The Harbinger Online

A Direct Difference

High schoolers need volunteer hours. Whether it’s to qualify for college scholarships or National Honor Society, service hours are important not only for looking good on a transcript, but for developing important job skills. There are the usual projects like packaging supplies or making meals, but finding opportunities where high schoolers can directly assist people in need can be much harder. However, groups like The Upper Room and SAFEHOME offer unique experiences where volunteers directly help children and the community. From reading with kids to simply playing and spending time with them, these organizations provide opportunities unlike many others by allowing volunteers to work with people in need rather than just for them.

SAFEHOME

SAFEHOME is an Overland Park organization that focuses on tackling the issue of domestic violence by providing shelter, therapy and other resources for women and children in need. They rely on volunteers to help fundraise, work in the hotline office and spread the SAFEHOME message throughout the community. In 2015 alone, 3,294 calls for help were answered by hotline workers.

“People volunteer for a number of reasons, but mostly to make themselves feel good and useful,” Volunteer Manager Susan Lebovitz said. “Volunteering at SAFEHOME gives people those feelings and permits them to help a population in crisis.”

There are many ways to get involved with SAFEHOME without interacting with people in need, like working with the Public Awareness Team to educate groups churches about the organization or by sorting clothing. However, one way to work with and help the victims at SAFEHOME is by spending time with kids at the childcare center while their parents are in therapy sessions.

Last July, junior Brianna Currie decided to apply as a volunteer after hearing from a friend about the childcare program. She loved working with kids and eagerly applied when her friend offered to go with her for a day to volunteer.

Currie entertained children ages 1-8 for six hours. She read “Cat in the Hat” to them, “cooked” hamburgers with plastic food and played parachute games like the ones in elementary school P.E.

“The kids were super easy to get along with,” Currie said. “You could tell they truly enjoyed getting to interact with new people, and all of them had the sweetest hearts.”

Of her many interactions with the kids that day, one conversation with a little girl still sticks in her mind.

The girl told Currie about how she and her brother would cook themselves hotdogs, macaroni and other meals that would typically require an adult. She said this was because there were nights when her parents went to bed before them. But when Currie talked to one of the supervisors, she was told the real story: both of her parents were drug addicts, and she was here because the mother had recently come with her to SAFEHOME to get sober.

“It made me realize how lucky I am to have the family I have and to have certain opportunities,” Currie said. “These kids have been through so much yet still have this amazing outlook on life.”

This is just one of the many stories that SAFEHOME works to find happy endings for. In 2015, they sheltered 207 women and 154 children and worked with 203 clients at hospitals. Through volunteering, Currie helped play a direct part in supporting these families by caring for the children in need.

“It was incredibly gratifying to know that by working with some kids, you were giving their moms time to do what they needed to do for their families,” Currie said. “It made me feel like I was doing something good, something I knew was helping someone.”

THE UPPER ROOM

The Upper Room works with kids to provide learning opportunities they may otherwise not be able to get. From tutoring one-on-one to reading in a group, volunteers help children not just learn to read, but enjoy reading too.

Last summer, sophomore Sarah Grimm decided to volunteer for their Summer Academic Program after being invited by her stepsister. The program is similar to a summer school for elementary and middle school students, and the children in the program work on a variety of subjects like language arts and math with a primary focus on reading. The program is open to all students regardless of income and is completely free.

Volunteer tutors like Grimm primarily work with kids in first through third grade on their reading and comprehension skills. Grimm helped roughly 20 kids read books like “If You Give a Mouse a Cookie” and complete assignments based on the story. During the three hours she worked with the kids, she read to, played with and assisted them with their work.

“The kids kind of looked up to [me] like siblings,” Grimm said. “One little girl even tried to braid my hair like hers.”

In addition to tutoring, the summer program also offers art, music and dance classes to keep kids active during the day. While Grimm was there, the children went outside for recess where she and her kids climbed around the playground, played on the merry-go-round and ate their lunches provided for each child by the organization.

During the school year, the volunteer opportunities are different. After the summer program is finished, volunteers can apply for the ONE to ONE Challenge where they work as after-school tutors for one student, one hour, one day a week. The program was specifically designed to help get struggling children up to or above their current reading grade level.

“It’s a great opportunity for high schoolers to work with kids, but it’s also a good opportunity for the kids to have one on one experiences with older kids who can help them better or further their reading,” Administrative Officer Robin Winfrey said. “[The kids] can have somebody that they see as mentors and role models.”

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