Volunteering is good for the soul. It improves your mood, lowers stress, and helps give you a better sense of meaning in life. It’s also a great way to meet people and engage with your community if you’re new to a city like Chicago.
These are a few of the most fulfilling volunteer opportunities in Chicago.
Chicago’s public school system is overcrowded and underfunded as a whole, but its low-income students are the most disadvantaged. Only about two-thirds of these students go on to attend college and even fewer finish their degrees. That’s where Minds Matter comes in. This nonprofit aims to help motivated students who are at a disadvantage get accepted to four-year universities. The program has been a major success, with every single student being admitted to college each year so far. Minds Matter takes volunteers to act as mentors and test prep instructors for a period of at least one academic year, although they prefer three-year commitments. Sessions are held on Saturdays and volunteers are expected to show up at least 80% of the time. There are no specific requirements listed to become a volunteer, although you should be comfortable presenting a high school-level curriculum to a group with confidence.
PAWS has been at the heart of Chicago’s animal welfare system since it was founded in 1997. The rescue’s adoption center in Lincoln Park is one of the first places most Chicagoans go to look for a new furry family member. There’s also a clinic on the west side of the city where low-income families can bring their pets for medical services such as spay and neuter surgeries.
This is one of the most popular volunteer opportunities in Chicago, so sometimes the waitlist to become an active member is a few months long. However, once you’re accepted and complete a training session, you’ll be able to sign up for shifts in the dog or cat wing of the adoption center. Tasks might include caring for the animals, cleaning cages, and introducing eligible candidates to families looking to adopt. Stick around for long enough and you could even be promoted to more senior levels with mentorship opportunities.
One reason PAWS is so popular among volunteers is that it’s a great opportunity for those who want to own pets but can’t because of their living situation. If you find yourself wishing you could bring a dog or cat home with you, it might be time to reevaluate your lease. Apartment companies like Blueground make it easy to find pet-friendly apartments through the filters on their website.
The Chicago Park District is the largest in the U.S., with 600 parks spanning 8,800 acres. These parks aren’t just made up of grass; they also include 26 miles of lakefront beaches with dozens of swimming areas. Anyone in Chicago that loves being outdoors can take advantage of these public spaces on their own or sign up for recreational activities like sports teams, fitness classes, and summer camps.
Managing all of these community spaces takes quite a lot of manpower, which creates plenty of volunteer opportunities in the Chicago parks. At the conservatories, you could find yourself caring for plants or working as a beekeeper. Those with a knack for public speaking might enjoy becoming a tour guide. There are also many long and short-term openings for stewardship over specific areas, including community cleanup days.
More than 25% of children in Chicago are overweight or obese, significantly higher than the national average of 17%. Purple Asparagus is trying to fix that with its nutritional education program, Delicious Nutritious Adventures. The program is a monthly classroom experience that teaches students how to make a simple healthy recipe, such as carrot tacos. Tens of thousands of children have gone through the program since 2011.
Purple Asparagus relies on volunteers to run its program, so there is a wide range of opportunities available. Classroom instructors and assistants work directly with the children to lead programs. There are also needs behind the scenes in developing curriculum and fundraising. If you’re looking to donate a specific talent, the organization is always open to help in creative and administrative areas.
The poverty cycle is an unavoidable topic in Chicago, and disadvantaged women often find themselves unable to break out of their situation. Dress for Success is an organization that began on Chicago’s South Side and has now become global. Its main purpose is to give impoverished women professional clothing and the confidence that they need to get a job and secure financial independence.
At a basic level, Dress for Success is always seeking donations of professional clothing. However, if you’re able to give your time, the Suiting Program is a great opportunity to mentor women as a stylist or makeup artist. The organization’s career center seeks volunteers to critique resumes and conduct mock interviews. To get even more involved, become a mentor or speaker on topics where you have expertise.
As its name implies, the Cradles to Crayons mission is to provide low-income and homeless children with everything they need to succeed from birth to age 12. Donations of clothing, toys, books, and other essentials are collected and distributed in the form of care packages that are tailored to each individual child.
Chicago volunteer opportunities with Cradles for Crayons fall into two main categories. First is the Giving Factory, or the large donation center where items are inspected, categorized, and divided into packages. Second, the organization encourages community volunteer work, namely organizing drives to collect items for donation. The Cradles to Crayons website provides ample ideas and resources for how to organize a successful drive.
Whether you’re hoping to meet new people, get more fulfillment out of life, or simply give back to the community, there are plenty of organizations in Chicago that need your volunteer hours. These are just a few examples, so if nothing on this list appeals to you, try looking for opportunities through Chicago Cares. This organization connects local nonprofits in need of volunteers like you.