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Urban Volunteering: Chicago

by Marcella Prokop Jan 7, 2010
In our series about urban volunteering, Matador writers with extensive volunteer experience share their ideas about organizations that could use your time and skills. Marcella Prokop rounds up the best volunteer opportunities in Chicago.
Centro Romero

Chicago’s Centro Romero serves a large migrant Latino population on the northeast side of the city, offering citizenship workshops and GED and ESL classes throughout the week. Legal aid and women’s empowerment classes are also offered by Centro Romero; all services are free.

As a volunteer, you can help others learn English or study to become a US citizen. Other volunteer opportunities include monitoring phone lines and entering data to the center’s computer system. To learn more about Centro Romero, visit them on the web or call Cesar Aguilar at (773) 508-5300 ext. 15.

Peggy Notebaert Nature Center

The Peggy Notebaert Nature Museum, located near Lake Michigan along Chicago’s eastern side, is home to restored prairie landscapes, an in-depth museum and lots of hands-on interaction opportunities.

The Center encourages an appreciation for nature and the environment, and is a valuable resource for city-dwellers. More than 200 volunteers pitch in at this patch of urban wilderness. Volunteers must be at least 18 years old, and a minimum commitment of eight months is required.

Volunteers receive free admission to the Museum and the opportunity to participate in field trips. Fill out the online application or email for more information.

Adler Planetarium

Explore the last frontier with the Adler Planetarium and teach others about astronomy, or simply help out with special events. The Adler Planetarium was opened in 1930 and has been sharing science with the world since then.

Learn about the range of volunteer opportunities or apply online.

PAWS Chicago

PAWS Chicago is one of the nation’s largest no-kill animal shelters—no small accomplishment in such a large city. Through community support and volunteer efforts, this shelter finds homes for more than 3.000 homeless pets each year.

PAWS volunteers work in the shelter during adoption events, help with new animals in the recovery room, or participate in community outreach. Although PAWS asks for a month-long commitment, the organization does have some flexibility.

To sign up for an orientation session (Step 1 in the volunteer process), visit PAWS or call (773) 935-PAWS for more. To reach PAWS via email, send a message to Kirsten at

The Suzuki-Orff School of Music

For nearly 30 years, the Suzuki-Orff School of Music has been providing music education to students and families as well as working with Chicago’s public schools. Volunteers are placed in positions that match their talents and interests to the school’s needs.

From office work to photography, there are numerous volunteer opportunities. For those who can only help with special events, as-needed commitments are fine, but long-term availability is also appreciated. Contact Gabriel Morales at to learn about these and other volunteer opportunities.

New Moms Chicago

Founded in 1983 as a service to teenage moms living on Chicago’s Northwest side, New Moms Chicago works to empower at-risk moms and kids and combat the effects of poverty on family life.

This small organization has grown from being run as an out-of-home support group to an organization that offers play spaces and a supportive housing program.

Volunteers can participate in one-time fund-raising events, or work long-term with community outreach and other areas as needed. Contact Brian Genzink at to learn more, or fill out the online application.

Harbor Light Hospice

Harbor Light Hospice pairs volunteers with terminally ill individuals in extended living or home-care facilities. Training is provided for all volunteers (who must be 18 and older). Volunteers meet with patients and spend time connecting with them.

Volunteers with pets and volunteers who have an arts backgrounds are especially welcome. Time commitments are up to the volunteer, and office work or individual visit opportunities provide a variety of ways to help out at Harbor Light. Contact Linda at 630-942-0100 or email

The Inspiration Corporation

The Inspiration Corporation offers life skills training and job placement opportunities to Chicago’s homeless and low-income populations, and as a volunteer, you can help by conducting mock interviews, working in one of their cafes, or providing support in other areas.

Click to download the application, or contact the Inspiration Corporation by phone at 773-878-0981.

Community Connection:

Learn more about Chicago from MatadorSports’ editor, Adam Roy, who introduces Chicago for the Architecture Buff, and Katie Hammel, who offers tips for Chicago on a Budget.

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