Illinois State alumna Rebecca Weinshenker ’07 was recently named the Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Illinois (BCBSIL) 2013 Volunteer of the Year.

Weinshenker is an associate actuary who has been with BCBSIL for more than six years, and since then she has logged 462 volunteer hours helping others change their lives for the better.

Until four years ago, the actuarial science grad had not done much volunteering. But she began helping others as a distraction from studying for actuarial exams. Little did she know that so-called distraction would lead to a true passion for community involvement—and a family-like mentor relationship with one special teenager.

Weinshenker can be found regularly at the Inspiration Café, a restaurant on the north side of Chicago that serves free, restaurant-quality meals to the homeless. Whether cooking in the kitchen or helping wait tables, Weinshenker appreciates the opportunity to get close to the people she is helping.

“I think there is a certain power in feeling connected to your community,” she said. “You feel more accountable, appreciative, and responsible of it and who is included in it. And you want others to feel appreciative and responsible for you too.”

Weinshenker is also involved with the BCBSIL Celebration of Caring Committee, an employee-led group that partners with the United Way on volunteer opportunities for employees.

“Being an active, involved member of your community is important—no matter what capacity, whether you vote or attend community meetings or volunteer your time interacting with people or help build a playground or give money so that others can run their organizations more effectively—it all matters,” she said. “We make up the community in which we live, so we are the ones that can effect positive change.”

One way Weinshenker has brought about positive change is by mentoring a 15-year-old girl. First paired up through a mentorship program four years ago, Weinshenker and her mentee have done everything from crafting, cooking, going to sporting events and even volunteering together at Inspiration Café and an animal shelter.

“She has really become like a little sister to me and after all this time it’s hard to imagine how my life would be without her in it,” Weinshenker said.

“Rebecca is a perfect example of how addictive volunteering can become,” said Karen Atwood, president of Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Illinois. “Here at Blue Cross and Blue Shield we are proud to offer a wide range of volunteer opportunities that can fit into almost anyone’s schedule, and as a company we strive to create a culture where we truly do care for our communities.”