Ideas for Volunteering for Unity Parenting and Counseling, Inc.
Thank you so much for reaching out to us today with your desire to volunteer. All of our programs are located on the South Side of Chicago in the following neighbourhoods: Greater Grand Crossing, Auburn Gresham, Englewood, South Shore and Woodlawn. Our administrative office is located on the near South Side, on Cermak Road, wedged between Chinatown and Pilsen.
Here is a description of some ways that you could help:
1. Become a foster parent!
If you are interested in opening up your home to house an infant, toddler, child, or a teenager who has been abused and/or neglected by their families, you could make an incredible difference in a child’s life! This is a program that is funded by Illinois DCFS. It pays a monthly stipend and it would require that your home become licensed as a foster home. For more detailed information on how to become a foster parent, please call Keesha Brooks, Foster Care Licensing Representative, 312.455.0007, ext: 658.
2. Lead a drive, in your religious congregation or in your community, for items that our Ujima Village Youth Shelter needs!
The City of Chicago’s funding for our new youth emergency shelter does not provide for everything that our youth need, like underwear, hygiene products, and oatmeal. Attached is a list of these items. We are also trying to raise funds to replace the shelter’s cots with sturdier beds, since the cots are breaking and recently we have had to turn youth away because of broken cots. Sometimes a leader can encourage a friendly competition, like when a men’s group or ministry competes with the women’s group or ministry to see which group can bring in more donations! A leader can get youth groups involved too. Unity staff can support you in this effort by coming out to your community group or house of worship and doing an educational presentation about youth homelessness. Sometimes our staff can get some of the youth we serve to join us in giving these presentations. When scheduling a presentation, please call to schedule at least two weeks in advance.
3. Provide a meal for our Ujima Youth Shelter!
If you are a licensed caterer or if your congregation or community group has a licensed kitchen, you could provide occasional evening meals for Ujima. Because of our shelter’s licensing and that fact that Ujima does not have a licensed kitchen on the premises, all food prepared for Ujima has to be prepared and cooked off-site in a licensed, professional kitchen and brought to the shelter around 8:30PM. Ujima staff is available to reheat the food in an oven at the shelter, so long as the food is in re-heatable catering pans. Unfortunately, we are not permitted to accept any home-cooked meals or any potluck foods. We also do not have staff available to do food pick-ups from other locations. If you are interested in this opportunity, please call to schedule the meal you are preparing with at least two weeks advance notice to give our staff time to cancel our regular, hired, catering service for that night.
4. Donate specific clothing items or furniture!
Unity Parenting’s programs do not always need clothing or furniture, but occasionally there is a specific need. For example, we recently needed a baby-changing table for our Administrative office, new fire extinguishers for our shelter, and we needed very small (smaller than a card table) dinette sets for the Harmony Village program. Every winter, we need gender neutral hoodies in gang neutral colors; heavy, water-proof gloves; gender-neutral, quilted puffy coats; and skull caps for our Ujima Village Shelter. Occasionally, we are in need of infant and toddler clothing and toys for the Harmony program and for Foster Care. We always can use culturally appropriate, Afro-centric, books and DVDs for all ages. We frequently need very conservative, job interview clothes in all sizes for all genders, especially dress shirts, blazers, and suits. If you are interested in donating clothing, please call us to see what we need before bringing clothes. Please always sort the clothing before bringing it, only bring the items that we can use, and make sure that the clothing is freshly laundered and in like-new condition. We do not have storage space to hold on to clothing that is out of season or clothing that we don’t have an immediate need for.
5. Provide childcare for two hours on a weekday evening!
From time to time, we hold educational groups at Harmony Village where only the teen parents can participate. Having a bunch of toddlers running around playing can be very disruptive while the teens are trying to learn in a group setting how to write a resume, budget their money, or how to find an apartment! It is wonderful when volunteers are available to provide child care during these groups so that the teen parents have an opportunity to learn without constant distractions.
6. Lead an art or life skill group!
Every night at the Ujima Village Shelter we conduct an informal, voluntary group to teach the youth a basic skill. Sometimes we play a card game with the youth to teach them “soft skills” like sportsmanship. Other times, we teach them specific hard skills, like how to get into a youth transitional living program or how to fill out a job application. Groups can also have an arts and crafts theme. If you are interested in leading a group, think about a specific skill that you would like to teach to a group of young adults. Unity Parenting’s staff can help you craft a group activity out of this skill and can be present when you lead the group to assist you.
7. Help clean the Ujima Village Shelter!
Every night there are blankets and sheets that have to be laundered, floors that have to be mopped, and bathrooms that have to be cleaned. If you are interested in helping out with cleaning the shelter at night, or in organizing a group to come in during the day when the shelter is closed to conduct a special cleaning of the facilities, please contact Unity Parenting’s staff to make arrangements.
8. Use a specialized skill!
Have you ever organized a fund raising event (like a golf outing or a casino night) or a gala? Are you a therapist? Do you know a lot about social media or technology? Are you an artist? Are you a seamstress, a carpenter, or a house painter? Do you knit, crochet, or quilt? Have you ever written a grant proposal? Could you tutor a young person in math, the Spanish language, or in writing skills? Let us know what your special skills you have and we will try to find a way to utilize that skill!
9. Hire our youth!
Many of our youth are seeking entry-level employment. If your workplace has an open position for an entry-level worker, please let us know. Describe what the position entails and we will try to match that with a young person who can do the job. A number of our youth are also interested in temp or seasonal work, paid internships or apprenticeships.
10. Help chaperone on a field trip!
Whenever there is an opportunity, we take groups of youth to cultural, artistic, and advocacy events. At least once annually, we take the youth to the State Capitol in Springfield, Illinois. We try to keep a ratio of one adult chaperone for every eight youth. Chaperones help the youth stay together as a group, role model appropriate behaviour, and help expedite the trip.
11. Throw a holiday party for our foster children or one of our homeless youth programs!
The winter holidays can be a very difficult time for the children and youth we serve who are estranged from their families and often feel very alone and left out. Getting an individual, a congregation, or a business to sponsor a holiday party for our young people can send a message to them that they are not forgotten, that they are valuable, and the people care about them. A party is more than presents, snacks and games. A party gives our children and youth a chance to experience the normalcy of participating in holiday celebrations that most privileged children in loving homes take for granted.
12. Help with administrative clerical support!
Our administrative office often has need of volunteer receptionists, persons to do clerical work, as well as persons sort donations and to deliver the donations to the programs.
13. Become a Volunteer Driver!
We love it when we can take our homeless youth on group field trips to art and cultural events, to museums, to sporting events, and to speaking engagements in congregations or with public officials. The availability and the cost of transportation can be a big barrier to participation. Presently, Unity Parenting and Counseling, Inc. does not own a bus or van. Sometimes public transportation is simply not feasible. Signing up to become a regular volunteer who would be willing to drive youth to these opportunities would open the door for more youth to be able to participate.
14. Sponsor a birthday celebration for our homeless youth or a homeless child!
Many of our homeless youth are totally estranged from their families. Many of our youth feel that no one cares about them unless they are staff who are “paid to care.” When their birthday comes around, there is no adult in their lives to give them a birthday cake or any presents. Some of our youth have known other youth who have died very young, often at the hands of gang violence. In this context of trauma and loss, many of our youth struggle to believe that they, themselves, have a future. Our homeless teen parents also struggle with having enough resources to provide birthday celebrations for their small children. Volunteers can help fill this need by sponsoring the birthdays of our children and youth. Staff will gladly supply volunteers with the details of what is needed.
Please think these ideas over! For regular volunteering in any of our youth programs, a criminal background check and a T.B. test will be required. Thank you for your interest in Unity Parenting and Counseling and I look forward to hearing from you again soon!
Unity Parenting & Counseling, Inc.
600 W Cermak Road, Suite 300
Chicago, IL 60616
Office: 312.455.0007, Fax: 312.435.0043