Each volunteer session begins the same way. Volunteers, whether they be an energetic camp group screaming the lyrics to Sweet Caroline, corporate employees, or simply individuals looking to impactfully donate their time, all start their journey entering through the big sliding glass doors to the processing center.

Greeted by our small but mighty processing center team of eight, volunteers quickly become part of the Bernie’s Book Bank team. Once introduced to our mission, volunteers sort, sticker, and bag our large selection of children’s books as music that you can’t help but sing along or nod your head to fills the space. Time seems to fly before everyone is called back to the front for a report on how many books were processed during the session and a glance at notable thank you notes from appreciative book recipients.

The 18 weekly sessions run like clockwork with many behind the scenes parts moving and grooving to get the job done efficiently and effectively. The processing center team breaks down into eight specialists who approach each day with a plan. They begin by reviewing a daily report that details the lineup of exceptional volunteers, including how many volunteers to expect and their age breakdowns. This information is then translated into an agenda of tasks those volunteers are best equipped to complete during their allotted time to ensure they leave our doors knowing they made a difference.

With sessions Monday through Saturday, our volunteers fuel the productivity necessary to get books out of our doors and into the hands of Chicagoland children. Without them, the work would simply not be done. However, no matter how much planning is done, until volunteers actually walk into the building, there is no guaranteed prediction of how the day will play out. At times groups may not show or fewer people than scheduled will attend. This leaves our team having to think on their feet and proceed with a flexible mindset. Volunteer Experience Manager, Bill Nixon, compared approaching these challenges to chess. Decisions are complex and hold weight. Choosing to do a task one day impacts the needs for that whole week and following month. But lucky for us, we have a team of pretty good chess players who roll with the punches.

Bernie’s Book Bank established positions such as Volunteer Experience Manager for a reason: to provide volunteers with the best service experience possible. This goal is brought to fruition through being confident of our own needs and goals in order to communicate them in a way that is not force-fed. Volunteers are our team and they need to know our goals just as much as we do.

Everything done in the processing center is intentional and one of our PC team’s favorite parts of the day is during the closing of each session. There is something special about seeing people react to the work they accomplished during such a small window. Being able to share children’s thank you notes is another highlight. For confidentiality reasons, our volunteers don’t get to personally interact with the children they serve. This can at times make it difficult for our volunteers to see the impact of their donated time, talent, and treasure unfold. That’s where the thank you notes come in. Children’s words scream that impact.

Processing Center Manager, Cori Miner, admires the direct impact the work done in the processing center has on the children we serve. “We are the ones getting the books ready. They will be in the hands of children in as little as a days difference from when we had the books. That is what it’s all about.”

Bernie’s Book Bank has distributed more than 15.8 million books, but there is still much more work to be done. In just 10 years our growth is staggering, and that rapid development is thanks to each and every one of our volunteers. Want to join in on the fun and make an impact? Sign up to volunteer!