SOUTH SHORE — Doing community service is a family ritual for Luther Riley, Lisa Scruggs and their three children: 16-year old twins Maya and Jacob Riley and 10-year old Zachary Riley.
The family started their service in 2013 with The Honeycomb Project, a Chicago nonprofit that organizes family-oriented volunteering activities around the city. They’ve put together care packages for patients at LaRabida Children’s Hospital and made cards for veterans at the National Veterans Art Museum.
The family was honored Wednesday with a Daily Point of Life Award, a prestigious national honor recognizing for their dedication to service and the impact they’ve made.
The award is given by the nonprofit Points of Life, created by former President George H.W. Bush in 1990 to recognize volunteers who serve as thousands of “points of light” in their communities. The Daily Point of Life Award is given to one individual or family each weekday.
The Honeycomb Project nominated the family after being inspired by their commitment to service, even during the pandemic, said Kristina Lowenstein, co-founder and executive director of the nonprofit.
Lisa Scruggs said her family was grateful and surprised to receive the award. Volunteering is not about the recognition — it’s about one’s responsibility to serve the community, she said.
“It’s really great for my kids to see that good work gets recognized, but at the same time, I don’t want them to think that’s why we do it, because it’s not. [Service is] something that we want them to understand is their responsibility,” Scruggs said.
Jacob Riley, a sophomore at St. Ignatius High School, had a similar take.
“It feels good to be recognized, but there’s also other people that are doing the same amount of work and maybe more than us,” the 16-year-old said.
Scruggs, who grew up in suburban Elgin, began volunteering regularly as an undergrad at Georgetown University in Washington, D.C., where her experiences volunteering nights at a women’s shelter made a profound impact on her.
“No matter how much or little you have, there’s always something you can do to help out the community,” she said.
Scruggs was looking for a way to convey to her kids the responsibility to help others when she heard about The Honeycomb Project through a good friend.
“The projects are all just so well-tailored to families, and that’s something that’s harder to find,” she said.
The family’s first project together was making recycled blankets out of plastic bags for people struggling with homelessness, which taught the kids about housing insecurity in the city and why recycling is important.
The family also is dedicated to building long-term relationships with the people they’re helping.
As the pandemic set in last year, the Riley-Scruggs family began volunteering at the Lincoln Perry Apartments, 3245 S. Prairie Ave., an affordable housing community for older people in Douglas.
Every month, the family would shop for groceries, coordinate donations and set up a mini “grocery store” outside the apartments for older people who were unable, or for whom it was unsafe to, shop for groceries themselves.
The children have lived in South Shore all their lives, and doing something for their neighbors was really meaningful to them, Scruggs said.
“There was something really special with the kids going to Bronzeville and getting to know the seniors,” she said. “You’re coming back, you get to know different personalities, different folks, and the seniors get to know the kids.”
As the Riley-Scruggs kids have gotten older, they’ve also become mentors for younger Honeycomb volunteers at project sites, Lowenstein said.
“It’s been really neat to watch them grow their leadership,” she said.
Scruggs hopes to spread the message to other busy families that it’s possible to make time for community service.
“We’re a busy family, but you can do it, too,” she said. “Just carving out some time as a family to try to do something for your community, it can make a difference.”
The Honeycomb Project partners with organizations throughout the city to find meaningful and impactful volunteering projects for over 5,000 families in the Chicago area.
It offers a variety of socially distant in-person, virtual or donation based programs. More information about all volunteer opportunities is available on its website.
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