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On a road trip to visit their children at camp, Catherine Tannen and Kristina Lowenstein began brainstorming the idea that would become the Honeycomb Project.
Each a mother of young children, they shared their frustration at not being able to find suitable volunteer opportunities for families that would speak to young and old alike.

“We decided that if we felt so passionately about this, there must be other families out there in the same situation,” Tannen recalls.

Moms join forces to create volunteer days where families can pitch in together with @HoneycombInfo

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In January 2011, Tannen and Lowenstein organized their first unofficial event at Lurie Children’s Hospital—making care packages for young patients, plus hosting a toy drive—to test the waters.

The response was phenomenal.

“We realized we were onto something,” Tannen says. “We knew we could provide something that didn’t exist in Chicago.”

The only organization in Chicago focused on family volunteering, the Honeycomb Project’s mission is to engage, mobilize and inspire children and families to strengthen Chicago’s communities through public service. Honeycomb works in partnership with more than 50 organizations including the Greater Chicago Food Depository, Chicago Park District, American Red Cross of Chicago, Alliance for the Great Lakes, Rehabilitation Institute of Chicago and others.

“People underestimate what families can do when they work together, especially when it’s multigenerational,” says Lowenstein.

Volunteers collect trash from the sand
A cleanup of 63rd Street Beach organized by the Honeycomb Project includes activities that volunteers of all ages can do, like picking up trash from this sandy play area.

Honeycomb specializes in developing hands-on service projects that enable families to experience and address the most pressing needs in our communities such as hunger, homelessness, environment, education equity and poverty.

Each event—ranging from crocheting sleeping mats for the homeless, to building nature trails along the Chicago River or helping plant a school garden—is carefully crafted. “We want to create projects that are interesting and fulfilling for kids, teens, moms, dads, uncles, aunts and grandparents and everybody in between,” Lowenstein says.

The organization’s name was chosen, says Tannen, to embody the idea of “everyone being connected and working together toward the greater good.”

A family checks in to begin beach cleanup
The Honeycomb Project designs its volunteer opportunities—like this beach cleanup day—to be accessible and engaging for all ages. Co-founder Kristina Lowenstein says, “People underestimate what families can do when they work together, especially when it’s multigenerational.”

While the projects are geared for families, a group of adult volunteers also help organize the events. “We have many passionate adults who help facilitate the family magic,” Lowenstein says.

The Honeycomb Project is a labor of love for both women. When they first started they never imagined how profound the work would become. “To see how volunteering changes a family dialogue, or inspires them to think differently about the things they do everyday, or how they go about their everyday lives interacting with the people they meet, is very exciting,” Lowenstein says.

More than 5,000 people have volunteered through the Honeycomb Project. The kids’ enthusiasm for the service projects, and the collaborative spirit that suffuses the events, makes each one a joyful experience. Lowenstein says that is what Honeycomb is all about: “Working together, as opposed to limiting ourselves to our separate communities or neighborhoods.”

A young child watches as girls test the water quality at a 63rd Street Beach cleanup event
A young boy watches as two volunteers test the water quality at 63rd Street Beach. Events like these give co-founder Catherine Tannen “so much hope for the future and for this next generation of great citizens that we are building.”

“We constantly hear about people who have volunteered with us going out on their own and building more community in their neighborhood or school,” Tannen adds.

“It gives me so much hope for the future and for this next generation of great citizens that we are building.”