Volunteerism is at the heart of the CAC. In 1966, a group of volunteers joined together to save H.H. Richardson’s Glessner House from demolition. This effort led to the establishment of the Chicago Architecture Foundation, now the CAC.
At five years old, in 1971, the CAC graduated its first class of volunteer docents and began offering walking tours. Today, our approximately 450 docents have all taken part in an intensive, nine-week training course before serving at least 30 hours per year.
In recent years, the CAC has welcomed several new types of volunteers: exhibit hosts, education guides and guest services volunteers. Exhibit hosts answer questions and engage curious visitors in the CAC’s gallery spaces. Guest services volunteers provide a welcoming presence at the CAC Box Office and help visitors prepare for their tours. And education guides explore the city with our youngest guests
When Open House Chicago launched in 2010, there was a need for even more volunteers—and architecture enthusiasts stepped up to the task. Last year, 3,318 volunteers contributed 20,000 hours to Open House Chicago and the numbers continue as we approach 10 years of OHC this fall!
“The culture of volunteerism at the CAC is very unique. While we are grateful for our volunteers every day of the year, National Volunteer Week gives us an opportunity to really reflect on their contributions,” says CAC President and CEO Lynn Osmond. “The deep dedication and tireless work of all our volunteers is the reason the CAC continues to grow and thrive.”
Our volunteers come from a wide variety of backgrounds. Whether they’re teachers, architects, lawyers, doctors or musicians, they’re all passionate about Chicago and share a deep dedication to our organization. Over more than 50 years, thousands of volunteers have donated a total of more than 1 million hours with CAC. In 2019 alone, 4,061 volunteers donated 49,040 total volunteer hours.
“Volunteers mean everything to the CAC,” says CAC Manager of Volunteer Engagement Caroline Duda. “Our organization is literally powered by volunteers who give so much of their time and talent. Their passion for architecture and Chicago is unsurpassed.”
In celebration of National Volunteer Week, we must say "Thank you!" to all our docents and volunteers and highlight the work they do. We wouldn’t be where we are today without them.
To bring them in on the fun, we asked a few volunteers: Why do you volunteer for the CAC?
“Being a part of the CAC has introduced me to a new group of wonderful, curious people and gives me abundant opportunities to continue my education and stay involved in the community. One of the best parts of leading tours is watching tour attendees realize something new. Whether it's tourists visiting the city for the first time or native Chicagoans looking at a familiar building in a new way, seeing a look of wonder and curiosity on their faces replaced with understanding and delight is just priceless.”
–CAC docent Jacqueline Rice, class of 2016
“I decided to join as a CAC Volunteer for two main reasons: first, to help an organization whose mission—inspiring people to discover why design matters—struck a strong chord with me; second, to seize an opportunity to grow personally and professionally. I have been volunteering now for over a year at the CAC. It is easy to keep coming back because I know that my actions as a volunteer make a direct contribution to the CAC.”
–Patricia Doyle, former volunteer and current CAC Manager of Membership
“As an architect, maybe I could walk into some of these buildings for client meetings, but friends and family, they’ve come out and appreciated the event. It’s helped me bridge the gap between what I do and showing people some cool spaces we have in the city that are closed off throughout the year.”
–Greg Kristo, Open House Chicago volunteer
“One of the greatest pleasures is meeting people from all over the world and getting to introduce to them a city that I truly love. I really do think that CAC docents are the number one ambassadors to Chicago and are a significant reason why the city has seen such an increase in visitors from all over the world.”
–Steve Gersten, docent
“The most important reason for volunteering is a love of architecture and knowing that design DOES matter. Showing off the Chicago Model to visitors from around the world is just plain fun! To see their expressions and curiosity and then to engage them about the model, its story, its dimensions, its details, etc. is really a thrilling experience.”
–CAC volunteer Bob Adamschick
“For me, being a docent is now a second generation activity! My great aunt, Dorothy 'Dot' Edison, has been a CAC docent for more than 20 years. She suggested it to me a few years ago and it's been one of the most rewarding decisions I've ever made. Not only do we, as docents, get to show off our amazing city, we are given the opportunity to continue to learn and grow personally. The CAC not only acts as proponent for the city of Chicago though tourism, but in local interactions with Chicagoans and it's a thrill to be a part of that energy.”
–CAC docent Lisa Pickell, class of 2015