Family Focus program assistant Alexander Brown visits with JoAnn Avery in the first day back for the agency’s after school program. The boxes include donated clothes to the program.

Bruce Hirsch sat at a desk just inside the entrance to the Levy Senior Center on Jan. 2. He had a stack of signup sheets in front of him for the center’s hot meal program as well as a menu.  (Spaghetti and meatballs was listed as the main course.)

 “It’s the new year,” he explained, “so  we’re starting off getting a new list and everybody’s name on  the eligibility list.”

Mr. Hirsch, an Evanston resident and retired state worker,  and other volunteers take turns staffing the desk and handing out the sign-up sheets and food assessment surveys  “to make sure people are getting fed,” he said.

The meal program is partially funded by a grant that the City applies for annually. Levy Senior staff members and volunteers are asking lunch participants to complete new applications and food assessment surveys in part for the center to remain in good standing with food distributors, a note explained.

 More informally, Levy Senior Center, located at 300 Dodge  Ave.,  “is an incredible place,” Mr. Hirsch said. “But it doesn’t  seem to market  itself as  well as it might. There are a huge number of people that would love this place, but they have a hard time getting here or knowing about it. There are a lot of folks eligible to enjoy Levy  but not as many show up as might.  And so I’m hoping with the new director in place, they’ll be a lot more effective in recruiting new folks.”

Volunteers at other facilities throughout the City were also playing key roles as Evanston returned to normal life last week after the holidays.

At the City animal shelter, located at 2310 Oakton St., people were helping out, cleaning food dishes and taking cats and dogs for walks in the surrounding yard.

The center has a volunteer force ranging from 150 to 175 people, said Vicky Pasenko, with Alisa Kaplan, co-founders and co-presidents of the Evanston Animal  Shelter Association (EASA).

The group replaced the  previous Community Area Rescue Effort (C.A.R.E.)  in May 2014 with the goal of operating a “no-kill” shelter.

The volunteers range in age from 16 to 80, and include retirees as well as Northwestern  students, Ms. Pasenko said.

“It’s just an across-the-board, broad range of people,” she said.

A lot of their efforts have to do with getting the most out of the cramped animal shelter space, which saw roughly 560 cats  and dogs troop through its doors in the past year.

The shelter contains 20 kennels and probably has space for “anywhere from 12 to 18 dogs  at any one time,” Ms. Pasenko said. “We work hard not to get to the full 20. We try to keep two kennels empty so if the police bring in an animal overnight we have a place for it.”

Foster homes have proved key, she said.

During summer time, the peak of the kitten season, the shelter may place as many as 150 animals in foster homes (six cats from a litter may go in one home.)

“I don’t know what we would do without foster homes,” Ms. Pasenko said. “That’s where the amazing community comes into play. Sometimes we’ll put out the need we need foster homes and people reach out and respond. We have some people we’ve worked with for years.  We know we can go to them and then we have other times where it’s a crisis.”

A City staff member has been working with representatives of the Animal Welfare Board, making visits to other shelter facilities and developing a future need profile for a facility to accommodate the shelter’s needs, said Ms. Pasenko, a member of the board.

“Space would be wonderful,” she conceded. For instance, “an open cat room would be amazing … where 20 cats could live together in one room and not be confined to a cage,” she said.

At the same time, she said, “the building can’t be an excuse for us not being successful. When we moved into this in May 2014 we knew what the building was, and we knew there would be no immediate plans to change. We were glad to take on that role and do what we have to do to make it work.”

Across town, at the Family Focus Evanston, 2010 Dewey Ave, the building was buzzing again, with the after-school programs back running.

“We have two different  classrooms – one is elementary school students and the other is middle-school students,” said program assistant Alexander Brown, showing a visitor around.

The agency also has an early childhood program and a special Department of Children & Family  Services program which works with parents on issues identified by the agency.

In other words…one busy place…

“In 2018, we got probably four or five more tenants in the building,” Ms. Brown said. “So we’re at a total right now of about 17.”

The different groups include a coding program in the basement, charter school, to a chocolatier who whips up chocolate  from cocoa beans and exports her products throughout the country.

“So there’s  a lot,” he said.

In the after school program, volunteers “help facilitate the children,”  Mr. Brown said, “because right now we probably have only one teacher per classroom.”

JoAnn Avery, the agency’s community program director, is in charge of the after-school program. “She’s amazing, she’s a pioneer in the community, but she needs help,” Mr. Brown said.

Ms. Avery draws resources from the local and surrounding communities.

“We have tutors from Northwestern, New Trier, Loyola Academy. So they are the tutors – then I do the other piece, the social-skills piece.”

Social skills?

“It could be self-development, it could be teaching them how to feel  good  about themselves, empowerment kind of things. They have piano, guitar, they have writing groups, dance,” Ms. Avery said, ticking off activities in the busy program.

Bob Seidenberg is an award-winning reporter covering issues in Evanston for more than 30 years. He is a graduate of the Northwestern University Medill School of Journalism.