Spring/Summer 2018

Alumni and Friends Service Day

Alumni and Friends Service Day in Chicago Supports a Fellow Alum’s Labor of Love

By Kristy Demas

"For a refugee like me, going to the University of Michigan Law School was a life-changing experience,” says Bernard Cherkasov, ’03. As executive director of the Chicago branch of Cradles to Crayons, a nonprofit connecting those who can give with those who are in need, Cherkasov’s work involves providing everyday necessities for children from birth to age 12.

“Working at Cradles to Crayons, I have the opportunity to help fuel other kids’ dreams, just as so many others helped fuel mine. And this year, I am grateful that I was able to share my work with my fellow MLaw alumni as part of Alumni and Friends Service Day.”

This year’s Service Day, sponsored by the Law School’s Office of Development and Alumni Relations (ODAR), featured projects in 11 locations nationwide. Chicago-area alumni volunteered in the Cradles to Crayons Giving Factory, where they assembled donated clothing, shoes, toys, books, and toiletries into KidsPacks. Volunteers personalized each pack according to a child’s preferences and age, and enclosed an encouraging note—a small gesture that makes a big impact, says Cherkasov.

He understands too well what it means to receive a new pair of shoes or a winter coat. Nearly 30 years ago, Cherkasov and his family immigrated to the United States from Azerbaijan. During that first year, he and his brother received almost everything they needed from the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee.

“Copious amounts of research show early childhood years, especially the preteen years, are some of the most critical. If children don’t have developmentally appropriate books and toys by the time they get to school, they start a year or two behind their peers,” Cherkasov said in a 2016 Chicago Tribune article.

Laura Gray, ODAR’s director of events, learned from a colleague about Cherkasov’s work. She told a Chicago Service Day site leader, Judy Conway, ’14, that the executive director of Cradles to Crayons was a Michigan Law alumnus.

Conway was intrigued. “I read about the organization and its wonderful mission, and then I immediately reached out to Bernard to reserve the site for our service day. We love supporting the places where our alums devote their time and energy, so this was a natural choice.”

Ironically, after Conway secured the location, Gray heard that Stacy and Neill Jakobe, both 2002 graduates and active volunteers with Cradles to Crayons, wanted to suggest it for Chicago Service Day. They were delighted to know it had been selected already.

Now in its 10th year, “Service Day speaks to the spirit of the Michigan Law community,” says Gray. With alumni team leaders planning volunteer activities for their fellow alumni, the Law School’s tradition of community service continues well after graduation. 

Once solely the domain of students during orientation, Alumni and Friends Service Day keeps alumni connected with the Law School and their peers, and always takes place on the same day as the University’s spring commencement.

Learn more about Alumni and Friends Service Day, and view photo galleries from this and previous years.