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Quaker Volunteer Service

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Zachary Johnson, Downers Grove Meeting


I am toward the end of my time in the Quaker Volunteer Service (QVS), and it is hard to believe that time has gone by so quickly. It seems that just yesterday it was September, and I was starting out with QVS, but already the year is almost over.

Since the fall I have spent my time volunteering at a non-profit art center called Marwen. Now in its 24th year, Marwen has a long track record of educating and inspiring under-served young people through the visual arts. Having never heard of Marwen before last spring, I am constantly stunned at the sheer number of young lives it manages to touch. Each year Marwen offers around ninety free after school art courses to roughly 1,200 middle and high school students from all over Chicago. The students come from nearly every zip code in the city (54 of 57) and eighty percent live below the poverty line. Through these courses, as well as college and career prep classes, 95% of seniors who graduate from Marwen go on to college. That number amazes me because normally only 50% of graduating seniors who attend Chicago Public Schools go to a university.

Needless to say, I am very grateful to be able to do my part here full time through the Quaker Volunteer Service. I work mostly in development, helping to raise money to keep the organization going. Due to the recession, the five of us in the department have to be as resourceful and hard working as we can in order to make the annual budget a reality. I am glad that I can be here to add a bit more manpower to everyone’s efforts.

In total, Marwen has about twenty-four employees, and it seems like everyone has a double life. The co-workers in my department spend their off-time playing in rock bands, directing theater, writing country music, and acting in plays. Nearly everyone else on our staff of twenty-four creates art, dances, makes films, or something along those lines. As an artist myself, and a student of art history during college, I feel right at home.

I am extremely grateful for the opportunity that QVS has provided me. In this tough economy, I am one of the very few among my friends to have a job related to their field. The rest of them get by with jobs at cafés, pizza places, salons, and restaurants, struggling to find worthwhile employment. So, it is through QVS and Marwen that I not only get to take part in the Quaker value of social justice, but also I have the opportunity to build my career and have a sense that I am making a difference in the world. At this point in my life, I could not ask for any more.


The Quaker Volunteer Service Committee, organized with support from 57th Street Meeting of Friends, includes members from across Illinois Yearly Meeting. Quaker Volunteers serve for at least one year with community-based organizations or other service arrangements as Volunteers are individually led, doing full-time peace and justice work in the Greater Chicago Area. Quaker Volunteer service is grounded in Friends’ spirituality, and emphasizes being and working in the Light with the poor, the oppressed, and those most at risk. Volunteers live in community at Quaker House in Chicago, and receive a small stipend and other necessary supports. QVS appreciates support from monthly meetings and individual Friends, including service as liaisons from monthly meetings, financial support, assistance in Volunteer recruitment, and encouragement.  

Email: QVSC☺