Last May, the Creative Chicago Reuse Exchange (CCRx) and Envision Unlimited held an "On the Table" meal with fellow Chicago-area artists, teachers and nonprofit professionals to discuss how they could help each other with supplies and inspiration.
“We focused on teachers. They’re extremely creative and generous,” said Barbara Koenen, CCRx's Executive Director. “And they need materials for their classrooms. We wanted to lighten the financial burden on Chicago teachers, who routinely spend their own money to provide classroom supplies. "
As a result of that On the Table gathering, CCRx created the Swap Circle for Teachers to provide teachers with classroom supplies and other materials donated by local businesses. CCRx submitted the idea of a Swap Circle to the Acting Up Awards—a grant program of the Chicago Community Trust that helps great ideas from On the Table conversations spring into reality.
Their $2,500 Acting Up award helped them connect with the Chicago Teachers Union Foundation, which also gave a grant and hosted the first ever Swap Circle for Teachers at the CTU Headquarters last August.
Nearly 500 teachers attended the Swap Circle, gathering free supplies from a collection of generously donated materials valued at an estimated $50,000. The Chicago Community Trust spoke with some of the teachers at the Swap Circle, to hear how it made a difference for them:
Celina Petersen, St. Sylvester School Teaches: 5th – 8th grade science Teaching for: Nine years
“As a science teacher, I am really passionate about reuse in general. A lot of teachers in Chicago, whether you work for CPS or the Archdiocese, you have to pay for your own supplies. For me it’s really important to keep things out of the waste stream and allow for teachers to come and trade things and find things they can actually use in their classrooms. It’s a monetary thing and also a ‘save the earth’ thing.”
Cassie Bowers, Camp Red Kite / Chicago Children’s Theatre Teaches: Visual arts to children ages 8-17 on the autism spectrum Teaching for: Five years
“I’m really excited because we don’t have a big budget or a lot of resources for this camp. As a visual arts teacher, I need more supplies for various projects. I’ve found so many interesting materials I can use to create different sensory projects.”