Two summers ago, a former boss of mine in California informed me that a mutual friend, Steve Gratwick, had cofounded a nonprofit in Los Angeles aimed at putting the LGBT community to work for charitable causes. At the time, I didn’t think much of it. At Pridefest, however, I passed a booth manned by an energetic Chicagoan named Michael Wilcox who was wearing a T-shirt emblazoned with the bold red letters G4G. It seems that Gay for Good—an org that seeks to foster goodwill between the LGBT and other city communities through volunteer service projects—has hit Chicago. Its next day of service is Sunday 15.
Since its April 2009 founding in L.A., Gay for Good has spawned offspring in cities including S.F., San Diego, Boston and Pittsburgh. It launched in Chicago in January thanks in part to Wilcox and cofounders Kevin Purvis, Buck Dodson, Brian Redar and Mark Petroelje, who began having conversations about it last summer. “I had been in Chicago a year and half at that point and really wanted to do something that benefitted the community,” Wilcox says. “I figured it would be a great way to very quickly feel a part of the city.”
The Chicago chapter already boasts more than 225 members who take an afternoon out of their month for a community service project. Its inaugural outing included painting rooms and hallways for the YMCA in North Lawndale (and an encounter with Mayor Emanuel). In May, “G4Gers” joined with AmeriCorps for an environmental awareness project that had the group revitalizing nine gardens in the Humboldt Park neighborhood. The Sunday 15 event, “Litter Obliterators,” is a partnership with the LaBagh Woods Forest Preserve on the Northwest Side. The group will spend the morning picking up litter and beautifying the park.
The system is simple. Interested volunteers meet at the designated place of service via public transit or carpool. Each project lasts around three hours and includes a socializing element afterward. As a thank you, organizers partner with local businesses and raffle off prizes like iTunes gift cards.
The org finds volunteer opportunities via member suggestion, through other chapters and by visiting VolunteerMatch.com. None of the charities are LGBT-affiliated. “Through working with non-LGBT organizations we hope to bridge the gap between the two communities through service,” Wilcox says. “It really goes a long way in terms of fostering relationships between the LGBT and non-LGBT community.”
Gay for Good stays away from orgs with a political agenda, although ones that have irked queer activists are not necessarily off the table. “When it comes to organizations that have had less than desirable press toward the LGBT community, if we were to reach out to them and they said, ‘yes, we would love to work with you,’ I feel that that would be a great way to bridge whatever gap there may be between the two communities,” Wilcox says.
Of course, any queer person can seek out volunteer service, but Wilcox says there is safety in numbers. “Some members maybe feel more comfortable volunteering in a big LGBT group,” he says. “You can be yourself but you’re also working with the non-LGBT community for service.” It’s also an opportunity to meet like-minded people outside both the bars and Boystown. “Most people don’t get up and say, ‘I’m going to go to the forest preserve over in Skokie today or I’m going to go to Humboldt Park and plant flowers,’ ” Wilcox says. “You really get around and travel the city in a way that you wouldn’t normally do and volunteer while you’re doing that.”
Gay for Good cleans up LaBagh Woods Sunday 15. See gayforgood.org.