Service Week, Part 1: Off The Street Club

Amidst the general craziness of deadlines this week, I spent some of my free time doing community service projects.

Thursday night was our work outing to “Third Thursday” at Off The Street Club. OTSC is an after school program — with a fantastic facility — located in the heart of the hood, abot four miles west of the Loop. The advertising community in Chicago has supported this effort for over 50 years, and at my last job there were a lot of opportunities for involvement.

In 2006, my old agency was tasked with hosting the Holiday Luncheon, which is the club’s major fundraiser (to the tune of around $600K). I was on the committee, and part of my job was to organize the photo shoot for the materials. So we spent a couple days over at the club with a renowned photographer from New York, capturing the kids a la Annie Liebovitz.

I don’t really like being around kids that much, and when it comes to volunteer work, I’ve always said that I don’t do kids, and I don’t do animals. Must stem back to my 4-H agent days, when I got burned out. With kids, I always end up with a cold, and they exhaust me. But these kiddos at OTSC are amazing — so sweet, polite and open. (Never mind that I can’t spell most of their names.)

So this past summer when we were deciding what service project to undertake at work, I suggested that we go to one of their monthly “Third Thursday” events, where community folks go to the club for the evening and play with the kids. The October event was a pumpkin carving party. And though everyone at the agency had the best of intentions to make it, we ended up with a small but mightly delegation of 5.

We set out at 5:15 to head over to the the square across from the Wrigley Building to be picked up by the OTSC buses. As we were waiting, a hail storm came up. And we got drenched running the 150 feet to the nearest building. Four minutes later it was done.

But our spirits weren’t dampened. Michelle and I reminisced about our school days while waiting for the bus to take off:

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Once we got to the club, we were met by a mass of kids giving us hugs. I should mention that the traditional handshake at the club is a hug. So for people with personal space issues — well, this isn’t the place for them.

Two 8th grade girls –Chamika and Julia — latched onto me right away. We spent the first hour in the gym, first tossing a football (yes, I know this is weird), then waiting in line for face painting. Then they discovered that I could do handstands.

It was all over. I created handstand mania. We had people falling on their heads. I ripped my shirt. But they had a blast.

Next it was trivia time. Here’s my pal Chamika.

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After a round of Halloween Q&A, we moved across the street to start our pumpkin carving adventures. They told us not to be too greedy with the knives.

Here’s Angela with her buddy:

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And Beth with hers:

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Erik and his new friend went all out decorating their pumpkin.

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I have to say, we were all dragging by the time we went to the basement for dinner. (It was 8:45.) But we all situated ourselves at one table, ready for the kids to arrive downstairs.

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And yes, service projects are a great place to meet hunky men. Here’s Jeff. We carved our pumpkins next to each other. He’s hot. And none of us single ladies were bold enough to get his e-mail address so that we could “send him the pictures we were taking.” Sigh.

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We feasted on a nutritional dinner of fried chicken, rolls, potato salad, macaroni salad, jelly eyeballs, sugary pumpkin candy, cupcakes and cookies. Accompanied by McDonald’s orange drink.

(That’s Julia at the head of the table — she was my other pal along with Chamika.)

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All in all, though we didn’t get dropped of until after 10, we were really glad we went. The kids are truly amazing. We’re looking forward to attending the holiday luncheon, where we’ll see 10-year-olds do public speaking on par with professionals. You’d be blown away.

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1 Response so far »

  1. 1

    Alex said,

    Nelly,
    I really enjoyed your blog reminiscing about your Third Thursday experience last October. The pictures of the kids and volunteers were great! I was a at this very event – but I blended with everyone else.

    As a development coord for OTSC, it’s great to know that volunteer work has such an impact on us adults.
    Thanks for sharing your thoughts!
    Alex


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