The spirit of volunteerism is felt throughout the Little Red Schoolhouse Nature Center thanks to the staff and clients from UCP Seguin of Greater Chicago “CHOICE” programming in Oak Park. UCP Seguin of Greater Chicago is a nonprofit organization that provides adults with disabilities opportunities to develop living skills while encouraging community involvement. This group of committed individuals has been of service to the Nature Center on a weekly basis for more than a year now.
I collaborated with UCP Seguin of Greater Chicago supervisor, Laura Lopez, in an attempt to add more variety and meaning to the group’s volunteer experience after learning they came out weekly to litter pick the grounds. Currently, their responsibilities vary based on their interests, skill level, and the needs of the Nature Center. Tasks include but are not limited to litter picking, mulching trees and the nature play area, weeding garden beds, watering plants, filling bird feeders, sweeping, mopping, cleaning glass, caring for animals, and attending to the front desk. While this is not a formal job skills program, it has led to employment for many of the volunteers. In fact, some of them have recently been hired by Brookfield Zoo to litter pick the grounds.
However, the partnership between UCP Seguin of Greater Chicago and the Little Red Schoolhouse is about so much more than the work itself. It is about the intrinsic reward that emerges from making a difference and feeling as though they are a part of something that matters. It is about knowing that they matter. Consuela “Chely” Corral commented, “As a staff member, it is very rewarding to see them smile, and be proud of their accomplishments.”
UCP Seguin of Greater Chicago has brought so much joy, laughter and fun to the Little Red Schoolhouse Nature Center. The inclusive environment sends such a positive message to our visitors, especially young children, that we are more alike than different. As Laura Lopez states, “It is a win-win for everyone.” I couldn’t agree with her more, and am hopeful that the Forest Preserves of Cook County continues attracting volunteer groups like UCP Seguin of Greater Chicago in the future.
By Amy Julian, naturalist at Little Red Schoolhouse Nature Center.