Need grows, but more people than ever are stepping up

Published: 4/30/2009 12:01 AM

Officials with the Volunteer Center of Northwest Suburban Chicago are seeing a double when it comes to the worsening economy.

On the one hand, the social service agencies they serve are being strained by an increase in demand - as much as 40 percent at two local food pantries. But Volunteer Center officials also are seeing more people calling to volunteer.

"As more people are getting frustrated with their job searches, and trying to stay busy, they are looking to do something constructive in their communities," says Mary Fitzgibbons, executive director of the Volunteer Center, based in Arlington Heights.

They are stepping up at a crucial time, she says, when they can fill the gaps, and provide badly needed energy and manpower, all at no extra cost to the organization.

"All are our agencies are getting hit in this economy," Fitzgibbons adds, "making volunteerism more important than ever."

That message will be at the center of Saturday's Volunteer Fest, 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. in the field house at Forest View Educational Center in Arlington Heights. Admission is free, but visitors are asked to bring in a nonperishable food item.

The event will put possible volunteers together with representatives from 30 nonprofit organizations, ranging from homeless shelters and hospitals to organizations that serve the disabled, Meals on Wheels and food banks.

Volunteer Center officials are drawing more people to seek out opportunities, driven in part by the weakened job market, Fitzgibbons says, but also in direct response to President Obama's call to action.

Last month, he signed the landmark National Service bill, designed to greatly expand government national-service and volunteer programs - like AmeriCorps VISTA, that partners with community agencies like the Volunteer Center to build community and bring low-income residents out of poverty.

"The response has been huge," Fitzgibbons says of the AmeriCorps VISTA openings in her office. "And they're people of all ages, not just those right out of college, and they're highly qualified."

At Saturday's festival families will find plenty to do, with games, face painting and prizes for children, as well as food for sale, and sample service projects on site, like writing letters to the troops and taking food pantry donations.

Long-standing volunteers, including Retired and Senior Volunteer Program (RSVP) members will be recognized in the theater, with awards to be presented to volunteers who demonstrated leadership, innovation, and made an impact in their community over the last year.

A fundraising concert featuring The Neverly Brothers, who play hits from the 1950s and '60s, will take place at 2:45 p.m. in the theater. Tickets are $15 for that event.

"We're trying to bring the whole community together," Fitzgibbons says, "to promote volunteerism in the community, and thank and recognize our volunteers."

Volunteer Fair

11 a.m.-5 p.m. Saturday, Forest View Educational Center, 2121 S. Goebbert Road, Arlington Heights.

• Cost: Free; donations for area food pantries requested.

• The Neverly Brothers play hits from the 50s and 60s at 2:45 p.m. concert in the theater; $20. Buy tickets on

• Awards for the outstanding volunteers of 2009.

• Recognition of volunteers with the Retired and Senior Volunteer Program.

• Games, face painting and prizes for children; food and drinks for sale.

•On site service projects, like writing letters to the troops and taking food pantry donations.

• More than 30 organizations on site to talk about their volunteer needs: Lutheran Church of the Cross; Read to Learn; Arlington Heights Senior Center; Escorted Transportation Services/NW; WINGS; Gigi's Playhouse; Lutheran Home; Sheila Ray Adult Center; Advocate Lutheran General Hospital; Journeys from PADS to HOPE; Schaumburg Township Disability Services; The Bridge; SuperSibs; Palatine Emergency Management; Center of Concern; NWSRA; Kenneth Young Center; Alexian Brothers Medical Center; Church Creek; Shelter Inc.; Red Cross; Jr. Achievement of Chicago; Clearbrook; Rainbow Hospice; PHD Counseling; Wheeling Township; GWYAO; Little City; NWCasa.