By Susan D. Peters
Annually during the month of May, just as the ground becomes warm enough to plant and spring cleanings are in order, the University of Chicago Medicine’s Office of Community Affairs, hosts a Day of Service and Reflection on Chicago’s South Side. The program, started by First Lady Michelle Obama while an executive at UChicago Medicine, aims to connect employees of the medical center, to community assets in their service area. This year the program that started modestly fourteen years ago with 35 employees going to a handful of sites, has expanded to 326 employees traveling to 26 sites in 10 Aldermanic Wards. The projects typically are gardening, painting, cleaning, food pantry work, and cooking. The magic happens when a service project is magnified because an employee or group of employees wants to do more.
Six years ago the Radiology Department from the University of Chicago Medicine, adopted the Olive Branch Mission, at 2600 West on Marquette Road, as a focus for their community engagement. They have gone to the mission annually on the day of service throughout the year to help wherever they could. “We have had sock-and-underwear drives, coat drives, and most recently a personal hygiene drive that raised $800 to provide sorely needed hygienic necessities,” says Stefanie Manack the Radiology Team Leader for the Day of Service.
Last year at the pre-DOSAR site visit, a Mission coordinator mentioned that the lighting in the dining room, while attractive, was expensive to run because it wasn’t energy efficient and they spent a lot of money replacing the bulbs. Stefanie mentioned it to her husband who works for a major electrical supplier and he sprang into action making contacts and convincing a team of his electrician colleagues at Aldridge Electric in Libertyville, Illinois to donate their free time on wiring and installation.
The result is that last weekend, while twenty members of the Radiology team, worked on a variety of tasks, the Oliver Branch Mission, which serves the homeless and forgotten, received a gift of 17 energy-efficient ballast lights. The fixtures and bulbs were generously donated by ConneXion Electrical and Energy Business Solutions in Buffalo Grove, Illinois.
“This is not an anomaly,” says Leif Elsmo, the Executive Director of the Office of Community Affairs, the group that bears responsibility for the smooth execution of the service day. “Our employees often return to donate clothing, to volunteer and sometimes to make good things happen for community organizations. We have had employees so inspired by their service that they have purchased large appliances, our Information Systems group has repaired and updated an organization’s computer equipment, and we have had a volunteer work with a team cleaning and organizing a community space to later decide to purchase wall to wall carpeting to make the space complete. That’s what makes this project exceed our expectations year over year,”
As we look at the challenges in funding for grassroots community organizations, the mobilization of corporate and private groups connecting with assets in the community can make a real difference to those serving our South Side neighbors.