Lifetime VolunteerShare your story
"I remembered how much I loved volunteering. I thought, 'how do I get paid to do what I did as a volunteer?'"
After graduating high school in 1984, Gina Cialoni didn’t wait long to get married and have children. The DesPlaines native and mother of two sons enjoyed being a young mom and raising her family in the Orland Park area. In addition to being close to her boys, her time at home had an added benefit: she was able to explore different options for a career once her children got a little older. “I had to put my own college plans on hold while the boys were growing up, but I did have the option of doing some volunteer work while they were in school,” she explained. "I thought nursing was a possibility so I volunteered at a hospital on an oncology floor."
As much as Gina loved volunteering and being part of a health care program, the cancer unit proved to be too hard on her. "I was too young to handle it," she explained. But it didn’t dim her view of keeping work as a volunteer an important part of her life.
Eventually, she found a position as a secretary in a medical unit, then as a supervisor in a physicians' office. "The regular hours and location worked out great," Gina said, "and I was in the health care environment that I had come to love."
Before long, she found another opportunity as manager of operations for a large physicians’ group – over 40 doctors with 24/7 on-call practice. Work had become intense and as much as she loved it, balancing it with family obligations led to burnout. "I had to reexamine my priorities," she said. "I remembered how much I loved volunteering. I thought, 'how do I get paid to do what I did as a volunteer?'"
By way of embarking on a new career, Gina found herself in college – not 'back in college' but starting out as a freshman. Living near RMU’s Orland Park campus, she investigated the programs, the cost and the schedules. She was soon on her way to completing her associate degree in business, and in the process, discovered that she was a life-long learner. "My time at Robert Morris was very rewarding. I had great instructors and made great friends," she continued. "It started with taking advantage of the convenience, location and schedule, but it quickly set the framework for me to move on and get to the next step." Gina was sure she wanted to pursue a bachelor’s degree and found the program she needed at North Park.
A position opened up with North Shore University Health Systems that seemed to be exactly what Gina was looking for: working with the different volunteer boards connected with North Shore. She looked over the requirements for the position and quickly had doubts that she had a chance. "They expected experience in development, including donor cultivation and a track record in fund raising," she remembers. "I came to them with the experience of a volunteer and management in different settings in health care." She landed the job.
Since February, Gina has worked as the manager of three operating volunteer boards connected with North Shore: the Skokie Women’s Board, the New Trier Board and the Associate Board. Now single, she has relocated to Chicago’s north side and has her office near Evanston Hospital. Her duties keep her calendar jammed with meetings and special events, not to mention school and family.
"My biggest challenge is understanding the dynamics of a board of volunteers," she explained. "We want to make their efforts as rewarding for them as it is for the hospitals." Additionally, Gina works to promote the mission of the boards through educating and advocating on behalf of the community by assessing needs and instituting efforts to meet them. "There is a lot of 'friend-raising' and community service that our members undertake. Last year, the associate board, which consists of 175 members between 25 and 40 years of age, raised over $93,000 from their benefit."
It seems that there is a lot to be experienced in Gina's future. She is working on her master's in non-profit management at North Park, she is managing the strategic planning for her boards which includes increasing membership and community projects, and she has two sons who are exploring their own college opportunities.
"Yes, it all keeps me busy," she added.
But it's obvious she is loving every minute of it.