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  • Top 6 Reasons to Come to the Chicago Volunteer Expo

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    Tags: chicago volunteer expo, volunteer expo, volunteer, volunteer opportunities

    Created: 2/10/2016      Updated: 7/29/2016

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    Chicago Volunteer Expo logo

    Later this month we will host the Chicago Volunteer Expo, now in its fourth year. We are proud to be the home of this city-wide event that showcases hundreds of volunteer opportunities at over 85 nonprofit and community organizations. Join us on Sunday, February 28, from 10am to 4pm, to find the opportunity that’s right for you.

    Need a little motivation? Here’s why we think you should be there:

    1. It’s free. There’s not a lot more to be said here. Who doesn’t love a Sunday outing that costs nothing?
    1. It takes place at the Nature Museum. Instead of a giant, boring convention center, we hold the Chicago Volunteer Expo right here at the Peggy Notebaert Nature Museum. Not only will you get to learn about hundreds of volunteer opportunities all over the city, you’ll also have the chance to explore our exhibits. You can meet live critters, check out our historic collections, and get acquainted with urban nature. And I challenge you to find a more pleasant place to be on a February afternoon than our Judy Istock Butterfly Haven, which we keep at 80 degrees.
    1. You’ll have real conversations, with real people representing great causes. Sure, you could go online and search for volunteer opportunities, but an in-person conversation just can’t be beat when it comes to decisions like where to volunteer your time. Sometimes the most interesting opportunities are at tiny organizations that are not posted online and don’t show up in Google searches. Even if you do find a good opportunity listed, too often you fill out an inquiry and simply never hear back from anyone. At the Chicago Volunteer Expo, you can personally meet with more than 85 organizations and learn immediately how you can help make an impact with your valuable volunteer time.

    Volunteer at the Chicago Volunteer Expo

    1. Instant gratification. Even while you’re still browsing the options at the Expo, you can start lending a hand on the spot. We call it speed volunteering – it’s kind of like speed dating, but less awkward. All day long, you can help turn used plastic grocery bags into beautiful and functional sleeping mats for the homeless. It only takes minutes, and you can see your impact immediately.
    1. School credit or brownie points at work. Most schools now require service learning of some kind, but it can be hard for teens to find volunteer work. We carefully curate the organizations that come to this event, and 59% of them offer volunteer opportunities for teens. Another common challenge is finding opportunities for groups of coworkers to volunteer together – it’s great for teambuilding, but a lot of places just can’t accommodate groups. Never fear: 61% of the organizations at the Expo will take groups.
    1. Volunteering might make you happier. It’s been studied! People who volunteer are happier than people who don’t, and some researchers have even found a causal effect – volunteering actually caused the increase in happiness. If you’re feeling those wintertime blues, why not lend a hand for a cause you care about? You might find that it’s mutually beneficial.

    Volunteers at the Chicago Volunteer Expo

    Jill Doub
    Senior Director of Public Engagement

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  • Volunteer Appreciation Week

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    Tags: volunteer, volunteering, volunteer appreciation week, service

    Created: 4/11/2014      Updated: 5/27/2015

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    On your last visit to the Nature Museum, did you notice anyone in a green apron? I bet you saw several of these folks, actually. Maybe they brought out a live snake for you to pet, or maybe you glimpsed them through the glass pinning chrysalides outside the Butterfly Haven. Those are volunteers, and to tell you the truth, this place wouldn’t keep running without them.

    Well over 300 people contribute about 13,000 volunteer hours to the Nature Museum every year –all because they love this institution and they want to help further our mission. We try to find small ways to thank them throughout the year, but every April we pull out all the stops and throw a recognition dinner to express our deep appreciation for all they do for us.

    We give service pins to those who have stuck with us through the years. Several volunteers are celebrating their 15th anniversary with us this year. That means they’ve been volunteering since before we even opened our doors to the public back in 1999!

    But it’s not just about numbers. We also honor those who go above and beyond their volunteer duties and provide truly exceptional service to the Nature Museum and our visitors, animals, and collections. This set of awards was inspired by creatures that live here at the museum.

    For example, the monarch butterfly is perhaps the most recognized butterfly in the Judy Istock Butterfly Haven, not to mention the Midwest region. This striking butterfly is renowned not only for its beauty but also for its determination and tenacity as it travels over a thousand miles to find its wintering grounds in Mexico. This iconic butterfly is the perfect symbol for our Volunteer of the Year.

    The box turtle will entertain and educate the largest crowds of visitors whilst reassuring the most nervous amongst them that nature does not have to be big and scary. The volunteer selected for this award finds a special individual way to reach out to all our visitors, making them feel welcome. 

    So without further ado, please join me in congratulating the recipients of this year’s excellence awards and service milestones.

    The Rainbow Darter Award for enthusiasm: Tom Mattingly

    The Corn Snake Award for dedication: Jim Nitti  

    The Button Quail Award for behind-the-scenes work: Alan Barney

    The Metamorphosis Award for growth: Lenny Cicero

    The Fox Snake Award for visitor service: Julianna Cristanti

    The Box Turtle Award for visitor education: Jon Meisenbach

    The Tiger Salamander Award for mission focus: Luis Melendez

    The Green Tree Frog Award for eco friendliness: Valerie Sands

    The Leaf Cutter Ant Award for teamwork: Dee Kenney and Doris Devine

    The Monarch Award for Volunteer of the Year: Nicole Johnson

    Celebrating 15 years of service:
    Dee Kenney
    Doris Devine
    Joan Rathbone
    Judith Brenner
    Kristine Dombeck
    Ross Capaccio
    Ruthmarie Eisin
    Vickie Lau
    Jacki Casler

    10 years of service:
    Mary O'Shea
    Pat Hanneline
    Pat Moran

    5 years of service:
    Joan Bledig
    Paula Calzolari
    Yvi Russell
    Dana Crawford

    Celebrating 3,000 hours of service:
    Judith Brenner

    2,000 hours of service:
    Sheri Thomas

    1,500 hours of service:
    Ross Capaccio

    1,000 hours of service:
    Joan Rathbone
    Cindy Gray

    500 hours of service:
    Linda Montanero
    Aaron Goldberg
    Walt Mellens
    Lorraine Kells

    Jill Doub
    Manager of Volunteers and Interns

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  • Meet the Beetles

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    Tags: volunteer, beetles, Biology, metamorphosis, Chicago Academy of Sciences, Peggy Notebaert Nature Museum

    Created: 4/15/2013      Updated: 8/10/2016

    One Sunday, the PIP volunteers were doing a program called Meet the Bugs. We brought out a praying mantis, darkling beetles, a wolf spider, and a desert millipede to give visitors a close-up look. The inclusion of the spider and millipede meant “Meet the Invertebrates” would be a more accurate description of the program, but Meet the Bugs is catchier and easier to say.

    We also brought out superworms, the legged larvae of darkling beetles (superworms is a misnomer), to provide a before-and-after illustration of insect metamorphosis. The superworms would become beetles, we explained, if they were not eaten by one of the Museum’s turtles first.

    Superworm

    Several visitors asked how superworms turned into beetles because they look nothing alike. I compared it to caterpillars turning into butterflies. I hope that was helpful to them, but decided I needed to learn more to provide a better-informed answer next time.

    Darkling beetle

    So I googled “darkling beetle metamorphosis” when I got home. There were many results illustrating the pupa stage the beetles go through, comparable to the chrysalis stage for butterflies and the cocoon stage for moths. From viewing the scientific drawings, I realized that I had frequently seen mealworm beetle pupa in the oatmeal-filled drawer where the mealworms are kept without recognizing what they were.

    I also found several videos on YouTube of the metamorphosis of darkling beetles. The most interesting was an almost 8-minute video that showed in close-up the larva, pupa, and adult stages of the beetle’s life. My favorite part was watching the legs kicking free of the pupa casing as the adult emerged.  The video was a 4th grade class project, part of their habitats unit in science. What a great idea. It gave me a much clearer picture of the process that should help me explain it better to others. Check out the video and see for yourself.

    Cindy Gray
    Public Interpretive Programs Volunteer

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  • Volunteer Spotlight

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    Tags: volunteer, volunteering, Peggy Notebaert Nature Museum

    Created: 3/8/2013      Updated: 8/10/2016

    Volunteers play many different roles at the Nature Museum, but have you ever wondered what we do outside of volunteering? Check out this interview with one of our Public Interpretive Programs (PIP) Volunteers, JoAnne!

    Name:  JoAnne Kempf
    Volunteer Position:
      PIP 

    JoAnne Kempf

    How long have you been volunteering here?
    10 years this April

    Why did you choose the Nature Museum?
    I was unemployed and finishing my Master’s Degree but needed something to get me out of the house. I went to VolunteerMatch.org and the Nature Museum came up as a possibility. I had actually never heard of the Peggy Notebaert Nature Museum but the volunteer job description intrigued me. I visited the museum to check it out and fell in love with it. It reminded me of the local museums and visitor centers we frequented on family vacations with our two sons. And it’s completely different from the office work I get paid to do.

    What is your favorite thing about the Nature Museum?
    Unlike the Field Museum or Science & Industry, there’s a sense of intimacy about our little museum. You can really get up close and personal with our exhibits. And I like that we focus primarily on nature in our immediate vicinity.

    What is your favorite part of your volunteer position?
    Wow….there’s so much. I love the teaching aspect; the look on a kid’s face when they have an “aha” moment. I love having conversations with the grown-up visitors about prairies and savannas. And I’m constantly learning something and having new experiences. It never occurred to me to hold a snake, for example, but now I eagerly handle snakes and all kinds of critters that were just not part of my world before. But mostly I look forward to spending time with my fellow volunteers. In 10 years’ time, I’ve seen a lot of volunteers come and go, but they always have something interesting to offer. And of course there are the “old timers” like me; I’ve made some very close friends.

    What do you do outside of the museum?
    I work! I am the Director of the Office of Governance at the American Library Association. What the heck does that mean? Well, I am basically the right-hand person to the Executive Director and the association president helping them to carry out their programs and initiatives. It’s a very demanding job that leaves me weary much of the time, which is why I volunteer – to give my mind something else to focus on.

    In addition to volunteering at the Nature Museum, I have been a member of the Skokie Concert Choir for seven years (I’m a soprano), and currently serve as their board president. During the choir’s summer hiatus, I am an avid gardener committed to growing mostly native plants. In fact, I have a miniature prairie in my backyard that includes Joe Pye, milkweed, cone flowers, black-eyed Susan, zizzia, monarda, and blazing star. I have recently become quite fond of taking walks through the Somme Prairie in Northbrook, IL. This is a restoration project that was begun by the Nature Conservancy in the ‘90s. A fellow Nature Museum volunteer and I discovered this area last summer and enjoy visiting there to observe the changes throughout the seasons. 

    Red Admiral on purple Coneflower

    I am a season ticket-holder to the Lyric Opera. I love to cook. I knit off and on. And my kitty and I are completely hooked on Downton Abbey!

    Stop by and say hello to JoAnne the next time you come for a visit!

    Ashley Lundgren
    Public Interpretive Programs Volunteer

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  • Exhibit Evaluation at the Nature Museum

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    Tags: public programs, Peggy Notebaert Nature Museum, exhibits, exhibit evaluation, volunteer

    Created: 2/13/2013      Updated: 8/10/2016

    The Nature Museum continually evaluates visitor usage of our permanent and temporary exhibits. Why do we do it?

    According to Exhibit Evaluator Hannah Im, “It is important for us to know how visitors experience different exhibits. It allows us to understand how they are currently used, and what improvements we can make in the development of upcoming exhibits.”  

    Hannah Im
    Hannah Im

    At the Nature Museum, we use two methods to collect data on exhibit usage- observation and interviews.

    Observation: You may have seen our volunteer evaluators in the galleries with clipboards and stopwatches. They are observing visitors and collecting data about time spent in the different areas of an exhibit.

    Interviews: As you leave an exhibit, you may be approached by another volunteer with a clipboard. These volunteers are collecting information about what visitors learn during their time in an exhibit.

    Hannah Im with museum visitors

    Using these methods, our Exhibits team is able to build a clear picture of how visitors use exhibits, what they learn, and suggestions for improvement. Please do your part to improve our exhibits by completing the short questionnaires when requested. You may even get a sticker!

    Volunteers are essential to the Nature Museum’s exhibit evaluation project. Volunteer Allan Zemsky has been working with us on the project for almost a year. Alan says, "I enjoy Visitor Studies at the Nature Museum because you get to observe our guests in action at the various exhibits. I can in turn give feedback to the administration so they can better assist our guests in the future."

    Interested in volunteering with the exhibit evaluation team? It’s a great behind-the-scenes way to contribute with flexible hours to fit your schedule. Just email volunteer@naturemuseum.org to get started.

    Heather Grance
    Manager of Public Programs

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  • Chicago Volunteer Expo

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    Tags: volunteer, Chicago Volunteer Expo, Peggy Notebaert Nature Museum, community

    Created: 2/6/2013      Updated: 5/27/2015

    Remember back in November when we blogged about all the ways your life will improve when you start volunteering? Well we have great news for you. We are hosting the first-ever Chicago Volunteer Expo right here at the Nature Museum on February 10th. This is your chance!


    This Sunday, you can meet folks from over 60 nonprofit organizations in need of smart, talented volunteers to do such a wide variety of projects that we can only mention a fraction of them in this blog post.

    Working Bikes Cooperative needs handy mechanics to repair bicycles. The Chicago Bird Collision Monitors want volunteers to traverse the city rescuing injured birds. FreeGeek Chicago is looking for people to help recycle old computer parts and teach community members how to use them. Sarah’s Circle needs volunteers to lead workshops in nutrition, job searching, and self defense for women who are homeless in Uptown.

    There are so many ways to help out and so many needs to be met. But here’s the big secret. This Expo is not really for the organizations. It’s for YOU. 

    For anyone who made a new year’s resolution to give back to their community. For anyone who wants to fight for the cause they truly care about. For anyone who wants to add a little meaning to their workaday lives. You are the people these nonprofits are searching for. Come meet them at the Chicago Volunteer Expo and start the conversation. 

    Did we mention it’s free?

    Sunday, February 10
    10 am to 4 pm
    Peggy Notebaert Nature Museum
    2430 N Cannon Drive
    Free! All ages welcome!

    Jill Doub, Sarah and Nick Anderson
    Organizing Committee for the Chicago Volunteer Expo

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  • Day in the Life of an Animal Care Volunteer

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    Tags: volunteering, volunteer, animals, living collections

    Created: 1/2/2013      Updated: 8/10/2016

    The following post was written by Cindy Gray, one of our animal care volunteers at the Museum.

    8:15 to 8:25

    Arrive at the Museum, greet the cleaning woman who lets me in as she cleans the entry, get the key to the Look-in-Lab from security, check-in at the volunteer lounge, and put on one of the volunteer aprons. Go to the Lab, greet Celeste and Jamie and get ready to start working!

    8:25 to 8:40
    Change the swimming water for the Leopard frog and the drinking/soaking water for the American toad in Mysteries of the Marsh, and mist the American toad tank with RO water (“RO” water is “reverse osmosis” water, water filtered to remove chlorine and other elements that may bother amphibians, water bugs, fish, and some reptiles). Feed the frog and toad, trying to drop the crickets into their tanks, not on the carpet (I read that toads blink their eyes to help swallow their food, but I had trouble picturing it until I saw the toad capture and swallow one of the crickets I fed her one day).

    8:40 to 8:45
    Mist the green tree frog tank near the spotted turtles to maintain the high humidity they prefer.  Sometimes one of the frogs will start “singing” as I mist -- I like to think it's because they are happy for the fresh "rain".

    8:45 to 9:00
    Provide fresh water for the Tiger salamander, Gray tree frogs, American toad, Cricket frogs, and Fowler’s toad in the Look-in-Lab and mist their habitats. Provide Harriet the tarantula with fresh water in her bowl and crickets.

    9:00 to 9:25
    Empty the water bowls for the snakes used for critter connections and provide fresh water.  Sometimes right after I change her water, Coco the Fox snake takes a drink and then soaks in the fresh water.  Change the paper substrate of their tanks if they have pooped. Mist with water any snakes that are shedding to help with that process. If a snake sheds overnight, take the skin out of the cage. If a snake was fed the night before, look to make sure it ate the defrosted mouse or rat.

    9:20 to 10:10
    Clean up after the box turtles that are used for critter connections. For the box turtles in the front window, provide fresh water, take out yesterday’s food dishes, throwing away the leftovers and putting the dish in the dishwasher, and redistribute the coconut fiber substrate. For the box turtles in the other enclosures, provide fresh water, take out yesterday’s food dishes, and change the paper if they have made a mess, in other words, everyday. When I take them out of the tanks, I put up the “slow traffic” sign that has a picture of a turtle and give the turtles worms, trying to keep an eye on them as I clean; it is surprising how fast a turtle can wander away and wedge herself into a small hiding space.

    Pretty Girl the box turtle enjoying a superworm



    10:10 to 10:40
    Tend the nursery for the Abedus (ferocious water beetles), providing them with clean water and crickets.  The females lay dozens of eggs on the males’ backs, and we remove the males to small containers filled with water to protect the babies when they hatch. The young pass through numerous stages before they are big enough to go into the tank in the window so floating in the water are “exuvia,” the shed exoskeletons they have outgrown (a fun word I only learned after volunteering at the Museum.)

    10:40 to 10:50
    Provide hermit crabs with fresh fruit, fresh RO water, and clean salt water; clean and mist habitat.

    10:50 to 11:25
    Chat with the PIP volunteers (Public Interpretive Program volunteers) when they come in to get a snake or turtle for critter connections and to feed the frogs and toads for the public feeding. Make salad bowls for the turtles: greens, veggies, corn (their favorite if we have it), and berries or other fruit, topped with crushed egg shells for calcium, mealworms dusted with vitamin powder, and nightcrawlers.

    Fruits and veggies for the animals



    11:25 to 11:40
    Tidy up, give the rats corn on the cob, and say good bye to Celeste and Jamie. Check-out in the volunteer lounge, take off the apron, and return the key to security.

    Not every day is the same. One day, I flooded the lab by accidentally opening the valve for the water snake tank and not noticing until I heard water splashing on the floor. Everyone was very nice about it and told me everyone floods the lab at least once! (The snakes were undisturbed.) Usually, the breaks from routine are more interesting: Harriet looking spiffier after her molt, new interns, the tiny leopard frog that was a tadpole the week before, or the hatchling Red-eared sliders and Painted turtles the horticulturists found in the garden last spring.

    Cindy Gray
    Animal Care Volunteer

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  • Butterfly Lab on Christmas Morning

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    Tags: butterfly, volunteer

    Created: 12/24/2012      Updated: 5/28/2015

    There are a handful of reasons why I love volunteering on Christmas morning:

    • My partner and I get to spend some time together away from the usual Christmas chaos,
    • Volunteering when the museum is closed feels like a super-secret-behind-the-scenes-tour, and
    • Butterflies are awesome.

    When I was a kid I loved the excitement of sitting around the tree on Christmas morning and opening presents. As an adult it’s been hard to replicate that kind of excitement. Last year, my partner and I decided to volunteer in the Butterfly Lab on Christmas morning… and it was AMAZING.

    When we walked into the lab, there was a moment of wonder and excitement as we took a peek into the case to see who had emerged overnight. The flurry of color was just so beautiful. The butterflies looked like little presents that had been opened just for us!

    Although I enjoy volunteering in the lab throughout the year, there’s something special about doing it on Christmas morning. I love turning on some Christmas carols, rolling up my sleeves, and getting to work. It’s a great new holiday tradition, and I can't wait for my shift this year!

    Jen Walsh
    Butterfly Lab Volunteer

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  • What Do You Do On Your Day Off?

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    Tags: PIP, volunteer, volunteering

    Created: 12/18/2012      Updated: 8/10/2016

    It’s Sunday afternoon and I have helped a group of second graders spot the queen of our leaf-cutter ant colony, held two fox snakes, acted as a perch for a bunch of newly hatched butterflies not quite ready to fly, and fed no less than three box turtles. What do you do on your day off? I am a Peggy Notebaert Nature Museum Public Interpretive Programs Volunteer, or just PIPster for short.

    I'm also a biology student working my way through school and busier than one of our rooftop honeybees. With work, school, and taking care of my canary, Ladybird, my week can be a little hectic. Yet, I have made it a priority to volunteer for the Nature Museum every Sunday.

    Stephanie Maxwell with butterfly

    I began volunteering here last spring after meeting a few past volunteers who couldn’t say enough good things about the Museum. As a newer student to biology, I had been searching for a way to get more experience to compliment my interest in local wildlife -- something more than a laboratory internship or research assistantship. Boy, did I hit the jackpot.

    Working as a PIP volunteer truly compliments the material I am learning in the classroom, but provides more of a hands-on perspective. Instead of reading about the territorial nature of red-winged blackbirds during the breeding season, I get to witness firsthand what happens when my coworkers venture too close to a nest while exploring the prairie (think Alfred Hitchcock).

    Working for the Museum has also solidified my desire to pursue a career in the wildlife rehabilitation field. Beginning my studies as a biologist, the most important thing that fueled me was my desire to affect this planet in a positive way through some kind of conservation effort; I just wasn’t sure how I could make that a reality. Saving all of the Bengal tigers in Nepal is a bit daunting for a 20 year old in Illinois to contemplate, you know?

    When I began talking to my fellow volunteers and really dove into what the Nature Museum is about -- preserving and protecting native Illinois wildlife while giving the public an opportunity for an authentic connection to nature -- that is when I found that concentrating on a local level is much more approachable to someone like me, and probably you as well.

    That is why I volunteer for the Nature Museum every Sunday. I get to introduce people to an amphibian they never even knew existed, let alone knew was in their backyard. I get to see the absolute wonder mixed with terror on a kindergartener’s face as they feel the scales on a snake for the first time. Volunteering as a PIPster is an amazing opportunity I wouldn’t have had in any other city, because there is no city that has a nature museum quite like ours here in Chicago.

    If you come across a volunteer in a green shirt the next time you’re visiting the museum, don’t hesitate to ask us questions! We’ll be sure to have an answer. I’ll see you on Sunday!

    Stephanie Maxwell
    Public Interpretive Programs Volunteer

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  • Chicago’s Community Weatherization Action Teams

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    Tags: weatherization, C3, volunteer

    Created: 11/29/2012      Updated: 8/10/2016

    Home weatherization is one of the fastest and easiest ways to save money year round, especially in the winter. The average un-weatherized house in the United States leaks air at a rate equivalent to a 4 foot hole in the wall. This is money and natural resources literally going out the window and through the roof. 

    On November 7, the Chicago Conservation Corps and the Nature Museum came together to change that for 3,500 homes in the city of Chicago. Thanks to a grant from the city of Chicago, People’s Gas and ComEd, 3,500 weatherization kits were installed and distributed all over the city in November.  But, it took a lot of work to get these kits to the Community Weatherization Action Teams (CWAT).

    It started out in mid October when Chicago Conservation Corps Coordinator Kristen Pratt jumped into action creating supply lists, surveying the Museum for storage and kit building space, and recruiting volunteers.

    Kristen Pratt

    In less than a month we received supplies, trained volunteers to install the weatherization materials, and were ready to build kits. The kits each consist of weather stripping, caulk, window film, and tape. 3,500 kits with 7 items each results in 24,500 items to be placed into bags along with installation instructions and a CFL light bulb. That is a lot of material – enough to fill three 25 foot long storage containers!

    Delivering kit supplies

    What we found out is that if you want to build it, they will come. We had over 120 volunteers attend the kit building event. What we expected to take over 5 hours was finished in just over 3!  Rafael Rosa, the Peggy Notebaert Nature Museum's Vice President of Education, commented that: “... in the span of 3½ hours, we packed over 3,100 weatherization kits – that’s about 1,000 per hour, 16 per minute, 1 every 3-4 seconds!. When I looked at all the materials that came in during the week before, I couldn’t envision getting this job done in just a few hours. But thanks to 20 or so staff and over 100 volunteers we got it finished quicker than projected...”

    Assembling kits

    Next, we had to get the kits into large plastic totes (or toters as we like to call them) to be delivered to schools and C3 Leaders for distribution and installation. After being packed with kits, each toter was put back in the storage pod by what seemed to be an army of strong and enthusiastic student volunteers. At about 3 pounds per kit, 10 kits per tote, 350 toters - thats about 30 pounds each. If we extend that math further, thats about 10,500 pounds of weatherization supplies - but who is counting?

    C3 Leaders and staff

    What started about 4 pm in the afternoon was completed by 8:30 pm that night!  Chances are that as you read this blog post the pods are gone, the toters are distributed, and the weatherization kits have been delivered to the leaders for their groups to distribute and install. Thanks to all of the volunteers and staff that made this project possible!

    Want to learn how to weatherize your home and get a free kit? Sign up for one of our free weatherization trainings being held this week at the museum. 

    Barbara Powell
    Associate Director of Education Operations

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