Inspirational Kids: Young People Who Take Initiative to Help Others
As community service becomes more and more a part of school curricula and youth group focus, many children and teens are involved in volunteering. Some young people go above and beyond to meet a need they see with their heart’s response. They are an inspiration to all of us.
We asked Teens in Public Service, Volunteers of America, the Red Cross, Girl Scouts and the Union Gospel Mission to tell us about some of those inspirational young people.
Before she was ever selected as a paid summer intern through Teens in Public Service (TIPS), Ballard High School senior Anna Gallagher made volunteer service a personal habit.
Remembering the kindness of staff and volunteers when she had been hospitalized at Seattle Children’s as a child, Anna began volunteering there on Saturday mornings in her freshman year of high school. “I love the optimism of the patients and staff and volunteers,” she says. “My favorite part was delivering the balloons to patients and seeing their faces light up.”
Anna plays the violin in the Ballard High School Orchestra, Chamber Orchestra and String Quartet and has shared her love of music by tutoring a student at Bailey Gatzert Elementary School for the past three years as a volunteer with Seattle Music Partners. She got involved with Key Club at the high school in her junior year. “They weren’t doing too much, so I took on a leadership role,” Anna says. The group works at the Ballard Senior Center, decorating pumpkins, making cookies and helping at the holiday bazaar. They raised $1,000 in the American Cancer Society’s Relay for Life. This year, they’re also planning to raise money for KIVA, a nonprofit organization that makes micro-loans in poor nations.
TIPS staff members select teens, who have already shown a commitment to volunteering to work for the summer at a variety of local nonprofit organizations. “My mom burst out laughing when I got the assignment to work at Seattle Tilth,” Anna remembers. “Gardening club in kindergarten was about all of the gardening I’d ever done. I helped with summer camp, parent/child classes and even teacher workshops where teachers were learning how to create school gardens. They looked to me as a teacher. By the end of the summer, I was able to give my mom some tips.”
Her greatest strength was in sharing with young children in summer camp. “My most special experience was with a 9-year-old camper who was trans-gender,” Anna says. “She was off by herself and told the supervisor, ‘I don’t want to be here. I don’t want to listen. Leave me alone.’ I went for a walk with the child. She said, ‘I bet you think I’m a girl from my name.’ He told me that he was a boy inside, and told me his special name.” The child’s mother thanked Anna for her sensitivity and thoughtfulness towards her child.
Her enthusiastic and empathetic work with children at Seattle Tilth earned her the Maureen Brotherton Founder’s Award for “caring, compassionate leadership” at the end-of-summer TIPS banquet.
This past summer, Anna worked as a teacher’s assistant and logistical helper at the Atlantic Street Center’s Summer Academy, serving elementary school students of low-income and minority families in the Central District. “I had the greatest respect for the students,” she says. Her volunteer positions and internships, especially working one-on-one with children, are leading her to consider a career in education.
Teens In Public Service, based in Seattle, connects teens with paid internships and life-changing opportunities at local nonprofit organizations. Apply early next year for summer 2013. 206-985-4647; www.teensinpublicservice.org.
Sometimes it’s not the most vocal teen or the obvious leader who stand outs, says WendiLee MacLeod, volunteer services director at Volunteers of America-Western Washington. She believes that Lynnwood teen Han Nguyen, a senior at Marina High School in Everett, “really embodies what it means to be a volunteer.” He’s a member of the organization’s Youth Action Team, a select group of volunteers from 15 schools in Snohomish County.
Han, a percussionist, began volunteering by tutoring middle and elementary school band students. “Every year, the (Volunteers of America) Action Team gives a Power-Point presentation at school,” Han says. “I heard it and joined up in 10th grade, mainly for the scholarship opportunity – and to help the community.”
Now in his third year with the Action Team, Han has “always been there to lend a helping hand – from standing outside in the cold in order to help collect over 1,260 toys for kids in need for the holidays to sorting holiday food that resulted in over 5,000 holiday boxes being distributed to families in Everett,” MacLeod says. The toy collection effort is called Stuff the Bus. “We give people a list and they bring back the toys,” Han says. “Most of the bus was filled: I was surprised; I would not expect to see so many toys.”
The Action Team prepares a community meal at a church once a month, including cooking it, serving it and cleaning up. “The girls pick all the easy jobs; they say to me, ‘You wash dishes,’ so that’s what I do. We work at the food bank, organizing the food into boxes for each family and putting out and picking up big barrels to collect food from the community for the holidays.”
One of the more meaningful experiences for Han has been volunteering at the senior center. “We organized a dance. It was pretty fun. I expected to sit around, but they got me up to dance with them,” he remembers. He helped with a Ping Pong Tournament – and took some lessons from the seniors – and played Wii with them. A conversation with a retired pharmacist at the senior center is making Han consider a career in pharmacy.
“Even though I joined (the Youth Action Team) for the scholarship opportunity, I met a ton of people and it was really fun,” Han says. “Now I’m more serious about volunteering – I enjoy helping and seeing people’s faces when they say ‘thank you.’”
Volunteers of America is a national, faith-based human services organization that helps vulnerable families, children and seniors. The organization partners with the Major League Baseball Players Trust to train high school volunteers through Youth Action Teams. In Snohomish County, download an application at www.voaww.org/Get-Involved/Youth-Action-Team. In King County, contact Volunteer Services Director WendiLee MacLeod at 425-212-2951 or email@example.com.
Samantha Kelley, a third grader at Edgerton Elementary School in Puyallup, is a little young to do self-directed volunteer work, but she’s not too young to save a life.
The 9-year-old was presented the Star of Courage Award at the Red Cross Mount Rainier Chapter’s Pierce County Heroes Breakfast in October. Her quick thinking and action in doing the Heimlich maneuver saved her friend, Tara, who was choking on a piece of fruit. The award is sponsored by the Mattich family; they lost their son, Isaac, in a drowning accident, and choose to recognize a young person who saves a life.
Samantha’s mother, Linda Kelley, has allergies that sometimes make food stick in her throat. “Although I can take care of it myself, Samantha would panic,” says Kelley, a single mom who lives alone with her daughter. “I taught her the Heimlich maneuver so that she’d know what to do if she saw someone choking.”
This past March, when Samantha was 8, she and Tara were having a tea party. The two girls were enjoying tangelos, picking out a movie and laughing at jokes. While laughing, Tara began choking on a piece of fruit. “I heard my daughter shout, ‘Tara, are you OK?’ three times with no answer from Tara,” Kelley remembers. She rushed upstairs, but before she could get there, Samantha had reached behind her friend and done abdominal thrusts to dislodge the food. Kelley found Tara gasping, with the piece of tangelo in her hand. Samantha explained that she had made her friend laugh, caused her to choke and then saved her life.
“Mom showed me the Heimlich maneuver one time. I remembered it,” Samantha says matter-of-factly. She has been eager to show other people she meets how to do the maneuver. “You don’t have to be afraid of what people think,” she says. “If you see someone that’s choking, don’t worry if you don’t know them, still help them.” Her mother says Samantha applies the same philosophy to bullying, which bothers her very much. “If you don’t know them (the person being bullied), you can still help out by saying, ‘Hey, that’s not nice.’”
The American Red Cross brings together local volunteers to care for their neighbors, trains people in life-saving skills and responds to local disasters. To take a class or make a holiday donation, contact the Mount Rainier Chapter at 253-474-0400 in Pierce County or 360-352-8575 in Thurston County; www.redcross.org/wa/tacoma. Contact the King County Chapter at 206-323-2345; www.redcross.org/wa/seattle. Contact the Snohomish County Chapter at 425-252-4103; www.snohomishcounty.redcross.org.
Sophie Knudson’s interest in the medical field and human rights have come together in a Girl Scout Gold Award project to raise money to buy mosquito nets for people in rural Kenya. Mosquitoes carry the parasites that cause malaria, and the nets save lives by keeping them away from sleepers.
To raise the money, the 17-year-old from Lake Forest Park is working to host her own “One Day 5K” run and walk in Shoreline in April 2013. “I chose April because April 25 is world malaria day, and one day we will eradicate malaria,” she explains.
A Girl Scout for seven years, Sophie was chosen to join Girl Scouts and Girl Guides from 79 countries at the Girls’ World Forum in Chicago this past summer. The girls worked on ways to meet some of the United Nations’ Millennium Development Goals, specifically ending hunger and extreme poverty, empowering women and promoting environmental sustainability. The girls heard speakers and did projects around the city, including planting prairie grass at the zoo as part of the environmental effort. Each chose a Gold Award project, the highest level in Girl Scouting, at the end of the forum.
“One of the groups that came was UNICEF, and they talked about 21,000 children dying a day in the world from preventable causes,” Sophie says. “It made me so sad. Malaria was one of the top four killers, and I’m interested in the medical field, so I picked that one to work on.” She will give the money she raises from the 5K run and walk to a United Nations organization which will buy and distribute the mosquito nets and tell villagers how to use them.
Organizing and running an entire fundraising walk is a big project, but Sophie’s had some practice already. Her mother is a breast cancer survivor, and Sophie helped set up the Breast Cancer 3-Day Walk and has participated in the Komen Race for the Cure. “I love volunteering,” Sophie says. “My mom got us involved when we were young. Every Wednesday, we went to a soup kitchen and helped make and serve dinners.”
Girl Scouts of Western Washington organizes troops in neighborhoods and schools for girls in kindergarten through 12th grade. Community service projects are an important part of the program. For more information, to donate or to volunteer, call 800-767-6845 or visit www.girlscoutsww.org.
Alex Black and Hope Olbricht
When Alex Black, 12, and her friend Hope Olbricht, 13, heard about the need for turkeys for Thanksgiving dinners at the Union Gospel Mission, they sprang into action.
Hope was having a sleepover at Alex’s West Seattle home last month. “Dad was watching the news and wouldn’t let us change the channel,” Alex says. “We heard that the Union Gospel Mission needed more than 2,000 turkeys and they had two in the freezer. Me and Hope decided to help. The manager at the Thriftway said we could sit outside there. Dad helped us type up a flyer.”
Alex’s Dad, Bart Black, was glad to help, as his brother had once been a resident at the Union Gospel Mission Men’s Shelter in downtown Seattle. “It was Alex’s idea; I was just facilitating and encouraging,” Black says. “I stayed with them for the first hour, and then went to get them hot chocolate. They said, ‘Go away; we’re doing better without you.’”
The girls raised $274.39 to buy turkeys, plus some packaged foods. “For homeless people who come here for a meal, it is a blessing,” Alex says. “I have food to last me through the night, but homeless people don’t.” Hope adds: “Food is important. Being homeless is hard. Some people starve to death. I wanted to make a difference.”
Both girls have been getting a start on volunteering through annual stewardship projects at their school, Our Lady of Guadalupe Catholic School. Last year, they cleared vegetation at Camp Long, and this year they’ve been making sack lunches for Angeline’s Center for Homeless Women in Seattle.
The Union Gospel Mission runs a Men’s Shelter in downtown Seattle and a Women’s and Children’s Shelter in southeast Seattle, both with three daily meals, as well as 12 other programs for people in need. Teens and families with children can volunteer at the shelter or find activities to do from home in the Community Action Center. 206-723-0767; www.ugm.org.
7th Grade Girl Scouts at Aki Kurose Middle School
Ten girls in the 7th grade Girl Scout Troop at Aki Kurose Middle School in southeast Seattle are preparing a garden to beautify the school and neighborhood and reduce air pollution.
They’re part of Girl Scouting in the School Day, a program begun by Girl Scouts of Western Washington to reach girls in lower income areas where there may not be enough volunteer leaders to run neighborhood troops and girls may face barriers of language and lack of transportation. There are now troops in many Seattle and Tacoma public schools, including three – one for grade 6, 7 and 8 – at Aki Kurose. The girls take an elective “class” in Girl Scouting for one semester, alternating with P.E., and may also participate at lunch, after school or even on Saturdays.
Although Girl Scouts can still earn badges, the structure has changed to “leadership journeys” that include a book of activities the troop works through and a project to apply what’s been learned. The “Breeze Journey” includes everything about air, explains Aki Kurose troop leader and teacher Tiffany Satterfield. “They spent a couple of weeks learning about air pollution and calculating their carbon footprint. They decided to do a garden as the end project.”
The project builds on a garden begun by last year’s troop. “We thought this would be good for the environment,” says Gracie Nguyen, 12. “We’ve been removing the dirt and we’ll put down cardboard so that the weeds won’t grow. We want to plant plants that could reduce air pollution, like pink jasmine and string of beads.” In brainstorming ideas, the girls decided on adding edible plants and installing stepping stones with two different quotes: “No one can do everything, but everybody can do something” and “A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step.”
They’re happy to work even in the cold weather. Although her Girl Scout semester will be over, Gracie and her friends hope to help with spring planting, maybe after school. “The thing I like most is that we learn to do things as a team,” she says.
To find out more about Girl Scouting in the School Day and other programs, call Girl Scouts of Western Washington at 1-800-767-6845 or visit www.girlscoutsww.org.
Houston Warren, a senior at Lakeside School in Seattle, began his volunteering career with all-school service days, including working for Operation Sack Lunch and at First Place School. In the summer after his eighth grade year, he went to Costa Rica under the school’s Global Service Learning Program. The summer after his freshman year, he worked as a paid Teens in Public Service intern at the Puget Sound Blood Center, traveling with the mobile blood donation center all around the central city. The summer after his sophomore year, he went to India for a month with the Global Service Learning Program to do follow-up research among Indian families on the results of water sanitation project.
He says his “first really true volunteer experience” which he initiated himself was to train a therapy dog. His uncle, who had multiple sclerosis, “really loved our dogs; he drew a lot of joy from them, and they helped him through the hard times.” After his uncle died in 2009, Houston’s family bought a Labradoodle puppy and he trained him for two and a half years through puppy and adolescent obedience classes to Therapy Dogs International certification. He also volunteered to help as an aide in the training classes.
Since then, Houston has taken Sinny to Alzheimer’s wards and nursing homes on Bainbridge Island, where he lives. “I’ve seen what a difference having a dog around makes,” he says. “People like my uncle don’t have to lose hope.”
Last summer – because he’d had a good volunteer experience at TIPS – he volunteered to work as an unpaid media intern, making videos, preparing press releases and using social media. This dovetails with his other interest in politics and government. For the past three years, Houston has been involved in the YMCA’s Youth & Government program, which involves teens in mock legislative sessions. “Students write the bills, more in a spirit of collaboration and understanding than competitiveness,” he says. He was chosen by his fellow students to be this year’s “governor”, and recently traveled to Washington, D.C., where he met Sen. Patty Murray and other leaders.
As he applies to colleges, Houston knows he wants some kind of career in public service – “so that I can contribute in any way I can,” he says.
To find out about Teens in Public Service, call 206-985-4647 or visit www.teensinpublicservice.org. For more information on Youth & Government, call 360-357-3475 or visit www.seattleymca.org/locations/YouthAndGovernment/Pages/Home/aspx.