Connections for Success



The Power of Volunteering Outside of Your Comfort Zone
Carla Denison-Bickett

As a CPA and Director of Finance for The Cara Program (, I work many hours “staring at numbers” and making sense of them to allow management to make good decisions.  It is what I am good at and I really like it! On top of that, I have always had the desire to give back and usually find myself doing that through my financial talents.  I have been on many Finance Committees and assisted with tax preparation for those who are in need.  There is nothing wrong with volunteering your clear talents, but there is so much more we can give that goes beyond our proven strengths and the IL CPA Day of Service gave me that chance.

When I joined The Cara Program as the Director of Finance, I knew there was a social enterprise, Cleanslate Chicago, which provided some of our students a transitional job doing neighborhood beautification work in various Chicago communities.  As I got better acquainted with Cleanslate and the numbers related to their work, I thought I really understood what the enterprise was about… boy was I wrong!

I do not often write (I am a #’s person), but my experience with the Cleanslate on September 23, 2011 as part of the IL CPA Day of Service warrants it.  The IL CPA Society Women’s Initiative Task Force decided to volunteer at Cleanslate after I had met one of their members at an event and described the work of The Cara Program and Cleanslate. While I was not a member at the Task Force, I requested to join them as I saw it as a perfect opportunity to “get outside of the office” and “do a route with Cleanslate”. We were assigned to work with Raahsaan Brown in the IMD doing debris cleanup and light landscaping (yes, they did allow accountants to use hand trimmers and pruning shears). While we are “numbers” people, we attempted to put our best foot forward and managed to trim 29 trees/bushes and clean up 96 bags of debris as well as some mattresses and a tire.

I have always had a great amount of respect for the work that our Cleanslate team does every day, but that respect has just grown even greater after walking in their shoes.  Even though I woke up sore from head to toe, I am really glad I was able to have this volunteer experience! The work CLSL does every day to improve Chicago communities is amazing and I affirm them for it!!

There was so much I learned that day that went beyond the work we did. I gained a greater sense of my abilities as well as the impact of the organization.  I would encourage everyone to volunteer for a project that stretches you beyond your comfort zone, and gives you a chance to see what you can do and the difference you can make.

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