Thursday, June 16, 2011

Volunteer Spotlight - Jodi & Chuck Cerny

By Margaret Sheridan

Jodi and Chuck Cerny agree on many things: a love of Chicago, a curiosity about other cultures and people, the adventure of travel and the joy in giving back.

What divides the couple is giving directions. That is part of their volunteer job at HI-Chicago's Information Desk.

They handle the desk, morning shift, twice a week. Chuck works on Monday and Jodi is there on Thursday.

"We tried early on in our volunteer work to do the desk together, but it didn't work out," says Jodi. We got the guests to their destination but Chuck and I couldn't agree on which was the best way."

"We each have our own opinions," he added.


The Cernys are veteran hostel enthusiasts. They met as teens in 1956 on a camping trip organized by a hostel in Chicago. Friendship blossomed through many outdoor activities, but their lives diverged. Decades later they met by chance at a square dance reunion in 1980. They married eight years later. Due to their busy schedule, they made separate interviews for this article.

MS: How does volunteer work fit into your retirement?

CHUCK: I used to work in building and grounds management for the Park Ridge School District. Jodi taught geography in Junior College. Recently, we downsized from a home in Lincoln Park to a condo in the Lakeview neighborhood near Belmont and Lake Shore Drive. We both love travel and meeting people of all ages. That is the great part of working at the hostel. Retirement has given us the opportunity to be able to volunteer.

JODI: I like getting to know younger people and listening to their thought and opinions. We also like to explore the city, such as taking buses to different locations in the city.

CHUCK: I like helping people out and I am really proud of the city, so the information desk is fun.

MS: Do you travel well together?

CHUCK: Jodi has travelled more than I have. As a teacher she had summers off and took advantage of it. When started dating in 1980, we did a group tour to China, Korea and Hawaii for a month. It worked!

JODI: He likes his creature comforts...we used to camp a lot but not now. Your health changes as you age and one wants more comforts such as hot and cold running water and clean sheets on the bed. I did a lot of treks and overland travel in many continents. I’ve been to all 50 states, over 100 countries, and 7 continents.

MS: Talk about your other volunteer work.

CHUCK: I help at Hull House on a lecture series called "Rethinking Soup." I also do things for Gilda's Club and work as a Chicago Greeter (for the City of Chicago Department of Tourism).

JODI: I am also a Chicago Greeter and volunteer at the Art Institute. Besides this I am the President of the DePaul (University) Geographical Society.

MS: What's a cool memory from working at the hostel?

CHUCK: I had a little old lady, someone’s grandmother in her 70s, ask me directions to the Leather Museum. What? I didn't know we had one until I researched it (on Devon Avenue). It was exactly what she wanted. You know all the crazy stuff like whips. She was delighted and thanked me profusely.

JODI: There are many memories, but just one does not come to mind.

MS: What do you love about Chicago, what do you miss about when you're away?

CHUCK: The lakefront. It's always changing. The cityscape.

JODI: The people. Most people are outgoing and willing to help. The minute they see someone on the street with a map, they ask if they can help. Many travelers have mentioned this to me at the desk. I also like looking at Belmont Harbor and the lake.

MS: What are some of your personal favorite secrets about Chicago?

CHUCK: The Fine Arts Building (410 S. Michigan Ave.) It’s floors of galleries and studios. There is even a repair shop for stringed musical instruments. Plus, on the second Friday of every month there is an open house from 5-9pm. often with live music and theatre.

JODI: I like the Red Apple, a Polish restaurant on Milwaukee Avenue. Nearby is St. Hyacinth, a large Polish Catholic church, which Chuck discovered. The Asian pastry shops on Argyle Street, especially the sweet bean paste sesame balls, are another find. We also like to take bus rides, such as along Archer (#62 bus) or the Belmont bus (#77) to learn about new neighborhoods. Oh, there is the Mega Mall in Logan Square. There are stalls, just like in Mexico. To have a quiet time out in the downtown, go to Gallery 109 at the Art Institute. It is a dark room with some Oriental art, very quiet, calm and Zen-like.

MS: What is your next travel destination?

CHUCK: Australia and New Zealand.

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