Women as Change Agents: Money & Influence

Women as Change Agents: Money & Influence

On May 24, 2018, Northern Trust co-hosted an intimate panel conversation with the American Red Cross Tiffany Circle about the growing economic power and influence of women and the positive change we make in the world. The event featured moderator Marguerite H. Griffin and panelists Denise Barnett Gardner, Nancy Searle and Marty Wilke. Panelist bios below.


Panelist Marty Wilke speaks on her many years of experience in sales and news.


The statistics about women as philanthropic change agents are powerful. Women are expected to control two-thirds of private wealth by 2020 (MarketWatch, May 2017). In 2009, nine years ago, a Harvard Business Review Article stated, “Women now drive the world economy,” (Harvard Business Review, Sept 2009).

The influence comes not only from access to wealth but also how women choose to invest. Studies show that women give more, and do so with a socially conscious outlook.


Tiffany Circle Co-Chair Victoria Raymont laughs with panelist Nancy Searle ahead of the event.


In March 2018, The Economist stated that “84% of women said they were interested in “sustainable” investing, that is, targeting not just financial returns but social or environmental goals.”

According to Debra Mesch, the director of the Women’s Philanthropy Institute at Indiana University’s Lilly School of Philanthropy, in an interview with Make it Better, “In the top 25 percent of combined income and assets, women give 156 percent more than men.”


Panelists Nancy Searle, Marty Wilke and Denise Gardner with Moderator Marguerite Griffin


“Every woman up here uses her superpowers for good,” said Marguerite Griffin to open the panel conversation. And it’s true. The panelists created change by combining their economic power with their talents and drive for change to create an exponential impact in our communities.

Marty Wilke, recently retired general manager of CBS 2 Chicago said, “We had the recession, we had the newly introduced iPhone, Facebook had just hit their 1 million mark. In that ten-year experience of mine in running two news organizations, I was a product of change that was coming at me from every angle.” Resistance to change comes out of fear, said Marty, but when done right, it is incredibly rewarding.

Women continue to gain an influence and make an impact.

“[It is] Important to know the change you want to accomplish and really own that change,” said Nancy Searle, who raised $60 million dollars in a year to open new schools in Chicago. “It was just an idea that I had that got us going.” Nancy looks at the intersection of her passions and values to determine which organizations to support with her time and talent.

A real turning point for many individual donors, was when Warren Buffet decided to donate to other foundations and organizations rather than starting his own. But, the collaborative nature of philanthropy is complex and full of opportunity. “You have to have thriving nonprofits to have a really thriving city,” said Denise, who hopes over the next twenty years to continue to develop ideas that will have an impact even if she’s not the one leading them.

Women are giving back with their treasure, but also their time, talents and their “turn-up” – their ability to get other people to turn up to support a cause.

As women philanthropists look to the next generation of change makers, they watch millennials constantly asking, “What are we doing to change and influence the world?” As Nancy said, we’ve seen “the power of one,” – the ability for one voice on social media to mobilize thousands more voices toward change.


Tiffany Circle Co-Chair, Board of Directors member and Northern Trust employee Aileen Blake shares ideas with fellow Tiffany Circle member and Board of Directors Chair Jill Schaaf and Tiffany Circle Co-Chair Laura Linger


Thank you to Northern Trust and the Tiffany Circle for co-hosting this incredibly meaningful conversation filled with an abundance of wisdom and advice for fellow women philanthropists. Keep your eye on what your end game is. Take a step back and take another look at what’s going on from a new angle. And, build consensus and plan for change.


Moderator Marguerite Griffin leads the panel discussion


About the Tiffany Circle

The Tiffany Circle is a national and international leadership network of women who work to change lives, save lives and strengthen communities through a focused investment of time, talent and treasure in the American Red Cross. By making a $10,000 minimum annual investment, members of the Tiffany Circle stand proudly with an extraordinary group of women committed to ensuring the lifesaving mission of the Red Cross is available to all.


About the Moderator

Griffin, MargueriteMarguerite H. Griffin is a Senior Vice President at Northern Trust. As director of Philanthropic Advisory Services, Marguerite is responsible for the delivery and growth of Northern Trust’s philanthropic advisory services to Wealth Management clients. She specializes in administering charitable trusts and private foundations and facilitating family philanthropy retreats. She also advises clients regarding impact investing, strategic philanthropy, international philanthropy, family succession planning and board development, governance and risk management for nonprofit organizations. Prior to joining Northern Trust, Marguerite was a Vice President and Trust Administrator within the Private Clients Division of First Chicago, Bank One.  Before joining First Chicago, Bank One, she practiced law as an Associate with Vedder, Price, Kaufman & Kammholz where she specialized in estate planning, nonprofit organization law, charitable trusts and private foundations. Marguerite received a B.A. from Washington University in St. Louis and a J.D. from Northwestern University School of Law. Marguerite is a member of the American Bar Association, the Chicago Bar Association, the Chicago Council on Planned Giving and the Chicago Estate Planning Council. Marguerite is admitted to practice before the Illinois Supreme Court. She is a sought-after speaker in the areas of impact investing, strategic philanthropy, board development, managing private foundations and family legacy philanthropy. Marguerite is an active volunteer, advisor and board member with several charitable and cultural institutions, including Aeris, the Art Institute of Chicago, Audubon Great Lakes, Chicago Foundation for Women, The Chicago Symphony Orchestra, The Chicago Community Trust, Forefront, The Ravinia Festival and WTTW/WFMT.

About the Panelists

Gardner, Denise BarnettDenise Barnett Gardner is a retired marketing executive and former president of Insights & Opportunities, a research-based marketing and strategic planning firm. She is also the co-founder of Namaste Laboratories and former VP, Marketing at Soft Sheen Products Company. During her tenure at each company, they enjoyed #1 market share in the ethnic beauty industry. Denise is the vice chair of the Board of Trustees at the Art Institute of Chicago. She is the former chair of the museum’s Leadership Advisory Committee and   former vice chair of its Marketing Committee. She also serves on the Board of Governors of The School of The Art Institute of Chicago and The Chicago Public Library Board.  Denise served for ten years on the Executive Committee of The Chicago Community Trust where she chaired the board’s Donor Relations & Civic Engagement Committee. She also chaired their African American Legacy Initiative. She is a former member of the Board of Visitors of Northwestern University’s Weinberg College and the Chicago Humanities Festival. She is former president of the Chicago Chapter of The Links, Incorporated and is currently treasurer of their philanthropic arm, The Chicago Chapter Charities Foundation. Along with her husband, Gary, she has invested significantly in improving college access in Chicago. They also have a long-time commitment to supporting critical educational needs at the high school level, and with supporting arts programs in Chicago’s African American community. Denise began her professional career at Leo Burnett Company after graduating from Kellogg Graduate School of Management at Northwestern University.  She also holds a B.S.J. from Northwestern University in Advertising and Social Psychology.

Searle, NancyNancy Searle served as the lead Searle consultant to the Chicago Community Trust from 2003-2010. The Searle Funds focused their efforts on biomedical research, education, community renewal and conservation. Projects funded by the Searle Funds reflected the intent of the donor, John G. Searle, and the values of the Searle family.  During her tenure, the Searle Funds at the Chicago Community Trust supported the development of the Chicago Biomedical Consortium, the Searle Life Sciences Fund at Northwestern University, the Frances Searle Health Center at Northwestern University, the John G. Searle Chemistry Building at the University of Chicago and the business development of CARA. Of all the projects that the Searle Funds at the Chicago Community Trust funded under Ms. Searle’s tenure as lead consultant, New Schools for Chicago is one of her most important legacies. Ms. Searle started New Schools with funds from the Searle Funds at the Chicago Community Trust, joining forces with the Civic Committee, foundations and individual donors to turn the original $2.5 million donation into over $50 million to launch more that 70 new schools. Since 2005, New Schools for Chicago has launched more successful charter schools than any other organization in the city.  Ms. Searle continues to be committed to improving educational outcomes for all children in Chicago. She is also a Trustee of the Shedd Aquarium where she chairs the Animal Collection Committee and is the President of the Women’s Board of Lyric Opera.

Wilke,MartyMarty Wilke, a  media executive, was the first woman to serve as President and General Manager for two Chicago television stations: WGN-TV and WBBM-TV (CBS 2 Chicago). After graduating from DePaul University, Marty began her career in television working as a media buyer at several advertising agencies until, in 1993, she shifted her career to television sales, working as an account executive at Katz Television. In 2008, Marty became the General Manager of WGN-TV where she launched Antenna TV, Tribune Broadcasting’s first digital sub-channel network. Considered an industry change agent, Marty is credited with bringing the Chicago Blackhawks broadcasts back to WGN-TV and profitably leading WGN through the Tribune Company bankruptcy.  At CBS 2 Chicago, under Marty’s leadership, viewership and revenue increased, and the community presence of the station was reestablished. The first and only all-female anchor team in the market was created during her tenure, and partnerships with area organizations like the Chicago Urban League, the Business Leadership Council and the DuSable Museum of African American History were all established to bring awareness to issues of importance in the Chicago African American community. In her position, Marty advocated for many nonprofit organizations including the American Red Cross of Chicago & Northern Illinois, Chicago Says NO MORE, and the American Diabetes Association.  In her personal time, Marty is a member of The Chicago Network, The Economic Club of Chicago, The Commercial Club of Chicago, and is an ardent supporter of American Red Cross of Greater Chicago and Alzheimer’s Association of Greater Chicago.

Placing Humanity back on the Map

Placing Humanity back on the Map

Over the course of just a few hours on a Friday afternoon, 20 volunteers in Chicago helped map the future of emergency response efforts across the world without having to step foot on an airplane.

In an age where we heavily rely on GPS, digital technology and Googling for instant results, it’s a shock to many thCloseUp mapat much of the world does not officially live on a map. This makes it especially difficult for first responders to navigate (literal) uncharted areas when they need to deliver help quickly.

In the American Red Cross of Chicago & Northern Illinois’ fifth “Mapathon,” on December 11th, a handful of public volunteers alongside employees from Discover worked together to map out a town in Kenya, where traffic accidents are one of the most common and deadly disasters. Without reliable maps, it makes it very hard for organizations like the Kenya Red Cross  to accurately track where most accidents happen and how to create plans to prevent them in the future.

“It’s actually pretty relaxing! And it’s way more satisfying spending time doing this instead of playing Candy Crush,” Discover employee Keenan said while plotting a new road on the grid.

The concept is simple: the American Red Cross together with the British Red Cross, Doctors Without Borders, and the Humanitarian OpenStreetMap Team formed Missing Maps—a project to put more than 20 million people onto a free and editable map of the world.

Anyone with internet access can help trace sections of a community using satellite imagery as a guide on a digital map. Zero technical training, course requirements or traveling is required. Mapping experts then double-check volunteer work to make sure it’s accurate, and the maps become usable.


It’s also a convenient solution to one of the most frequent questions people ask the Red Cross after an international disaster happens: “How can I help from where I am?”

American Red Cross volunteers continue to map communities in response to several disasters like the Nepal and Haiti earthquakes and the Ebola Virus Disease epidemic in West Africa.

A few volunteers even said they’d continue the Mapathon at home.

“I’ll definitely be telling my friends about this,” Keenan added. “I get now how important maps are in the world.”

Story and photos by Katie Wilkes, Regional Marketing Manager, American Red Cross of Chicago & Northern Illinois 

To participate in the Missing Maps project, or to organize a Mapathon of your own, contact Jim McGowan or Ryan Bank at jim.mcgowan@redcross.org. 

Red Cross supports World Refugee Day

World Refugee Day event was celebrated on June 20 worldwide but few probably realized this and went about the usual daily activities of work, school or chores. But one day can hold a different meaning for refugees who are forced to flee their homes overnight because of war, natural disaster, violence and other humanitarian emergencies. World Refugee Day celebrates and honors the courage and determination of these men, women and children as they are displaced from their homes to seek safety and shelter.

The American Red Cross joined several other humanitarian and refugee resettlement agencies to bring a day of fun and play for refugees who have seen unimaginable conditions of living. The American Red Cross supported the event by playing a significant role in providing health and safety resources to all refugees in attendance. They joined their resources with other agencies present to support this occasion, marked with a soccer tournament, music and food, juggling classes and soccer skills training for children and women’s potting.

Red Cross Health Services volunteer Nancy Brooks-Edison was on hand to provide first aid and other health support to players in the tournament. The rest of the Chicago Red Cross team handed out emergency preparedness kits to all refugee families. The team came prepared to guide them about keeping their families safe in emergencies through pictographic flyers written in seven languages— Arabic, Burmese, French,  Spanish, Kinyarwanda (a dialect spoken in Rwanda), Somali and English— and graphically conveyed messages to several refugees with varied language needs.


Volunteers help at the Red Cross table for World Refugee Day.

In addition to its role as the largest humanitarian organization in the world, the Red Cross supports  refugees all over the world in another very significant way. Through its ‘Restoring Family Links’ program, American Red Cross helps put separated refugee families in touch with each other in cases where they are separated by war or natural disaster. Red Cross caseworkers around the U.S. help families locate missing relatives, working with the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) and Red Cross and Red Crescent organizations in nearly every country around the world.  Annually the American Red Cross assists more than 5,000 families trying to reconnect with their loved ones in the U.S. and around the world.

The Red Cross provides these services and Red Cross Messages (RCMs), written personal communications sent between family members separated by conflict or disaster.

The other agencies present at the event were RefugeeOne, World Relief, Heartland Alliance, ICIRR, Pan African Association, the Bhutanese Community Association of Illinois, Exodus World Service, Catholic Charities and more. It was remarkable to see different cultures coming together and sharing their stories.


Red Cross Volunteer Amisha Sud and Amal Alsandok attend the World Refugee Day event in Chicago on June 20.

One beautiful story came from Amal Alsandok. When she arrived in the United States from Jordan two years ago with her husband and daughter, Amal was firm on supporting her family on her own. With the help of Uruk Human Services, an agency empowering women from the Middle East, Amal was able to turn her 15-year passion for painting into a small yet flourishing business of handicrafts, candles and paintings.

Her story is no different that young Kemso Cuota’s who is about to graduate from high school. She is extremely enthusiastic about starting college next year. Kemso came from Ethopia with her brother and mother last May and wants to pursue the field of science with dreams of becoming a doctor.

This event was one of the many ways that the Red Cross supports this cause and provides resources. After attending the event for several years, The American Red Cross looks forward to support this determined group of people next year as well.

-Written by Amisha Sud

Giving Blood to Give Back

Blood Photo

Katerina Svigos showed up to work at Groupon on an arctic Friday morning, blocked out time in her calendar and put her name on the list. This wasn’t, however, any ordinary list.  This list was to save someone’s life – just like the person who saved her cousin’s. Katerina signed up to give blood.

In October of 2012, Katerina nearly lost her cousin. He was outside at a party and fell from a fourth-story balcony. He survived, but the fall broke his back and both of his legs. He was rushed to the hospital that very night where he received three blood transfusions the first weekend he was in the hospital. Recalling the severity of the accident, Katerina said soberly, “it was the 3 blood transfusions that saved his life.” This was her first time giving blood. “I wanted to give back,” she said.

Katerina’s gift is unprecedented. That’s because there is no replacement for blood and every 2 seconds someone in the United States needs it. The Chicagoland region currently uses 6 times more blood than it collects. But on Friday, February 1st, 81 Groupon employees signed up to give blood and the Red Cross collected 71 units. The successful drive not only created the potential to save up to 213 lives, it gave people like Katerina the opportunity to give back in a way that no other type of donation can generate.

Katerina said her cousin is stable now, working on his recovery and is maintaining a positive spirit. She told her cousin that she gave blood because of him.

“He is so thankful,” she said, “he realizes it is other people that saved him.”

Written by: Bridget Ballek

Get Blown Away by giving a donation!

      “Hey, good girl.
        With your head in the clouds.
        I bet you I can tell you, what you’re thinkin’ about.”
                                                   -Carrie Underwood, Good Girl
You’re thinking about buying your Carrie Underwood ticket for her Blown Away Tour, just like me!
I am a huge fan of Country music and this year I can enjoy one of my favorite artists while donating to a great cause.
Carrie Underwood announced she will be donating one dollar to the American Red Cross for every ticket purchased. So while her fans are enjoying her concert they will also be helping out the American Red Cross disaster relief.

One dollar doesn’t seem like much but; do you know how many people the Wireless Center in Moline and the United Center in Chicago can hold? A total of about 35,000 people, which is about $35,000 in donations!! And to think that’s just her concerts in Illinois.
The American Red Cross responds to a disaster every nine minutes and these donations can help out in a big way.
Just to give you an idea…
$25 – Provides five blankets at an emergency shelter
$75 – can cover a doctor’s visit for an individual injured in a disaster
$350- will provide emergency food and shelter for 25 disaster victims for one day
$2,500- deploys one emergency Response Vehicle and drivers to a disaster relief operation
$3,200- is the average yearly maintenance and fuel for one Emergency Response Vehicle
I can’t wait to be one of those dollars!
But don’t worry! If you’re not a Country music fan, you can still help the American Red Cross by making a donation of your own. Your donation can help the Red Cross fulfill its mission of helping people prevent, prepare for and respond to emergencies.
So whether you’re getting Blown Away at the Carrie Underwood concert or just sending a private donation you will be helping the American Red Cross help your community.

Written by Dana Morones

AmeriCorps Volunteers Help Carry Out Lifesaving Mission of the Red Cross

AmeriCorps has been a long time partner of the American Red Cross that helps the Red Cross achieve it’s mission by paying special attention to the neighborhoods and communities that are in need of life saving services, but are least likely to be able to afford them. This federal initiative is carried out locally by full and part-time participants that focus on a mission that is quite similar to that of the Red Cross. AmeriCorps embraces:

•Getting Things Done by helping a community meets its education, public safety, environmental and other human needs through direct service
•Strengthening Communities by fighting illiteracy, building affordable housing and helping communities respond to disaster
•Encouraging Responsibility by fostering civic engagement through service and volunteering
•Expanding Opportunity by providing members with job skills, invaluable experience, and scholarship or loan repayment for school or job training

Members go through an extensive training process to provide service to society through community organizations. This week, I had the opportunity to meet new members of the AmeriCorps program that were in CPR training at the Rauner Center, the offices of the American Red Cross of Greater Chicago. Talking with Chris Schifeling and Anne Bowlby gave me a better understanding of their role within the Red Cross.

Chris spent two years working with Teach for America and wanted to continue to have “direct contact with communities in need.” The values of the American Red Cross and the politically neutral aspect of our mission statement stood out to him. He is looking forward to helping communities in Chicago that do not receive assistance and has truly enjoyed getting to know the other AmeriCorps members during his training.

Anne is very aligned with the service aspect of AmeriCorps and the Red Cross. Prior to her training at the Chicago Red Cross, her only experience with the Red Cross was through blood donations. She believes in the “trickle down effect” that important training programs from the Red Cross can have on communities, and encourages those who are looking to do service to “lend a hand wherever you can.” She knows that the practical implication of skills learned from AmeriCorps and the Red Cross will help her “give back to [her] community.”

AmeriCorps members are invaluable in our attempt to enact the mission of the Red Cross. The AmeriCorps program is dedicated to bringing Red Cross safety and health programs to underserved neighborhoods, schools and communities throughout the State of Illinois. AmeriCorps members help us with health and safety programs that include CPR, first aid, HIV/AIDS awareness, community disaster education, youth programs and more. Through our partnership with AmeriCorps, the Red Cross is able to reach youth, minorities, low-income communities and senior citizens.

Get involved in the life saving mission of the Red Cross and AmeriCorps and make a positive impact in the community you live in. Visit www.chicagoredcross.org to sign up for classes, view safety tips or to make a donation.

Stand Down 2011

Coming into my summer internship with the Services to the Armed Forces (SAF) program, I had an idea of the type of work I’d be doing, but I didn’t realize the impact it would have on others. Three months later, I am very aware of how much the American Red Cross helps our servicemen, women, veterans, and their families. From assisting them before, during, and after deployments to delivering coffee, toiletries, and clothing to the Jesse Brown and Hines VA Hospitals. We also attend various military and community events informing families of the Red Cross services that are available to them, such as our emergency communication service that helps connect families in the U.S. to their loved ones servicing overseas. The Red Cross is always there.

Having the opportunity to work with, and learn from, the members and families of the armed forces, the staff at the American Red Cross of Greater Chicago, the volunteers and employees of the local VA Hospitals, and other service organizations is such a blessing. They are kind, selfless, passionate, fun group of individuals who inspire me with their work everyday.

All of the events and projects I worked on have been interesting and worthwhile, the most memorable was Stand Down 2011. This event for homeless and low-income veterans was an extremely satisfying, eye-opening, and fun three days. It began with setting up in General Jones Armory, which required sweeping, mopping, setting up tables, and sorting through the clothing, food, and donated items. On day one over 700 veterans came to register, that is when I understood the importance of our pre-event preparations. Day two included free eye and medical exams, haircuts, legal, housing, and job assistance. The Red Cross also provided attendees with two hot meals, live music, and most of all a sense of camaraderie. On day three, after breakfast had been served, we handed out huge bags of supplies, which included brand new boots, shirts, socks, underwear, toiletries, bagged lunches etc. The level of appreciation and smiles on their faces was so gratifying, and I will look forward to volunteering at this event again.

While interacting with veterans and families at Stand Down and other deployment events is exciting and rewarding, there is also a lot of behind the scenes work that the Manager of Operations Support, Erin Counihan, does to be able to provide the support of the Red Cross. Many tasks have to be performed before the event, but the most challenging for me was SAF casework. Calling families that had suffered a loss or had emergencies was difficult, but when they genuinely thanked me for being a part of a network that was able to get their father, mother, son, daughter, brother, or sister home from war in a time of need, I realized the importance of the SAF program. Our current and passed service men and women and their families have made so many sacrifices for our freedom, and being able to help them in their time of need and show them our appreciation is truly a gift.

Written by: Jodie Lieffring

My Year of AmeriCorps Service

The past year has been amazing! When I walked through the doors at Headquarters on September 1st, 2009, I had no idea what was in store for me during my term of AmeriCorps service. I have come out of it a changed and stronger person. Through long hours, exhausting work and excellent supervision, I have grown into the person I am now.

It began with my supervisor, Jackie Dempsey, who supported, guided, listened and encouraged me and my AmeriCorps co-workers to accomplish what many people thought impossible. We taught American Red Cross safety classes in under-resourced areas without many of the materials that regular instructors had and with an almost non-existent budget. In addition, we performed extremely well while being paid below minimum wage.

After a whirlwind of training in the first three weeks of September, 2009, I was now an instructor of a variety of programs. I was now responsible for conducting outreach to set up classes, teaching the classes and completing all necessary documentation. This was difficult at times because people were less interested in taking a CPR class than they were interested in paying their bills. Even though I taught all classes for free, many people could not attend classes or simply did not show up. This made for a very humbling year. I was still able to interest plenty of people and taught many full classes.

Another aspect of the position was service projects. Individually and as a group, service projects were taken to new levels. A transitional living home named Grace House in Decatur, Illinois got renovated, children learned about all of our kid safety programs, Anixter Center had their courtyard revived with planters and plants, winter coats were donated, canned food was donated, comfort kits were made and many other lives were impacted.

In the end, close to 7,000 people were certified by AmeriCorps members in American Red Cross classes and over 35,000 people were taught in non-certification classes. I know I have changed tremendously and so have my co-workers. This has been an amazing experience and I am so glad that I was a part of it. Thank you AmeriCorps and the American Red Cross!

Written by Jason Schultz


You Chicago city slickers are probably going to disagree with this statement, but I think NASCAR is awesome. The sport (yes, it’s a sport) has it all: noise, speed, colorful personalities, huge crowds and giant barbecued turkey legs for sale at every race – amazing. I’m mesmerized every Sunday afternoon by the sight of 40ish identical cars repeatedly turning left on various oval tracks spread across the country. Don’t judge!
And even if NASCAR isn’t your thing, you can still benefit from the Red Cross’s partnership with 3M, Roush Fenway Racing and Greg Biffle. Go #16!
In an effort to contend with the annual Summer slump in blood donations, the Red Cross and its partners are rolling out the third annual Red Cross Racing program, which adds a little bit of fun to the blood donation process – not an oxymoron. Over the course of the season, you can earn points for giving blood, then redeem those points for prizes, and no, they’re not all NASCAR related.
Red Cross Racing makes it super easy to schedule a blood donation appointment online, make a financial contribution and track your points. Each consecutive procedure carries a higher point value, and you can even earn points for referring friends. Not interested in Red Cross swag? You can also donate your points to the men and women serving our country.
Visit RedCrossRacing.com to sign up and start earning points. After you’ve signed up, all you have to do is enter your location, choose a blood donation center and pick a time. 50 points are yours just for registering.
Also, check out the Ready, Set, Give & Win Sweepstakes. Two lucky winners will receive a VIP travel package to a race.
Written by Jason Hoffman

Restoring Grace to Grace House: Overview and Musings

Household fix-its can be a chore. Painting, construction, cleaning – let’s face it, the process can be arduous. But for AmeriCorps preparedness members, renovating a transitional shelter was less of a mundane task and more of a utilitarianism venture.

The 14 AmeriCorps volunteers in the Red Cross’ Safe Families Program traveled to Decatur to fix up Grace House, a 90-day transitional shelter for women and children. They made the jaunt on Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Day and sought to do more than revamp the rooms. They wanted to turn Grace House into a home – not just four walls and a roof, but a place of comfort and sanctuary.

Volunteers had six weeks to organize the overhaul of a shelter 180 miles away. They collected donations, put out media bulletins, contacted corporations and planned out the day’s tasks.

Megan McCarthy, an AmeriCorps member with the Safe Families Program, led the project’s planning and execution. She said the AmeriCorps members received 1,663 material donations and $950 in just a few weeks’ time.

“The scope of this project was immense,” McCarthy said. “With the limited timeline and limited staff resources on account of the holidays, we really shot for the stars on this one.”

On the menu for the renovation: Painting five rooms, thoroughly cleaning the living spaces, building countless furniture items and moving around bulky items. It was a massive project, and all crammed into a 14-hour work day.

McCarthy, who is also a member of Illinois LeaderCorps, said that there were several obstacles to the project. However, the project was a success and the volunteers had a palpable, indelible effect on the residents of the shelter.

“Grace House got what it needed, and we got to be a part of making that happen,” McCarthy said.

After weeks of reflection, project leaders say the extent of the project is still difficult to portray. But most members agree: After massive planning, daunting tasks, physical exhaustion and hours upon hours of painting, the residents of Grace House are now more likely to get back on their feet. Positive surroundings can go a long way. And at the day’s end, benefiting a part of society often neglected by the layman can feel downright good.

From the Decatur Herald-Review:

“Americorps volunteers from all over the state spent Monday making the house feel more like home. That included cleaning and painting the five bedrooms and two bathrooms on the second floor, as well putting plastic on the windows and replacing the furniture …

… Day of Service activities in Decatur began Monday morning with the arrival at Grace House of a 17-foot truck bearing beds, linens and painting supplies. The truck and eight other vehicles carried 15 volunteers from Chicago, East St. Louis, Quincy and other parts of the state who came a day early for a training session at the Country Inn & Suites in Forsyth today.”

See the full story.