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
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
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
Sick kids' resilience
inspires: Hospital volunteer wants kids to
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,
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
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
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
For videos of the band's performances, visit
Going the mile for those in
Africa: Family turns hobby into $54,000
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
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
"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
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
Despite the fatigue and sore posteriors, when they
think about Ethel and her bike, they both agree every mile is worth
Reaching new heights:
Family works to help Israeli charity
If at first you don't succeed, try, try
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
"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
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