Web Extra: On The Table with Brandis Friedman

As part of the Chicago Community Trust’s On The Table, Chicago Tonight's Brandis Friedman hosted a dinner with area residents where they shared their thoughts, concerns, opinions, and hopes for the region's future. Read her blog about the event and watch a video of what participants had to say.

Typically, a girls' night means old and new girlfriends gathering around a glass (or three) of wine and gabbing about work, men, children...and of perhaps, other girlfriends.

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But this conversation, among ten women from all neighborhoods of Chicago ranged from a discussion about "kids these days" to women's issues to the importance of volunteering.

I was thrilled to join Miriam from the South Loop; Michelle who coordinates fine arts at a CPS school; Jennifer, who lives not too far from me on the North Side and loves volunteering; Mya, the youngest of us and a former Peace Corps volunteer; Glendar, a patient care attendant at Cook County Hospital; Chelsea, who volunteers at the North Park Village Nature Center; and Harrietta and Denise, who over the course of the evening learned they were each raised in families where they were one of six siblings.

You may notice there were no men at our table. Those who were invited were unable to attend at the last minute. You don't think they were watching the Bulls game, do you? No matter, we had a great discussion just the same.

Our host was Peach's Restaurant in Bronzeville. It's only been open for a couple of months, and regularly serves breakfast and lunch. Dinner service was not only a treat for us, but also the chef who doesn't often get to share his flair for grilled romaine wedge salad, salmon croquette with cheese grits and pasta primavera (with or without chicken). The peach cobbler for dessert (and to go!) was a real bonus.

Over breadsticks and salad, Denise expressed she's eyeing retirement in a few years and wants to give back, because she'd received so much help from her own mother who started on her on the path toward college. She's had a long career as an auditor. But, she's confused over where to begin and overwhelmed by the amount of need. Denise said she's concerned about the direction, or sometimes lack thereof, that children receive and how she can have a positive influence.

Mya is currently a graduate student at Northwestern. She was the first in her family to attend college, only because somewhere along the way someone told her to try it. A former Peace Corps volunteer, the giving spirit already lives within her. Mya, too, wants to give back but isn't quite sure how. A number of us at the table immediately recognized that she'd be an excellent role model for any number of Chicago children whose parents may not have attended college, but who have the potential to go themselves. So, now, she has plans to seek out mentoring opportunities -- just as soon as grad school allows her the time. She completes her program in March.

Jennifer sat to Mya's left. Because she gets so much from volunteering, she highly recommends it to anyone and everyone. Having made a great friend out of the sixth-grader she mentored into high school, she recommended the website volunteermatch.org as a way for others to find their own way to give back. And she met her mentee through Midtown Metro, which provides mentoring for young girls and boys.

With a special appreciation for music, Michelle already spends some of her weekends giving tours to school children at the Lyric Opera House. Chelsea wondered if her volunteer work at the Nature Center is the deepest impact she can have on making the world better. Several of the guests puzzled over the same question, either silently or aloud.

But, there's still hope. Before she left, Denise expressed that the night's conversation has given her just that. She now has a bit of direction on where to give back and believes she can be of service to disadvantaged and abused women--to provide them with hope for their own futures.

On The Table guests share their thoughts on the dinner conversation in this web extra video.

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