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White Sox celebrate Volunteer Corps anniversary

CHICAGO -- President Barack Obama was sworn in for his second term Monday in Washington.

While the nation's leader took the oath of office as part of the Inauguration Day activities, the man also known on the South Side of Chicago as the White Sox "First Fan" was honored from afar by his favorite baseball team. There was no party arranged at U.S. Cellular Field, as there was for President Obama's first inauguration in 2009.

Instead, it was the White Sox Volunteer Corps out in action on an ice-cold winter day, serving with City Year Chicago at Lafayette Elementary. The event centered on another refurbishing project, one of the numerous ways in which the Volunteer Corps has given back to the community.

The Volunteer Corps took form itself when President Obama first took office, in response to his call for community service. It has wildly exceeded the organization's greatest expectations over the four years since.

"We've rededicated ourselves to making a difference in the community thanks to the Corps members," said White Sox senior director of community relations Christine O'Reilly. "It was a bipartisan message during the 2008 campaign heard on both sides of the aisle.

"It was something we all should be thinking about: How can we contribute to the community? When he won the election, the President made that a big part of this was good for America."

In 2012 alone, the Volunteer Corps served a total of 5,162 hours at 27 service events by the White Sox estimation. More than 1,037 Volunteer Corps members took part in these events and 15 White Sox team members made appearances at some of the service events throughout the season. The value of these volunteer hours, based on the U.S. Department of Labor ($21.79 per hour), was nearly $113,000.

Food repacks at the Greater Chicago Food Depository, restoring Kozminski Community Academy, sorting books at Bernie's Book Bank and building a playground at the Kroc Center in partnership with KaBOOM! stand as just a few of the programs worked on by the Volunteer Corps. There's no doubt that some of the original draw was the chance for White Sox fans to paint a bench next to reliever Matt Thornton or put up shelves next to Gavin Floyd, not to mention mingling with countless other past and present members of the team as well as the front office, including White Sox chairman Jerry Reinsdorf.

Almost immediately, though, the supply of volunteers exceeded the demand.

"You might have been asked earlier on if you could please be at an event because there wasn't enough people," said Mark Dynia, an Oak Lawn native who has been to almost a dozen Volunteer Corps events, including Monday, and often volunteers with his daughter, Sarah. "But in volunteering [Monday], we put our name in right away and the group had enough people. We were added on at the last minute. The group is growing exponentially with every project and people are fighting to volunteer."

"Really, it's amazing. It's hard to even put into words," said Sara Gonzalez, a teacher in East Hazel Crest, Ill., who has attended somewhere between 30 to 35 Volunteer Corps events. "The school-builds are most obvious. You take a tour at the end of the day and it's amazing what everyone has done over the course of five or six hours."

Since the Volunteer Corps' 2009 inception, they have served 23,436 hours (valued at $502,747), more than 5,000 Corps members took part in service events and there were 131 appearances at these events by White Sox team members. As a teacher, Gonzalez knows that even the slightest movement or change in a classroom is noticed by students.

Making significant improvements through the Volunteer Corps' work has to leave a lasting positive impression on the students who attend there, and the same holds true for work in other charitable endeavors. It's an equally special feeling for those who volunteer, forging a family within the White Sox family through their consistent work together over the past four years.

"Now, you get to see repeat volunteers," Gonzalez said. "You always know who you are going to run into and catch up with them on what they've been doing since the last event. We talk about the game yesterday or who's pitching today in-season, and right now, we can catch up on the holidays and see if anyone is going down to Spring Training."

"This is a tremendous program everybody should be a part of," Dynia said. "People come to me and ask about what the White Sox Volunteer Corps does and how to become a part of it. You help out the community, but you feel tremendous by helping out other people."

A few more pressing issues on the docket have kept President Obama and First Lady Michelle Obama from taking part in any of the Volunteer Corps programs, but they apparently are aware of the great work being done. When O'Reilly joined the White Sox Amateur City Elite junior team during a White House visit at the end of August, President Obama shook O'Reilly's hand and said, "I know what you guys are doing in Chicago," after their introduction.

Programs with Special Olympics and doing things that touch the lives of military members and their families are additions on the Volunteer Corps agenda for 2013. Otherwise, it's more of the same great work from the Corps that ties the White Sox to their fans in so many ways.

"It's year-round service we do," O'Reilly said. "If we had an event a week, we would have no problem delivering members."

Chicago White Sox