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TODAY

Monday, May 20

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Polls reveal some of the most popular New Year's resolutions include spending more time with family and friends, enjoying life more, learning something new and helping others. But there is one way you can do all of the above, all at once: become a volunteer.

Volunteers are essential to many organizations. Obviously, volunteers help extend the resources of the organization. But volunteers also act as ambassadors for an organization to a community, raising awareness and increasing an organization's impact on a community.

Volunteering is often most rewarding when you can perform meaningful work for a cause or issue you care about. So, think about your own interests and talents. Decide what kinds of organizations you want to get involved with. And consider your schedule and how much time you have to give before looking for an organization or making a commitment.

Organizations need people for a wide variety of tasks, projects and events. You might design an organization's website, prepare meals at a shelter, teach photography at a youth center, lead a nature hike or join a neighborhood clean-up project. No matter what you do, volunteering provides opportunities to learn new skills, explore different career options and gain valuable experience.

Make good on those resolutions this year and give back to your community through voluntary service. The following resources may help you find the right match for your talents and availability.

Directories

ChicagoVolunteer.net
This site may be the only one you need to find a perfect match for your talents. Search a database of thousands of volunteer opportunities with hundreds of organizations throughout the Chicago area. Browse listings sorted by causes, such as crisis intervention, ethnic organizations or womens' services. Limit your search to parts of the city or suburban counties. And, whether you're looking for a one-time event or a weekly activity, you may also narrow your search by the time commitment required.

Chicago Cares
Chicago Cares is a non-profit organization that matches individuals and groups with volunteer programs across Chicagoland. Visit the website to find out about upcoming orientation sessions and current service projects.

Volunteer Match
"Get out. Do good." That's the motto of this non-profit group "dedicated to helping everyone find a great place to volunteer." Just enter your zipcode to begin browsing hundreds of volunteer opportunities in your area.

Still not sure where to begin? The following list provides just a tiny sampling of local organizations that rely on volunteer support. Find a cause or service area that sparks your interest and go from there.

Animals

Lincoln Park Zoo
If you have ever wanted to lead a tour or answer questions about animal habitats, hurry and sign up to be a zoo volunteer. Docent training for 2005 begins soon!

Save-A-Pet
Love caring for pets and animals? Consider volunteering at this non-profit, no-kill shelter in northwest suburban Grayslake. They need people for a wide variety of positions, from dog walkers to fund raisers.

Arts/Cultural

City of Chicago Greeter Program
Are you "an enthusiastic Chicagoland resident" with in-depth knowledge of areas of interest in the city? Then consider becoming an official Chicago Greeter. Get to show off your favorite neighborhoods and places to visitors and new residents.

The Goodman Theatre
The folks at the Goodman Theatre exclaim they "can always use an extra pair of hands." Visit the website to find out how to help.

Education/Literacy

Literacy Chicago
Literacy Chicago provides tuition-free classes and tutoring in reading, math and grammar for adult learners. They depend on volunteer support and have a wide variety of opportunities available.

Environment

Chicagoland Environmental Network (CEN)
The Chicagoland Environmental Network represents over 300 local environmental and natural resource organizations. Search their database to find dozens of volunteer opportunities from environmental advocacy to recycling to administrative help.

Chicago Botanic Garden
Become a volunteer at the Chicago Botanic Garden. Dozens of opportunities are available in education, horticulture, visitor services and more.

Kids

Big Brothers Big Sisters of Metropolitan Chicago
More than 200 children are waiting for mentors in the Chicago area. Visit their website to find out how you can help.

Boys and Girls Clubs of Chicago
For just a couple hours a week, you can be a computer instructor, art instructor, coach or mentor with the Boys and Girls Clubs of Chicago.

Health

American Red Cross of Greater Chicago
As an American Red Cross volunteer you can make a difference by teaching health and safety courses, staffing blood drives, responding to disasters and much more. Visit the website for more information.

Hunger/Homeless

Greater Chicago Food Depository
Help the hungry in your community by volunteering for the Greater Chicago Food Depository or one of its dozens of pantries, soup kitchens, shelters and other related agencies.

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About the Author(s)

Alice Maggio is a real, live Chicago librarian. If you have topic ideas or questions you would like answered, send your suggestions to and it may be featured in a future column.

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