Employees Join Forces With Community Groups to Serve the South Side
DOSAR - Shirley Booker
Shirley Booker, RN, steamed clothes at a local resale boutique that helps young mothers become self-sufficient.


By Brooke E. O'Neill

Shirley Booker, hidden behind a clothes rack stocked with skirts and dresses in every color, carefully traced each pleat with a handheld steamer. The machine gave off a cloud of warm air, a welcome contrast to the chill outside the 2nd CHANCE Resale Boutique at 6607 S. King Dr.

“I’ve only done this at home,” said Booker, RN, a clinic nurse at the University of Chicago Medical Center. Yet on May 15, she and 200 some employees and their families tried out new skills volunteering with more than 20 local organizations.

Spread across nine South Side neighborhoods, the activity was part of the Medical Center’s eighth annual Day of Service and Reflection (DOSAR). The event, started during the Medical Center’s 75th anniversary in 2002, was
designed to connect employees with each other and the surrounding community.

It’s important to “help build a positive reputation by giving back,” said Booker, who has participated the past three years. She was part of a group assigned to 2nd CHANCE, a nonprofit that provides work and housing to help mothers age 19 to 25 become self-sufficient. “I like to see smiles on people’s faces,” she added as little footsteps clattered above.

Medical Center Patient Relations Specialist Mary Ellen Arroyo got artistic at the Creative Mansion Children’s Academy, a preschool and day care at 4745 S. Ellis Ave. For her, the day is a way to experience “a greater sense of community” with coworkers.

“I love the interaction with new people,” she said, dabbing green paint on a mural. With two daughters and four nieces alongside her, it also was quality family time.

Relationships are a key focus of DOSAR, which brings together Medical Center employees, residents and community groups that don’t always interact. “We are a medical center, but we’re also a neighbor,” said Leif Elsmo, executive director of the Medical Center’s Office of Community Affairs.

Volunteering for even a few hours, he said, builds connections and raises employees’ awareness of local grass-roots efforts. Often times, he said, the day ends up a “point of entry” for enduring partnerships between DOSAR organizations, the Medical Center and employees inspired to volunteer more at their sites.

“The organizations we’re working with are already doing great work,” said Elsmo. One such example is the Emmett Louis Till Math & Science Academy where two dozen Medical Center employees, local Woodlawn residents and neighborhood children planted fruit trees and flowers in a community garden. The long-term vision, said resident Joyce Nimocks, is to integrate the area into a broad science curriculum, as well as create reading and music-making space. Events like DOSAR, she said, “allow us to bring our heads together and see what we can do.”