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Elmhurst Cupids Spread Love Through Volunteering

Pam Entwistle and Harley volunteer for the R.E.A.D. program

Pam Entwistle and Harley volunteer for the R.E.A.D. program

Everyone knows Chicago is the City of Big Shoulders. A lesser-known fact may be that Elmhurst is the City of Big Hearts. OK, I made that up—but I do think the kind-hearted folks in Elmhurst deserve a motto worthy of their benevolence.

I have never been in a city where so many residents dedicate a part of their lives to community service. And while I don’t have official numbers that prove Elmhurst has more volunteers per capita than other cities, I can verify that Elmhurst is brimming with love.

For example, last Saturday as I was running errands, I struck up a conversation with a woman raising funds for a cancer walk, a man buying a case of vegetables for the local food pantry, and a troop leader supervising the cookie sales of her Girl Scouts. All of this good will occurred just within the bounds of my route. I had to wonder how many other people were also out there, helping to improve the life of another.

Carol Marselle is one long-time Elmhurst resident who was doing just that. For the last five years, Marselle has been a volunteer at Poised for Success, a Lombard-based nonprofit that’s dedicated to promoting economic self-sufficiency to women by providing them with interview-appropriate clothing.

“We receive donations from individuals, clothing drives and retailers,” said Gail Foster, executive director of Poised for Success. “Our clients are seen by appointment, and will work with one of our highly experienced volunteers to help them select two outfits for interviewing. The experience is so much more than just clothes—it is one of personal attention, self-confidence building, and empowerment to believe in one’s self again.”

“Poised for Success is a perfect fit for me,” said Marselle of her volunteer work. “I love clothes and fashion, so dressing clients is really fun for me. And, there’s nothing better than sending women home with clothes that not only make them look professional, but also feel beautiful and confident.”

Poised for Success serves 350-400 women per year and their volunteer opportunities include clothing intake, inventory management and client services. “The staff is a group of very motivated, lovely women,” said Marselle. “I expect to stay with the organization as long as they'll have me.”

Marselle is not alone in her love for helping people.

Elmhurst lawyer Lindsay Boyd rolls up his sleeves and volunteers at Habitat for Humanity’s Addison-based resale shop, appropriately named ReStore.

“ReStore takes donations of new and gently used building materials from companies that are clearing out excess inventory and home owners who are remodeling,” explains Jim Fessler, store manager. “Our inventory consists of kitchen cabinets, light fixtures, doors, windows and bathroom vanities, all of which are sold at drastically reduced prices—generally over 50% off retail.”

Boyd began volunteering at the ReStore when it opened at 869 S. Rowling Road in July 2011. “The ReStore appeals to my desire to give to agencies that create a greater community and world by helping others make themselves better.”

Since 2005, DuPage Habitat for Humanity has helped 54 families achieve the dream of owning a home. All proceeds from the ReStore fund DuPage Habitat for Humanity projects. Volunteer opportunities range from working the cash register to helping customers design their kitchen or bathroom.

In addition, since July the Addison ReStore has diverted over 63 tons of refuse from landfills. “My volunteer work ensures in a small way that more material is reclaimed and used in positive ways,” said Boyd. “ReStore helps create a better individual and a better society by finding worth in things considered old or under utilized.”

Sadly, the concept of throwing away old things is not limited to building materials.

Teresa Connors and Donna Evans are two Elmhurst neighbors that share a love for dogs. In 2009, when they learned about a way to help save shelter dogs from euthanasia, they jumped at chance to join the cause.

“Quincy K-9 Connection and West Hancock Canine Rescue are two nonprofit organizations that both work to pull dogs and cats from “kill” shelters in southern Illinois, Iowa, and Missouri,” said Lauren Nehlsen, transport coordinator. “Every Saturday, volunteers known as the Animal Rescue Transport Team serve the transportation needs of both organizations by moving these pets to no-kill shelters and rescue groups in higher population areas to give the pets a chance at a second life.”

“Every Monday a call goes out for volunteers to transport for the upcoming Saturday, and if we are available, we sign up,” explains Connors. “We usually sign up to drive the leg that transports from Princeton to Joliet or from Joliet to the Chicago suburbs.”

“We decided that it would be fun to drive as a team,” added Evans. “And as an extra bonus, the time we spend driving together gives us a good chance to catch up.”

In 2011, the Animal Rescue Transport Team saved over 2,200 dogs and cats from euthanasia, averaging about 43 animals per week.

“Our favorite part of this volunteer work is the dogs that we transport,” said Connors. “Many have been through sad and traumatic situations, yet they are always so sweet and seem to understand that they are going to a better place.”

The Animal Rescue Transport Team welcomes volunteers to sign up and drive any Saturday they find convenient. “I don’t understand why more people don’t so this, because it make me feel so good!” said Evans.

If you need proof for how wonderful these rescued dogs are, then you have to look no further than Elmhurst resident Pam Entwistle. Pam found her black Lab mix at a local rescue after he had been saved by Quincy K-9 Connection and transported by the Animal Rescue Transport Team.

“Harley is the most docile and sweetest dog we have ever had,” said Entwistle. “I wanted to share him with others.”

That’s when Entwistle enrolled Harley in obedience training and got him certified by the Delta Society as a Reading Education Assistance Dog. “I loved to read as a child and still do, so I thought helping kids get on the path to enjoying reading would be great.”

Entwistle and Harley now volunteer as a team for the R.E.A.D. program. “Because dogs are so loving and nonjudgmental, kids come out of their shells and really look forward to their sessions with the dogs.”

“We’ve worked at the Clarendon Hills, Western Springs, and Hinsdale Public Libraries for over a year now,” said Entwistle. “The best part is seeing the smiles on the children's faces when they come into the room and see the dogs waiting for them. The kids absolutely love it! And, Harley’s tail starts wagging when he sees the kids.”

There is a great need for R.E.A.D. and other types of therapy dogs, and the Hinsdale Humane Society’s Pet-a-Pet Program can get you started.

If any of these volunteering opportunities interest you, be sure to check out their web sites and fill out a volunteer application: , , , and .

The people of Elmhurst should be proud of the love they put into their community service. This Valentine’s Day, maybe the motto for Elmhurst should be: Cupid’s Hometown.

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