Chicago is filled with people who use their energy and talents to make the Windy City and its suburbs such a great place to live while helping those around them.
We selected five who are good examples of that giving nature. From collecting toys for sick children to climbing a giant mountain to figuring out ways to help every day, these are people who give back locally and globally without expecting anything in return.
This holiday season, we hope they inspire you, too. No effort is too small when it comes to making a difference.
One voice to change the world: 13-year-old says helping others is part of who she is
When Jessica Streepy saw the piles of fresh apples and oranges going into the garbage, she knew she had to do something. The state required each of her classmates at Sundling Junior High in Palatine to take a piece of fruit with their lunch, but most of it was being thrown away untouched. Why not donate it to a local food pantry? thought Jessica.
She wrote a letter to her principal and ended up going all the way to Springfield to make sure her plan to give away the fruit was legal, but the 13-year-old figured out how to do it.
It's not unusual for Streepy, who says helping people is just part of who she is.
"Everything I do, I try to think about how it could help someone," says Streepy. "I just love helping other people. It just makes me more complete."
She's cut off her hair for Locks of Love-twice. When a soccer teammate's mom got breast cancer, Streepy started passing around a can for cancer research at every game. And when a neighbor showed her pictures of orphans in Africa, she started her own small business making barrettes and headbands to raise money for the charity One Day's Wages, which works to fight extreme poverty around the globe.
So far, Streepy has raised more than $20,000 for the organization. Her efforts caught the eye of the Kohl's Cares Foundation, which gave her a $10,000 scholarship for her community service work.
Jessica also hopes her efforts inspire other kids to recognize their own power to make a difference.
"Don't just think about the short-term results," says Jessica. "Think more about how much you could change the world in the future."
Sick kids' resilience inspires: Hospital volunteer wants kids to play
Last year, Yianna Manokas made what she thought was a crazy suggestion to her boss.
As a creative director for a trade show company, she was preparing for thousands of people to come to a December show. Wouldn't it be great, Manokas suggested, if instead of paying the $5 entrance fee, visitors could bring a toy to pay their admission? They could donate the toys to sick kids who would be spending Christmas at Advocate Children's Hospital in Park Ridge, where Manokas volunteered.
"I never thought they would go for it because it would take away from their revenue," says Manokas, 30, of Niles. "But they did it, and people brought toys. Somewhere after 3,500 toys, we stopped counting."
Then Manokas mentioned what happened at the trade show to a friend who worked at Nieman Marcus in Oak Brook. That friend talked to her boss, who agreed to host a toy drive, too.
But Manokas wanted to do more, so she asked friends to bring toys to a holiday party at her condo, bringing in another 40 toys for the kids at Advocate.
"It was just a simple conversation that inspired people," says Manokas. "I was just excited to share my little story, and it branched out into all that other stuff."
But it's the kids who inspire Manokas. Despite their ailments and illnesses, they never cease to surprise her with their energy, excitement and willingness to play.
"They know they have something wrong with them, but they just want to focus on the things they love and what they can do," says Manokas.
"If kids dealing with all of that can find that kind of energy, there's no reason why any of us can't find a positive way to deal with our problems."
Rocking at giving back: Tween band loves its charity gigs
Alex Cappelli is a typical musician. She loves her bass guitar. She loves playing gigs with her band, Live Wire. And she loves hearing from her fans that she's inspired them.
But Alex's age might surprise you. At just 11, this pint-sized rock goddess and her band have been electrifying stages all around Chicagoland. Their biggest fans? Their peers.
"They're excited to see kids their age," says Capelli, about the kids that attend the band's shows. "It makes me happy that we're making them feel that way."
Live Wire is made up of four kids-Alex, her little brother, Danny Cappelli, 9, who plays lead guitar, lead singer Nikko Viejon, 9, and 11-year-old drummer Cohen Bessler. All four are students at Hix Brothers Music in Aurora and met as part of a eight-week program that puts students into groups to make a band.
But eight weeks wasn't enough for these junior rockers. They've been at it for two years now, meeting every Sunday to practice and playing a couple of gigs a month, mostly at community festivals and music shows. But they've also traveled to Memphis and Toronto, played at The Chicago Theatre and even appeared on WGN TV.
The band loves to give back. They're played charity gigs for children's hospitals and will open for the band Ides of March at the Arcada Theater in St. Charles on Dec. 7, a show that will benefit Lazarus House, a local homeless shelter.
"If you can do something that you love and help people while you're doing it, that's even better," says Alex.
For videos of the band's performances, visit wearelivewire.com.
Going the mile for those in Africa: Family turns hobby into $54,000 lesson
Flipping through a cycling magazine, an ad caught Sheila Higney's eye-a 100-mile race to give bikes to kids living in rural parts of Africa.
When she shared it with her husband, Andrew, and their 14-year-old son, Garrett, who had recently taken up long-distance biking as a hobby, they were intrigued.
Two years later, five of the Higneys weren't just reading about Africa-they were there, learning about the work of the charity World Bicycle Relief, for which they had raised more $54,000 as a family.
The trip to Africa changed their lives, says Caroline, 14, who got involved after seeing Garrett, now 16, raise more than $18,000 for World Bicycle Relief in his first year in the Wrigley Field Road Tour.
The best part of the trip? She and her brother got to give a bicycle to Ethel, a 15-year-old African girl who used to have to walk more than two hours each way to school every morning.
"We really take for granted how close we are to our school and how our parents can drive us every day," says Caroline. "They walk that far every day just to learn and to make a better life for themselves."
To raise money, the Higneys asked friends, family and co-workers for donations through letters and emails and even held a yard sale to benefit the charity. Working together to help a cause they believe in has changed them as a family, Sheila says.
What's it like to ride 100 miles on a bike? Garrett and Caroline aren't afraid to tell it like it is.
"It's long and tiring, and you get really, really hungry about halfway through," Garrett says.
"And your butt starts to hurt," says Caroline.
Despite the fatigue and sore posteriors, when they think about Ethel and her bike, they both agree every mile is worth it.
Reaching new heights: Family works to help Israeli charity organization
If at first you don't succeed, try, try again.
You could say that old adage was the Zavell family motto. Last year, Howard Zavell and his two sons, Max, 15, and Ben, 13, attempted an enormous feat-to climb 19,341-foot Mount Kilimanjaro in Tanzania. But when malaria pills caused side effects that mimicked heart problems, Zavell and his sons had to come back down.
"It was an extremely low point for all of us," says Zavell. "Like having the rug pulled out from under you."
They'd started training for the trip as a family lesson in goal setting, but it became an exercise in perseverance, too. This month, the three will try the climb again and hope to get to the top this time.
But making it to Kilimanjaro's summit isn't the only purpose of the Zavells' trip. As a family, they decided to use the trip to raise money for a cause they believed in. As a result, the Zavells have raised more than $30,000 for charity Magen David Adom, Israel's equivalent of the Red Cross.
"MDA treats anybody who is injured, no matter who they are," says Zavell. "Even if someone had set off a bomb and was still alive, they'd treat that person, too. They don't look at race or religion or color."
It was Max's idea to raise money for MDA, after he shoveled neighbors' sidewalks and sold pumpkins to benefit the charity as part of his bar mitzvah project. Doing it again with his brother and father, as well as training for the climb, has brought them closer together as a family, he says.
"It was just so great being together and being able to spend this time doing something that we all love," he says.