Last year more than 62 million Americans volunteered at least once during the year, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. That’s about every one in four people.
Naperville has a history of such volunteer spirit and perhaps no group knows more about that history than those at Naper Settlement. In 1970, a group of 12 concerned citizens rallied together and moved Century Memorial Chapel to the Settlement’s current location. Today, there are more than 1700 volunteers that keep the settlement going strong.
“The whole aspect of what Naper Settlement is about is due to the volunteers that we have and the depth of time, experience, and skills that they bring to the museum,” said Debbie Grinnell, Naper Settlement’s Vice President of Museum Services. “It really allows us to fulfill our preservation and education mission.”
Another shining example of volunteerism is Naperville’s “Crown Jewel.” In 1981, volunteers built the Riverwalk in celebration of the city’s 150th anniversary. This paved the way for future volunteer opportunities, as future generations helped repave and clean up the Riverwalk in the following years.
“When you look back at all the volunteers that helped build the Riverwalk from the very beginning and then those that helped to sustain it, I think it makes for a good book-end,” said Rick Hitchcock, past commissioner of the Riverwalk Commission.
Today there are more than 300 not-for-profits that provide endless opportunities for volunteers of all ages and interests. One of those groups is the Exchange Club of Naperville. Members volunteer countless hours year round to prepare for Ribfest. They’re still looking for those 4,000 volunteers it will take to run the city’s largest summer festival.
“All the monies go back to all the not-for-profits that support child abuse,” said Lorrie Brenneman, the club’s Chairperson Over Manpower. “So really we’re keeping kids safe and having a good time while we’re doing it.”
Kathy Blair is the Executive Director of a group called Giving DuPage, which connects people who want to give back with volunteer opportunities. Blair says those who help others are helping themselves as well.
“There are emotional, physical and health benefits to volunteerism and some people have referred to it as a helper’s high,” said Blair. “There’s also concrete evidence that those who volunteer live longer.”
Whether repaving and maintaining the Riverwalk every year, taking part in the Settlement’s education programs, or lending a hand during Ribfest, volunteers throughout town continue to take part in a tradition that dates back to the 1800s.
“Naperville has a great community spirit of volunteerism that goes back to the town founding with helping your neighbors,” said Grinnell.
Members of Giving DuPage invite all residents to celebrate volunteerism throughout the county at its first “Volapalooza.” The event takes place on May 10th, starting at 6:30pm at the Mac Arts Center at the College of DuPage.
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