Friday, February 26, 2016 || By Dr. Regi Ratliff || OPINION
When I was young, my grandfather would tell me that giving back is the most important contribution you can make to your community. He would remind me that many people in today’s society would get college degrees, establish successful careers, but never gave back to their communities. He offered that a community prospers when people give of themselves, while asking for nothing in return. In conclusion, he opined that a person who does well academically or financially, but doesn’t give back to their community, has learned nothing about life.
In our society of capitalism and selfishness, we have become too busy to volunteer our time, talent and treasure. I challenge the pundits who proclaim that volunteering does not make a difference in a community. Volunteering absolutely makes a difference! As a matter of fact, there are volunteer firefighters who participate in search and rescue missions, volunteers who deliver meals to homeless seniors or homeless youth, volunteers who tutor, mentor, and support young people through mentoring. There are volunteers who build homes, schools, dig wells, and repair infrastructure around the world, and volunteers who help to keep our neighborhoods, streets, parks, rivers, and water clean and safe for everyone. These are just some of the many areas where volunteers have helped make our world better. But, so much more time needs to be invested in our communities.
Volunteering also leads to gaining new skills. Volunteering at a Hospital, your local Police Department, Schools, and Churches provides a volunteer with valuable skills that will help them with their formal training.
According to the Corporation for National and Community Service, 61.8 million individuals in the United States contributed 8 billion hours of volunteer services in one year alone. The economic value of provided this service equated to $162 billion U.S. Dollars.
One of the greatest examples of a volunteer who turned a volunteer opportunity into a successful not for profit organization is Dr. Joe DiCara. When Dr. DiCara founded Chicago Youth Programs in 1983, his vision was to provide free services for youth ages 5 thru college in low to moderate income neighborhoods. Starting in Cabrini Green projects, Dr. DiCara, a few of his colleagues in the medical field, and several curious parents from the projects provided tutorial services, while also playing recreational basketball with the children. Dr. DiCara wasn’t a good basketball player. However, he was good at getting to the heart of the matter, which was a lack of access to resources. Through Dr. DiCara’s vision, Chicago Youth Programs soon opened major tutoring programs in the Washington Park and Uptown neighborhoods.
Not only did children from this community begin showing signs of academic improvement, but every high school senior that participates is at least one of the 46 programs offered by Chicago Youth Programs successfully graduates on time and attend college.
Thanks to the numerous partnerships they’ve created over the past two decades, financial donors built a brand new Youth Center in the Washington Park neighborhood for all three communities. Chicago Youth Programs have established free clinics in these neighborhoods, where youth receive free weekly tutoring, free medical assistance and ultimately scholarships for college. In total, Chicago Youth Programs have 650 in the 3 communities they serve.
Dr. DiCara looked at my volunteer work in the Village of Maywood and hired me for my very first non-profit position as Program Manager for the Uptown neighborhood. Soon after my hire in 1997, I started Eternal Light Community Services, where we provide free tutoring, financial management, public speaking and youth wellness classes for youth in the Proviso Township area. Eternal Light still exists today and we still provide quality programs to our youth in the Village of Maywood, thanks to our great volunteers.
Following the benchmark of Chicago Youth Programs, Eternal Light Community Services works primarily with a staff of volunteers from Loyola University Stritch School of Medicine, PNC Bank, Dominican University, Chicago Public Schools, District 89, District 209 and the Richmond (VA.) Public School System to provide quality programs for our youth population. 19 years later, Eternal Light continues to exist and thrive because of the great volunteers.
What Chicago Youth Programs have accomplished in Chicago can be accomplished in the Village of Maywood. Over the years, we have enjoyed numerous individuals who have donated their time, talent and treasure for the cause. These individuals, which are too many to mention in this editorial, have also paved the way for generation X adults such as myself to give back.
The Village of Maywood is currently in need of volunteers. There are so many needs in this community, but not enough volunteers. I surmise that the greatest need of all is in the area of economic development. Many years ago, Fifth Avenue was a place where you could go shopping or catch a movie. Now, the lots that stretches on the West side of the street is empty from Madison Avenue to St. Charles Road. There are firms who have tried and failed to strategically turn Maywood around economically. However, the Village is cash strapped and can ill afford to pay for another failed study. There are professionals who exist in the area with the expertise to write and implement real strategic plans and grants to help bring businesses back to the Village at little or no cost to tax payers. We are talking about Grocery Stores, a Movie Theatre, a Bowling Alley, and Restaurants. Too much money is leaving the Village of Maywood and benefitting other communities, while we remain a food dessert.
Another area where volunteers are needed is in the area of recreational activities for youth. Long before stars such as Doc Rivers (Basketball), Greg Foster (Track & Field), and Jesse Glover (Wrestling) graced our presence with their athletic dominance, in the late 1970’s and early 80’s, Maywood was known as a town for producing basketball stars. However, times have changed. Many of our young stars are recruited to compete for schools outside of district 209. Our young athletes are also traveling to other communities to compete in swimming, tennis, baseball, bowling and wrestling. Maywood will always be known as a basketball town, and that’s a good thing if you like basketball. However, revenue is leaving the area because our children are taking their talents elsewhere and filling sports arenas in their community. Our Park District is in desperate need of transformation, and there is no recreational facility that can house recreational and youth programs simultaneously like it was during my childhood.
If you want to make a difference in the Village of Maywood, serve as a volunteer. Volunteering shows a commitment to your community and it shows that you care about others. Employees from local businesses have built relationships with residents in the Village through volunteering, and we are blessed to have them. However, more volunteers are needed for our youth, adult and senior populations. The harvest is plenty, but the workers are few. If you’re willing to work to build a better Maywood, give back to your community and watch positive things begin to happen. VFP
Reverend Regi Ratliff is the Founder and Executive Director of Eternal Light Community Services, located at 200 S. Fifth Avenue in Maywood. Eternal Light provides the following programs:public speaking, financial literacy, health and wellness, and entrepreneurship classes to youth, ages 5-18.
Contact Rev. Ratliff at (708) 813-4722 to register your child for one of our programs today.
The views and opinions expressed in this column are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the positions of The Village Free Press.