The Gift of Time: Volunteering Through Big Shoulders Fund

Big Shoulders Fund volunteers work on math skills with a St. Sylvester student during the Saturday morning tutoring program.

Volunteers are often the lifeblood of a school, providing skills, dedication, and time that otherwise would not be available. In turn, volunteers join in strengthening school communities across Chicago, broadening their own experience with the city.

Big Shoulders Fund offers a range of volunteer opportunities, with individuals serving as mentors, tutors, sports coaches, guest instructors, school board members, and more. The “Next Generation” of leaders who will guide Big Shoulders into the future includes two groups: the Auxiliary Board and the Chairmen’s Advisory Council.

The Auxiliary Board is now in its 12th year, with 200 (and growing) members who volunteer, fundraise, and publicize the Big Shoulders mission. This fall, the board is sharing its expertise through tutoring, test prep, essay review, and mock interviews across the Big Shoulders Fund network.

“St. Sylvester has benefitted from the generosity of numerous Big Shoulders Fund volunteers,” commented Principal Allyn Doyle. “From tutoring students in math and assisting teachers to landscaping, painting, and reorganizing classrooms, Big Shoulders volunteers have made a big difference in the quality of the education we offer to our students.”

Jeff Apel joined the Auxiliary Board in 2007 after seeking a charity focused on early education. “Big Shoulders stood out with its amazing leadership, impressive supporters, and great families,” he said. Apel joined the Epiphany Catholic School board in 2008 and is now its chair.

“My favorite thing about volunteering on the school board is being part of a team—the principal, teachers, parents, and other volunteers from the business community. Epiphany is in the top 10 schools for enrollment growth. One of the biggest drivers of that success is annual support from Big Shoulders.”

GATX employees, led by CEO Brian Kenney, installed new furniture at a school during a recent service day. GATX employees also mentor and tutor at their two Patron schools, Academy of St. Benedict the African and St. Margaret of Scotland.

Corporate Service Days offer companies a dedicated opportunity for a positive collective volunteering experience. Terry Donnelley, president and COO of ComEd and Big Shoulders Fund board member, recently brought 30 employees to Maternity BVM School for a day of service. Donnelley embraced the spirit of his surroundings by assuming the role of “principal” for the day, with the promise of a gold star or the threat of a detention based on effort.

The Chairmen’s Advisory Council (CAC) has grown to 160 members and aims to increase support for Big Shoulders and involvement of prospective board members. The CAC also supports the Chairmen’s Emergency Scholarship, which provides tuition assistance for families in crisis. In a new endeavor this summer, CAC hosted a Night at Wrigley. For each of the 225 tickets sold, the Chicago Cubs donated $5 to support the scholarship.

A fun program that benefits schools with financial support and the volunteers with some outdoor exercise is the Big Shoulders Fund Racing Team, which last year raised more than $100,000 at the Bank of America Chicago Marathon and the Chicago Half Marathon. This fall, 69 individuals were part of the Racing Team, up from 31 members in 2013.

Auxiliary Board member and engineer Chris Goebbert shares his love of the markets with St. Agnes School through the Big Shoulders Fund Stock Market Program, which brings business professionals into eighth grade classrooms to teach basic concepts related to the financial markets, personal savings and investing concepts, and careers in the financial industry. “I took an economics class in high school that taught me the basics of investing, and it forever changed my life financially,” noted Goebbert.

“I owe that teacher a lot and wish he knew the difference he made on my future. I hope some of the lessons in this program resonate with the kids. If I can make an impact on even one kid’s future the way my teacher did with me, my mission will be fulfilled.”

Goebbert also served as 2018 Big Shoulders Fund Ball Co-Chair.

For information about volunteer opportunities, contact Kevin Pitts, Assistant Director, Volunteerism and Engagement.

A Mentor Can Make All the Difference

A Mentor Can Make All the Difference

Every few weeks, Chicago attorney and entrepreneur Curtis Tarver has an important, can’t-miss meeting. The busy father of two young children picks up food and prepares for an agenda that might include anything from popular songs to favorite teachers or academic obstacles.

Tarver is a mentor to four middle school students through Big Shoulders Fund. Knowing some of the children in the program may lack a connection with an African-American male role model, he is committed to consistency. “If I say I’m going to show up, I show up,” he said. “Even without a specific script, it matters just that you’re there.”

Tarver is a big supporter of efforts to diversify the Big Shoulders organization, so when Big Shoulders President and CEO Joshua Hale mentioned the need to recruit more African-American men as mentors, Tarver organized an event at his South Loop brewery, Vice District Brewing. He invited a couple dozen friends with whom he regularly breakfasts to meet with Hale and Co-Chairman John Canning.

Curtis Tarver and mentoring group at Vice District Brewing“He has put his foot on the gas pedal for this,” said Hale, adding that many of the men Tarver invited to the event are now involved in Big Shoulders. “They’re doing it because they’re nice and civic-minded individuals, but also because a guy like Curtis is so well thought of, they thought, ‘If Curtis is involved, I should be involved as well.’”

Tarver said Big Shoulders Fund’s programming and purpose made it an easy sell to the group. They agreed, “It’s important for [the students] to see someone who looks like them and who can say to them, ‘I came from the same neighborhood you come from,’” Tarver explained. “It makes it a little more real for them.”

His own connection to Catholic schools goes back to childhood. “I’ve always been passionate about Catholic education. It had a big impact on my life,” said Tarver, who grew up in Morgan Park and attended Marian Catholic High School until his parents could no longer afford it. The transition he had to make after leaving Catholic school reinforced his desire to be involved with an organization that makes it possible for financially struggling families to keep their kids in a Catholic school.

After high school, Tarver graduated from Iowa State University and earned a law degree from the University of Iowa. He worked for a midsize law firm and in former Mayor Richard M. Daley’s office before starting his own law firm. Two years ago, he followed another passion and opened Vice District Brewing with a neighbor.

He started mentoring students through Big Shoulders at St. Elizabeth in Chicago’s Bronzeville neighborhood, the school his uncles and father also attended. He said the importance of a faith-based education was clear to his family even during times of hardship. “They were in housing projects, but they knew what they had to do to send their kids to St. Elizabeth,” he said.

For Tarver, mentoring is a way for him to repay those who saw something in him. “I always had someone who took me aside and said, ‘Hey, you’re a smart kid with a bad attitude’ and then helped keep me on the right path,” said Tarver, who lives in North Kenwood with his wife and children. “But these kids are far brighter than I was at their age. I’d be doing the entire world a disservice if I didn’t help out these kids, who are going to do really great things.”

National Mentoring Month

National Mentoring Month

This January is the 15th Annual National Mentoring Month, a campaign aimed at expanding quality mentoring opportunities to connect more of our community’s young people with caring adults.Big Shoulders Fund is proud to celebrate all of our amazing mentors.

Some of our favorite mentors have shared with Big Shoulders why they love to mentor with our students!

Meet Amy Drozda who is Big Shoulders Fund’s Director of Corporate Partnership and Outreach. This is Amy’s first year as a mentor. She mentors at St. Ailbe School on Chicago’s South Side to 6th grade Gallagher Scholars.

Why did you choose to become a mentor?
St. Ailbe Gallagher ScholarI chose to become a mentor because after working at the Big Shoulders Fund for eight years and completing my MBA I wanted to use my time to work directly with our students.  I am lucky to support our mission by organizing service days, working with our schools leadership and helping our amazing supporters get involved, but I have never gotten to spend time with the students.   The students are always the highlight of my visits and I was hoping by mentoring I could share some of the many things my parents blessed me with and interact with the students who I wake-up every day for.

What is your favorite thing about mentoring?
My favorite thing about meeting with my mentees is hearing their stories and what they are excited about.  They are so observant and always want to share.

When I went on a field trip with them it was neat to see how excited they were that I had come to spend time with them.  It was amazing to share our favorite exhibits and experience something together.

Sometimes it is hard to realize you are making a difference or if the time you go matters, but it does.

This fall at the high school fair I was fortunate enough to meet one of my mentee’s parents. I always thought he didn’t want to be there and was just like, here is Ms. Amy again. However, when I met his mom and introduced myself she hugged me hard and said, “ Oh, you are his mentor.  He talks about you all the time and is so excited after your visits.”  The students touch my life so much. I only hope that I am helping them too.