USO of Illinois Programs
Year Round Programs
Thanks to partnerships with area organization, the USO of Illinois is able to offer tickets to cultural, theatrical and sporting events to military personnel and their families. The Tickets for Troops program is a way for military personnel and their families to reconnect after returning home, or even to provide a way to simply enjoy time together with loved ones. This program serves over 1,500 families a year.
Featured venues and ticket donors to the USO of Illinois include Ravinia, Harris Theatre, Shakespeare Theatre, Broadway in Chicago, DePaul Theatre School, United Center, Rosemont Theatre, Chicago Blackhawks, Chicago Cubs, Chicago White Sox, Chicago Bulls, Chicago Bears, Chicago Rush and Chicago Sky. Visit tixfortroops.org for more information or to register.
Military children face special challenges with frequent moves and missing parents who are training or deployed. The USO of Illinois’ specially designed Discovery Kids Program provides year-round educational, recreational, and cultural events and programs designed to the lift the spirits of our little warriors. Catering to quality family time, the Discovery Kids Program provides critical opportunities to reconnect and in some cases, therapeutic healing.
We work together with our like-minded organizations and partners to create experiences that inspire, educate, entertain, dazzle and delight children of all ages. Our Discovery Kids offerings can include the building of terrariums at the Chicago Botanic Garden, backstage tours and actor meet and greets at local theaters, day trips to museums or local zoos, and much, much more!
This year-round program, held at the USO Center at Great Lakes Naval Station, offers free hot meals with all the fixings the evening before pay day to military personnel. The 26 No Dough Dinners, which serve 200-300 Navy recruits per dinner. Specific ‘No Dough’ dinners are underwritten by companies, clubs, or other organizations throughout Illinois, who actually man the serving line to dish up plates – past dinners have been served by our very own Chicago Cubs! Sign up for our newsletter and see who will be at the next USO No-Dough Dinner!
90% of the military customers that utilize the USO Great Lakes Center are Junior Sailors that are at Naval Station Great Lakes, temporarily, attending military specialty schools. No-Dough also attracts military spouses and their children who have a parent serving overseas.
“Sweet Home Chicago” care packages are one of the many ways the USO of Illinois expresses appreciation to the men and women who serve as a member of the United States Armed Forces. The contributions these men and women make for our freedoms are invaluable. Enclosed in each “Sweet Home Chicago” Care Package are items especially prepared for Illinois service members deployed abroad. The USO of Illinois supplies personal items, toiletries, snacks, books and magazines, CDs, movies and much more!
“Overall it’s a great morale booster, especially for soldiers who don’t receive care packages from their families. It’s especially impactful in time of need to receive toiletries, books, movies and other things.” -Sargent Jonathan Milam, Illinois National Guard
Established in 2003, USO Operation Phone Home delivers prepaid international phone cards to deployed troops free of charge. The phone cards are distributed through our 6 USO of Illinois centers or delivered directly to military units abroad. With frequent deployments and the changing needs of the military, the USO has developed a private telephone network (PTN), available in USO centers throughout Southwest Asia. The phone cards and PTN help deployed troops stay connected with their family. One hundred percent of the money raised for the USO Operation Phone Home program goes to the purchase of phone cards and operation of the PTN.
Operation Enduring Thanks offers assistance with homecomings and deployments taking place throughout the state of Illinois. Whether returning from combat, or deploying to combat— the USO is there to ensure every service member and his or her family feels appreciated and cared for. Each year this program, with additional thousands of their family and friends also participating, serves over 2500 military service members.
Operation Front of the Line supports military and military families seeking gate/terminal access for homecomings and deployments of loved ones. Working with airport security, the USO of Illinois help families stay connected and be there the moment their loved ones arrive!
The Spirit of the USO is the USO of Illinois’ own music program, comprised of Chicago-based, professional musicians and entertainers. The group acts as the musical ambassadors for the organization, performing live for military and civilian audiences alike through a wide variety of performances, as well as Illinois military unit balls and conferences. The Spirit of the USO group has performed for over 8,000 people throughout the Midwest every year.
The hardest hit members of a military family are often the youngest. Day-to-day life without a parent can be sad and confusing. So imagine the thrill on a child’s face when he or she sees and hears a bedtime story read by mom or dad. The USO partnership with United Through Reading® allows our deployed troops the ability to read their kids a bedtime book and virtually be there, even when they can’t be there in-person. Service men and women simply read a book aloud while being recorded on DVD for their child. This service is available at each of our 6 USO of Illinois Centers. The DVD and book are mailed to the child and family back home. All recording equipment, books, packing and shipping materials are supplied by the USO.
Founded in 1989, United Through Reading® is a nonprofit 501 (c)(3) public benefit organization. The mission of United Through Reading® is to unite military families facing physical separation by facilitating the bonding experience of reading aloud together. For more information, please visit www.unitedthroughreading.org.
The USO of Illinois Camp R&R, located in the north woods of Wisconsin, is a retreat for specially selected service members and their families and is tailored to provide rest and relaxation to those recently returned from active-duty deployment overseas. Military and military dependent guests are welcomed to the camp to enjoy such activities as fishing, swimming, hiking, horseback riding, canoeing, water-skiing, or relaxing in the comforts of the Lodge. Camp atmosphere is designed to help rejuvenate and reconnect military families after the challenges of deployments.
The traveling USO of Illinois Carnival is a one-day event that will create a funfilled, family friendly atmosphere where families will have the opportunity to relax and re-connect while being surrounded by a plethora of activities for all ages. Complete with live music, games, contests, food, a big top circus, and much more!
The USO of Illinois Carnival will travel to multiple locations during the summer months. Sign up for our e-newsletter to see if the carnival is coming to a city near you!
Thanks to the USO of Illinois and area florists, Illinois troops stationed overseas are able to send flowers to their loved ones for Valentine’s Day, free of charge.Flowers from the Frontlines Valentine’s Day program encourages all deployed Illinois military personnel to submit the name of their “Home Front Loved One” to be eligible to receive a special USO of Illinois Valentine’s Day bouquet with a personalized message from “The Frontlines”. The special bouquets are delivered door to door just in time for the holiday!
As we gather with our loved ones during the holiday season, it is a time to reflect what we are thankful for – our friends, our family and even our freedom. May we remember to thank the brave service men and women of yesterday and today who have defended our freedom, fought for the freedoms of others around the world and sacrifice so much so that we may enjoy our freedom. In our neighborhoods, at the airport or at the holiday dinner table – it only takes a moment to say “Thank You” to a Veteran, Soldier, Sailor, Airmen, or Marine. It’s a simple phrase, but means so much.
Join the USO of Illinois in saying thanks to all our Armed Forces personnel during the holiday season. Continuing the USO tradition of “serving those who serve,” the USO of Illinois embraces the holiday spirit of giving and provides vital programs and services to enhance the quality of life and promote moral among our service members and their families. USO’s Home for the Holidays serves over 2,000 meals to service members during the holiday season and keeps our USO of Illinois Centers stocked and open 24 hours a day for the support of thousand of military and their families traveling. USO Families on the Homefront program also offer special holiday meal and gift assistance to military families in need.
Gives Civilians a Chance to Experience a National War Memorial with U.S. Navy Personnel
In cooperation with the Museum of Science and Industry, Chicago (MSI) and through the generous support of Tawani Foundation, the USO U-505 Naval History Program with Pritzker Military Library places Navy Chief Petty Officer (CPO) selectees as volunteer museum docents at the museum’s famed U-505 Submarine exhibit as part of their CPO advancement training.
The first of its kind in the nation, created by the USO of Illinois, the program connects the American public with future U.S. Navy chief petty officers in a mutually beneficial partnership between the American public, military learning institutions and the naval population at the nation’s only Navy boot camp at Naval Station Great Lakes in Great Lakes, IL. CPO selectees travel to MSI and Pritzker Military Library for a day of training on the history and artifacts related to the U-505, the only German U-boat captured during World War II and research on Naval leadership.
Now located in a 35,000-square-foot exhibit at MSI, the vessel is extremely relevant to the U.S. Navy experience and serves a national war memorial for those who lost their lives in the two battles of the Atlantic during World War I and II. U.S. submariner veterans also join in the training to impart their knowledge and experience to the selectees, building connections between future Navy Chief Petty Officers and past generations.
Navy Chief Petty Officers serve as not only technical experts, but as exemplary leaders who possess high personal and professional standards. CPO selectees then volunteer in the U-505 Submarine exhibit for several days in early September to answer questions and engage museum guests with various submarine-related artifacts. Museum guests will not only have an opportunity to learn about the U.S. Navy’s heroic effort during World War II from a future Navy Chief Petty Officer and how those actions changed history, but also gain a greater awareness and appreciation of the men and women serving in uniform.