Northbrook resident's nonprofit organizes service trips
by Alan P. Henry
|Volunteers work on a house in New Orleans' Lower 9th Ward|
July 24, 2012
If you are ready to make a difference in the world, Northbrook resident Patti Vile has an opportunity for you.
Vile created and runs Volunteer Expeditions, a nonprofit travel planning service that brings families, college students, corporate groups and faith-based organizations to communities that are in need of hands-on help.
"Whether it is an alternative spring break or a mission trip, we provide you the chance to mix doing good with having fun," Vile said. "You will contribute to the lives of people who need help.
"My trips are not for people who just want culture and to relax. You roll up your sleeves and do a lot of work."
To date, Volunteer Expeditions has coordinated 43 customized trips for roughly 1,200 people to flood-ravaged New Orleans, where participants have helped rebuild homes, worked in food depositories and helped rebuild the bayou. Six future expeditions are in the planning stages, with groups headed to New Orleans,Washington, D.C., and Chicago.
Trips normally last four to seven days and cost an average of $700, not including air fare. Hotels, sightseeing and speakers are typically also a part of the package, in addition to social service activities.
Vile, 70, came up with the concept in 2007, after spending time in New Orleans in 2006 after Hurricane Katrina.
"I couldn't believe it was an American city. It was like a third-world country, devastated and empty," she said. "I came back home with an ache and went to my rabbi [at Am Shalom in Glencoe] and said, 'We have to do something.'
"He said, 'Then do it.'"
Recently retired, she started from scratch and put Volunteer Expeditions together "piece by piece."
"I'm fearless," said Vile, who has three children, seven grandchildren and two dogs, Napoleon and Josephine. "No one has ever told me, 'You can't do this.'"
Today, with the help of a part-time assistant, she operates out of her home office.
Vile, who has master's degree in urban policy and planning with a health care emphasis, has worked as a teacher, consulted for BlueCross BlueShield, built private medical practices and worked as the vice president of a third-party administrator, designing nationally implemented self-insured health plans.
Volunteer Expeditions is a natural extension of her lifelong pull toward volunteer work.
She has helped Soviet refugees in Chicago, volunteered with village agencies in Uganda and El Salvador, and been involved with Jewish and Muslim interfaith activities. She has served as president of the nonprofit group Art Encounter and the Glencoe Public Library Board of Trustees, and in 2011 she joined the Board of Directors of the Geographic Society of Chicago.
Her latest venture is Volunteer Expeditions trips to Chicago and Washington.
"The amount of homelessness and poverty and hunger in Chicago and Washington is heartbreaking," she said. "It's all over, and people aren't aware."
One Chicago trip is already booked, and another is in the planning stages. Work at several homeless shelters and a food depository is on the itinerary, along with an architectural tour and stops at Second City and favorite Chicago eateries.
"These community-building volunteer travel opportunities are focused on social change, social justice and service learning," Vile said. "Each trip offers its own rewards and becomes a powerful experience — to see how meaningful it is to clear a field, to put a library together, to tutor a child; the stories people bring back from these expeditions are life-changers."
Volunteer Expeditions is a regional finalist in the Hunger and Poverty Relief category for the fourth annual CLASSY Awards, which recognize philanthropic organizations from throughout the country. The winner will be determined partially through online voting, which ends at 11:59 p.m. Thursday, July 26. To vote, visit www.stayclassy.org/classy-awards/vote.