Field Trip! Job Shadow Day With the Class of 2018 at the Willow Creek Care Center

This article was originally posted on longtime JA associate Rob Wick’s blog.

Seven years. Seems like yesterday when I walked into two Kindergarten classes at St. Emily School and presented the JA “Ourselves” program to the students. They were engaging and got along well with each other. I had them again in first grade and then second grade in 2012. It was at that point that I decided I would try to do whatever I could to stay with the group through eighth grade graduation. Just two years left now; “home stretch” and we’ve just completed the J America Works program – looking forward to doing JA Global Marketplace- one of my favorite JA offerings. 

But wait! For several years, all of the students at St Emily have participated in an annual Fall Food Drive coordinated by the Mount Prospect (IL) Fire Department. The school often leads the way in collections. St Emily has also hosted the Greater Chicago Food Depository’s “Producemobile”, which provides fresh fruits and vegetables to people in need across Cook County. Well it so happens that in addition to Junior Achievement, my other volunteer passion is serving in the Intake Area at the Willow Creek Care Center on Tuesday mornings, which includes one of the largest food pantries in the state as well as in the US. In 2015, the Care Center’s full choice food pantry provided 4.3 million pounds of food as a result of 44,918 grocery visits. So I thought it would be a wonderful opportunity for the students to be able to see how food that they collect as part of the food drive is distributed. Since the 60 or so volunteer roles are essentially “unpaid jobs”, why not do this in conjunction with a JA Job Shadow format!


The first step in making that happen was to check with both the school and the Care Center staff to see if it was possible. St Emily is a Blue Ribbon school whose faculty and staff promote altruistic activities as a part of the variety of educational and life experiences that students receive at the school. When I spoke with both the principal and the teachers about the idea, they were instantly on board. My volunteer co-leaders were entirely supportive and received positive feedback when they shared the news of the visit with the volunteer team. The only concern expressed by staff was whether or not we could manage a group of 25 sixth graders – ordinarily this type of group would be limited to 10-15 volunteers at once. This was entirely understandable, so to address that and to help make the event go smoother, I drafted a “start to finish” agenda for the day that included eight different volunteer roles for the students in six areas of the Care Center. I also put together eight different job descriptions as a part of the learning and mentoring experience for JA Job Shadow. The Care Center staff supported and approved it.


So on Tuesday April 26, 2016 twenty-five St Emily students from the “Class of 2018” and their two teachers came over to the Care Center to take a tour and learn about what is done there, then pair up with our Tuesday Morning volunteer team to help greet, process, bag and deliver food and children’s clothing to our guests. We began with a half hour tour – I gave them an overview and history of the Care Center, which began some three decades ago with church members sharing food out of trunks of their automobiles among others in need in the congregation. Maryanne on the Care Center staff provided some logistical support for me, which included producing replica name tags for the students to use. For many Care Center volunteers, putting on ones name tag is a special part of the preparation of volunteering there – hard to explain it, but once one has it on, one feels ready to serve.


After the overview that I did in the Link between the church and the Care Center, we ventured downstairs to where the Dental / Eye Care office is and where Legal Services are offered on Tuesday. Then onto the Kid Zone – the Care Center’s nursery where three of the students would be volunteering. Onward we went, through the Market Plaza (waiting area), Grocery Store, warehouse, Clothing area and the CARS ministry. At our last meeting in their classroom, I had tried to explain to the students just how large and multi-faceted the Care Center is – but no amount of explanation can bring home the magnitude of what and how much goes on there. The kids were pretty amazed.


We concluded the tour and gathered outside of the volunteer break room where we began to distribute the student volunteers to the various areas they were assigned to work in. The students assigned to Kid Zone were shuttled off to their assignment as were the four students assigned to the Intake area who would rotate between four different tasks there. Our warehouse leader set four more students up with the task of bagging boxes of fresh green beans that the Care Center received.

One of the biggest tasks at the Care Center is bagging our guests groceries and running the carts filled with food out to our guests cars for loading. Seven student baggers and three runners were happy to assist us and did a fine job of ensuring the food was properly bagged and carefully placed into each vehicle.

The children’s clothing area receives a huge variety of new and gently used clothes on an ongoing basis. It all must be cleaned sorted and prepared for display in the Clothing Store. St Emily students learned about and assisted with this during their visit.

In 2015, the Clothing Store hosted some 3,800 visits with a total of 39,500 items sold. This year in conjunction with two scheduled job fairs, the Clothing Store will be offering adult clothing to job fair participants that is suitable for wearing to interviews.

Of course, while all of this was going on in the “back of the house”, students were out front as well assisting with hosting and paging guests who were waiting to go into the grocery store.

At the end of the morning, we concluded the volunteer exercise and retreated to the Hospitality Room for pizza. When we finished, we debriefed and the students took time to talk about their experience and how it compared to what their expectations might have been. They had gained a better understanding of the variety of people that experience hunger and food shortages in our communities. They also learned about a different dimension of service projects that they could consider as they mature and seek to help others The students saw firsthand how many volunteers and staff people that it takes to run the Care Center on a single shift. They also saw the impact and some of the end results of their annual food drives at school.

For all those reasons above and then some, I am happy and grateful to have had the chance to share this opportunity with my JA students of seven years. While our churches are different, it is clear that our messages about community service and outreach are practically the same. Our volunteers at the Care Center were genuinely happy to have the students around. I think for a lot of us, it put a positive “twist” into our serve that day. Through the JA program, the students learned that even though these are not paid positions, volunteers work is a type of “job” as well, with specific needs and requirements that must be met. For me, this was yet another time where I have been able to bring together two or more of the organizations that I support and serve and provide a positive experience to their constituents. Everyone who participated benefited from this event and for that I am very grateful.



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