INGLESIDE – School may be out for the summer, but the parking lot of Ingleside’s Gavin South Middle School was filled with school buses on a chilly morning June 20.
The buses deposited more than 500 volunteers at the school, all of whom were greeted by raucous cheers and high-fives as they descended from the buses.
A short distance away, Gavin Elementary School District 37 Superintendent Julie Brua watched with a wide smile on her face. This day had been more than a year in the making for Gavin South, but she still couldn’t quite believe it was happening.
In the course of one day, the nearly 600 volunteers gave Gavin South a dream makeover, completing more than 50 projects on the school grounds, including painting murals along the hallways, building brand-new picnic tables and updating the landscaping.
The event was funded and staffed by Discover Cares, a volunteer program within Discover Financial Services whereby “nearly 70% of the company’s Riverwoods’ workforce participates in various community service projects throughout the year.” To execute the project, Discover partnered with Chicago Cares, a nonprofit organization dedicated to “mobiliz[ing] volunteers to build a stronger, more unified Chicago.”
“We were shocked, we were speechless,” Brua said of her reaction after discovering the breadth of the work the volunteers would be completing for the school. “We had no idea that it was as huge as it was.”
During the yearlong preparations for the June 20 work, Brua said students were consulted and asked for input as to what they would like to see done to their school.
“This is a big deal,” Brua said. “This is a huge deal for these kids to come into a building and feel inspired, to feel like they connect to the building, that they are a part of it. … I want the kids and the community to be really proud of their schools. They’ve worked very hard. Today’s an example of how those kids are gonna feel connected here, that it’s inspiring, that it’s hopeful, that it’s positive, but yet academic, too, so the balance between the two. I’m so excited about that.”
Volunteers quickly divided into their designated teams and got straight to work at their assigned work stations. Three workers stood in a stairwell sketching a mural they’d soon be painting over the plain, white brick wall: a green together paw clutching a banner bearing the letter ‘G’ for Gavin. Another volunteer traced a smattering of paw prints above a water fountain between restrooms. As they worked, the hum of a saw echoed down the hallway as more volunteers in multicolored T-shirts criss-crossed from one end of the school to another.
Among the volunteers was Discover Executive Vice President and Chief Information Officer Glenn Schneider, who was eager to find some gardening work to do outside.
“Volunteerism is one of our core values,” he said. “The group loves coming out and doing this, they love giving back to the community. … More importantly, when the kids come back in the fall to the school, they have a much better environment in which to learn, it’s more conducive to learning. They’re excited, they’ve got things they didn’t have before and that’s really where it all comes together. It’s for the kids and helping the kids and giving them a better environment to learn.”
Discover Cares has been doing work such as this at schools throughout the community for more than a decade, Schneider said.
This is not the first time Discover Cares has partnered with Chicago Cares, and it is just one of about 200 corporate partners that Chicago Cares works with every year. While Chicago Cares typically works with schools within the Chicago Public School system, “working with Discover gives us a unique opportunity to meet the needs of schools in their local community, given their commitment to the community around Discover,” Chicago Cares Chief Program Officer Ellen Ray said.
Beyond schools, Chicago Cares is committed to supporting the “social impact sector as a whole,” Ray said.
“I think, for me, part of the power of our work is that it’s an everyday reminder that change is possible and we can, in fact, make a contribution and that we’re surrounded by people who have that same intention,” she said. “It gives us a sense of power, of agency, that we can do something and that we can do something in concert with the professionals who do this work every day, our teachers, our neighbors, our nonprofit workers, so there’s a sense of power and agency that comes with that. There’s just a sense of hope that if we work together, we can do great things and we can support great work and ultimately that we can change our city, and our aspiration is that it’s stronger and more unified.”