Ava Gresser’s passion for volunteering started as a young girl who asked a simple question while riding with her mom as she drove on the Dan Ryan Expressway.
The child wondered why was there so much trash on the side of the highway.
Her mom, Helen Dixon, began researching organizations that children could work with to solve problems in their community, and she learned about The Honeycomb Project, which provides resources for non-profits throughout Chicago.
At age 6, Gresser became a Honeycomb volunteer, and today, the 13-year-old from Morgan Park is earning recognition for her efforts.
Gresser was recently awarded a 2022 Hershey Heartwarming Young Hero Grant, with funds going to support Honeycomb’s “Furnish Homes for Families” initiative with the Chicago Furniture Bank.
Volunteers get together at the end of each month, and Gresser joined them again on April 30.
“I thought it would be a really cool way to help the Chicago Furniture Bank,” Gresser said. “We packed 20 boxes—with 500 pieces of kitchenware. It was fun.”
Gresser, a seventh-grader at Lindblom Math and Science Academy, volunteers several times a month for Honeycomb, and she is also now a field correspondent.
In a Facebook video posted on April 22, she explained that, in addition to the Chicago Furniture Bank providing dignity and furnishings to help people living in poverty, it also prevents waste because unwanted furniture doesn’t end up in landfills.
Gresser’s efforts also include sorting donations of supplies for Chicago Public Schools teachers, baking cookies for families whose loved ones are awaiting medical treatment, and cleaning up beaches and forest preserves.
Dixon expressed pride in her daughter for taking a lead role in addressing problems she noticed.
“She can make a change,” Dixon said. “It’s not just about posing a question and then sort of leaving it to others to figure it out. She is problem solving.”
Honeycomb was co-founded 10 years ago by Kristina Lowenstein, a graduate of Morgan Park Academy.
As a mother of young children, she wanted to create volunteer opportunities for kids and families.
The non-profit now partners with over 50 organizations, with hundreds of children and their families volunteering almost every weekend of the year.
Gresser has been involved “almost since the beginning,” Lowenstein said, and has been a field correspondent since last Christmas.
Lowenstein said she’s impressed by Gresser’s growth as a volunteer.
“I think it’s awesome to see that she’s really now such a leader,” Lowenstein said, “and more so for the younger children within the organization, I think that has been really inspiring.”
According to Lowenstein, Honeycomb began formulating plans for a partnership with the Chicago Furniture Bank before the pandemic.
Founded in July 2018, the facility is located in the Brighton Park neighborhood. According to its website, as of April 2022, it had furnished about 8,000 homes and served over 18,900 Chicagoans with 10 million pounds of donated furniture.
Partnering with the Honest Junk Company, the furniture bank will pick up furniture from residential and corporate projects for a fee or suggested donation.
The furniture is then distributed for free.
Griffin Amdur, who co-founded Chicago Furniture Bank, said volunteers such as Gresser allow his organization to expand its capacity and furnish more homes per day. He also appreciates the teen venturing out from her home neighborhood.
“It’s important for young people to go to different parts of the city and meet different types of people in the city,” Amdur said, “and just learn about different organizations and who they serve.”
At Honeycomb, Gresser has also helped deliver groceries to senior citizens, meeting them outside once a month during the pandemic. She loved interacting with them, as it brought back memories of her time with her grandmother.
She’s glad she decided to start helping at Honeycomb.
“I just genuinely had a good time volunteering,” Gresser said. “It just really made me happy.”
Her mother is impressed with how Gresser continues to find ways to help the non-profit.
“As a mom, I’m very proud,” Dixon said, “of just how she’s taken the reins and moved forward in terms of being a young leader. … That makes me proud to know that we’re in good hands.”
Dixon often volunteers with her daughter, as do Gresser’s father, Seth Gresser, and her brother, Alec Gresser.
The family plans to support Honeycomb as long as possible. Volunteering, Dixon said, is a way of life for her family.
“It’s a fabric of what we do.”
For more information, visit the web site for The Honeycomb Project.