Notable Native: Joyce Percel


Joyce Percel

Joyce Percel, who works for Chicago Cares, said its annual Serve-a-thon will take place on June 25. She said it is estimated to bring in 5,000 volunteers. 

By metro editor

Joyce Percel realized shortly before graduating from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign that she did not want to pursue a career with her degree in chemistry, but wanted to make a career out of volunteering instead. 

Percel now works at Chicago Cares, an nonprofit organization that helps locals find volunteer opportunities from education to health and wellness. 

Percel said Chicago Cares will host its annual Serve-a-thon, the organization’s biggest volunteer event of the year, on June 25.

Percel spoke with The Chronicle about Chicago Cares’ Serve-a-thon, the importance of volunteering and how she spends her free time.

THE CHRONICLE: What service does Chicago Cares offer?

JOYCE PERCEL: We build volunteer experiences that connect people and communities to build a stronger Chicago. We provide a platform for volunteers [and] for Chicagoans to do good through volunteering. We actually build all our volunteer projects that we offer. We have  up to 200 volunteer projects every month that people in the community can sign up for. These projects are created through partnerships with other nonprofit organizations around the city. We work with each nonprofit to build volunteer programming based on community partners’ needs and what they want to accomplish .

Why did you decide to pursue this line of work?

I graduated from college, and I was kind of at a crossroads because I realized late [in my] senior year of college that I really didn’t want a career in my major. So I did two years of AmeriCorps because that was a way for me to just volunteer and spend some time figuring out what I wanted to do with my life. My second year of AmeriCorps was actually with Chicago Cares, and I’ve been here ever since.

What will happen at the Serve-a-thon next month?

It’s a super fun day. We have up to 5,000 volunteers [who] go out to different organizations and schools all around the city to do lots of really good hard work: painting murals, landscaping, cooking meals—all sorts of things. Afterward, there’s a fun party at Daley Plaza where the volunteers who went out can come and celebrate the day with each other. It’s a ton of fun and a  cool way to see people spread out, do good and come back together and celebrate the good that they did.

What do you do for fun?

I do volunteer [work] outside Chicago Cares. I tutor once a week with Tutoring Chicago. It sounds cheesy, but I like exploring the city, which is a big part of my job. I drive all around Chicago and meet different people from different neighborhoods. Logan Square is a really fun neighborhood to explore, and I think every neighborhood has its own gem. There’s a project I’m working on in Greater Grand Crossing, and my husband was going with me. I told him we have to go to Lem’s Bar-B-Q afterwards, which is in the neighborhood. It’s the best barbecue on the South Side.

Why do you think it’s important to volunteer?

For me, it was a way to get outside of my bubble and have new experiences [and] learn new things. Having the opportunity to volunteer at different organizations and talk to different people, different staff members who work in these kinds of social service work every day—it kind of gave me an opportunity to learn more, delve deeper into these issues and start to care about them and have it shape my values and shape who I am.