocacy, and service in local communities. Although she is only 16, Shriya has a relentless determination 

to beat period poverty in the city and surrounding suburbs of Chicago.

Period poverty refers to an individual’s inability to afford or access feminine hygiene products, and it is a prominent, yet highly under recognized problem around the world. Research has shown that 1 in every 5 menstruators in the United States suffers from this problem, even though it arises from a natural biological process. Those suffering from period poverty can miss critical periods of school, acquire permanent health issues, and even die from their inability to acquire feminine hygiene products. Shriya recognized that this problem was further exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic with higher populations of homeless individuals in Chicago and decided to take action by founding PERIOD @ Hinsdale.

In merely 6 months, Shriya raised over $1,550 and donated over 3,500 feminine hygiene products to those in need. She has communicated with and donated to several shelters to help homeless women and victims of domestic abuse in their monthly struggles with period poverty. Recently, she even organized a no-contact toiletry drive to collect over 600 toiletry items to donate to shelters during the holiday season. Overall, Shriya has shown a deep sense of commitment and passion to help those in need, even during this time of crisis with COVID-19. Shriya always puts others before herself and deserves to be recognized for her passion, irreplaceable leadership qualities, and dedication to give back to her own community.

Dr. Jarmese Sherrod

Dr. Jarmese Sherrod - Volunteer of the Week (February 8, 2021)

Dr. Jarmese Sherrod is a professor of Developmental English at Richland Community College in Decatur, IL, where she is an outstanding mentor, tutor, and cheerleader for her students. In addition to her work as an academic professional, she has also been an agent of selfless service in every community in which she resides. Dr. Sherrod is CEO of Sherrod’s Independent Mentoring Program (S.I.M.P., Inc.) that is operated for youth in grades 7-12, not only in Illinois, but also in Haiti. The goal of her program is to empower youth to become future leaders. These leaders learn character development, career planning, resume writing, team building, accountability, and community service skills necessary to become 

contributing members of society. 100% of the girls in the S.I.M.P., Inc. program have graduated high school.

Dr. Sherrod is also the youth leadership program facilitator for a local organization with over 100 high school members. This program is designed to develop young leaders throughout the county to provide leadership opportunities of service to their communities. The program is 100% student-led in all aspects and is so popular that there is a waitlist to get in. In her spare time, Dr. Sherrod works with high school students interested in joining the military to prepare for and pass the ASVAB test. Dr. Sherrod gives much of her time to helping others become a better version of themselves and to have opportunities to better their lives. Even with caring for two children of her own and working a full-time job in education, Dr. Sherrod gives her personal time to be a part of the lives of the youth in her community on a daily basis.

Roblyn Jones

Roblyn Jones - Volunteer of the Week (February 1, 2021)

Roblyn Jones is a caring, helpful, and dedicated AmeriCorps member with the Lessie Bates Davis Seasoned Circle Café. 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 to help move individuals and families out of poverty.

Roblyn volunteers in the Seasoned Circle Café located in East St. Louis, Illinois and provides a 

variety of services to enhance the senior program.

The Café serves as a center for senior citizens to join in fellowship, build friendships, and enjoy recreational activities and hot meals. At the Café, Roblyn helps to assist with implementing activities that are engaging to senior citizens, serves meals, greets the senior citizens and their guests, and also helps keeps the Café clean and free of debris. The senior citizens at the Café all described Roblyn as kind, friendly, and lively. A few of the citizens have went on to say that Roblyn is the perfect host for Bingo because makes the game more fun and friendly.

During her previous years of service, Roblyn has provided outstanding assistance to the East Saint Louis School District’s After School 21st Century Program, LBDNH Day Care Center, and the agency’s Providing a Sure Start Program (PASS). Roblyn has also been an active participant in LBDNH’s yearly Back to School Program. Roblyn can be seen sitting and talking with the senior citizens and often engages in games and recreational activities.

Roblyn serves faithfully in her church and is an integral part of The Purpose Church in Madison, Illinois. Roblyn states that she loves being at the Seasoned Circle Café and volunteering at the Café has had a huge impact on her commitment to serving others. She plans to channel her love for service by achieving her lifetime goal of becoming a nurse.

Lou Stanke

Lou Stanke - Volunteer of the Week (January 25, 2021)

The Douglas-Hart Nature Center is a non-profit, foundation-owned Nature Center in Mattoon, IL. They have 2 miles of trails that travel through three different Illinois habitats: wetland, prairie, and woodlands, allowing families and the community to learn about nature, history, and 

spend time outdoors. The foundation also owns a tea garden and botanical garden in the local area.

Lou Stanke has dedicated well over 1400 hours to volunteering at the Douglas-Hart Foundation. He holds the standing for the most volunteer hours given out of any current volunteer at the Nature Center. Those hours have consisted of conservation work, special projects that have created helpful additions to the Nature Center (including a beautiful trellises for their butterfly garden, re-staining all of the Nature Center signs, and creating new signs for two of the foundation’s properties), countless festivals, special events (such as large volunteering fieldtrips for middle schoolers), and weekend hosting at least twice a month.

Weekend hosting is a crucial role that only certain volunteers can do. The Nature Center is open every day (aside from Sundays in the winter), but staff is normally only there Monday through Friday. Weekend hosts are key volunteers that give up part of their weekend so the Nature Center can be open to the community and looked after. Lou has allowed countless families to have access to the Nature Center, and the facilities and exhibits inside.

Lou is always known to be counted on when the foundation need a hand, even if it is on short notice due to unforeseen circumstances. He has been such a help to staff and the community, and the Nature Center could never thank him enough for all the help that he has given to them over the years.

Dr. Amit Sapra

Dr. Amit Sapra - Volunteer of the Week (January 19, 2021)

Dr. Amit Sapra is an assistant professor with the SIU School of Medicine in the Department of Family and Community Medicine in Springfield, Illinois. He has consistently worked with various volunteer organizations to improve people's health and well-being throughout his life. In 1985, as a 13-year-old, he became involved with "HelpAge India," a leading nongovernmental organization in India working for the disadvantaged elderly. Dr. Sapra was an active member for over 20 years, working with HelpAge's Mobile Healthcare program to provide sustainable healthcare solutions to the elderly and their communities where none was available.

In 2001 while working as an Orthopedic Surgery Resident in Delhi, India, one of the most devastating earthquakes hit western India. In addition to killing more than 20,000 people and injuring over 150,000, the quake left hundreds of thousands homeless. Dr. Sapra quickly organized a rescue medical team. He set up a mobile clinic and operation theater to treat patients who had suffered multiple musculoskeletal injuries and provided them constant care for weeks.

In 1995, following the Global Polio Eradication Initiative of the World Health Organization (WHO), India launched Pulse Polio immunization. Dr. Sapra was an active volunteer of the program, carrying out additional rounds of immunization for rapidly enhancing herd immunity against the deadly virus. He faced innumerable instances where he had to walk miles into India's remote villages without transportation. He worked with the program from 1997-2010 before he moved to the U.S. Due to the heroic efforts of healthcare workers like him, India was declared Polio free in 2011.

As a health care worker, Dr. Sapra recognizes that his primary obligation is to provide urgent medical care during disasters. Today amidst the COVID-19 pandemic, Dr. Sapra has tested hundreds of people with suspected symptoms of COVID-19 and continues to provide care for hospitalized patients at Memorial Medical Center and at SIU’s outpatient clinic. Dr. Sapra also plays a vital role in supporting current state efforts to stop the spread of the virus. He actively engages with and empowers everyday Illinoisans across the state to assist in COVID-19 outreach and prevention efforts. Naturally, he has been designated as the Illinois COVID-19 Prevention Ambassador by the Illinois government.

Rohan Jaiswal

Rohan Jaiswal - Volunteer of the Week (January 11, 2021)

Rohan Jaiswal is a Neuqua Valley High School senior who volunteers by donating books through the organization My Book Wish, founded by the Jaiswal family. Since its creation in 2015, the My Book Wish organization has been working to redistribute books from affluent areas to underprivileged communities across Illinois in an attempt to bridge the gap in educational inequality. Since 2017, Rohan has been working to complete this mission as the president of My Book Wish alongside two friends, Elijah Darden and Namish Kaistha, also Neuqua Valley High School seniors.

The process begins with the collecting of the books, which is facilitated through book drives at local schools and libraries. The books are then sorted and allocated for donation based on age, reading level, theme, and condition. Finally, Rohan works with Elijah and Namish to coordinate donations to those in need across Illinois. My Book Wish has thus far donated nearly 4,000 books to schools, orphanages, and other nonprofit organizations for further distribution. Rohan has even coordinated a donation with Action in Africa to send books to Uganda! Regardless of where the donations go, the objective remains the same: spreading the joy of reading.

Patricia Taylor

Patricia Taylor - Volunteer of the Week (January 4, 2021)

Patricia Taylor’s dedication and commitment to serving others resulted in hundreds of masks getting made and delivered to healthcare workers and nursing homes in O’Fallon, IL. She put in many hours creating each mask by hand – from the design pattern, to selecting material, to the actual sewing, and then finally mailing them out to those working on the frontlines and at a high risk of exposure. She also sent out the 

pattern she used over Facebook in order to inspire others to make masks if they had the means to and help in the fight against the spread of COVID-19.

Pat always volunteers her time in numerous capacities – such as her role in local rotary organization support and by acting as a mentor to others. Her contributions have made a powerful and lasting impression on all. She is a quintessential ambassador for her community and a positive role model for all. Her personal commitment to the morale of others is insurmountable and proven by her volunteering countless hours over the past five years. She also regularly provides support to the underprivileged. She has proven time and time again that she will donate her free time in order to help others. Her unconditional and continuous community service and volunteerism reflects her unselfish devotion to others and is in keeping with the highest traditions of service.