Lessons In Giving
Families, youth volunteer opportunities teach some important lessons.
Thursday, November 26, 1998
Emma Healy is a junior at Carmel High, and a volunteer at the emergency room of Community Hospital of the Monterey Peninsula (CHOMP). She started volunteering four years ago. When asked about her most memorable volunteer experience, Emma replies "definitely the emergency room. I''ve seen a lot there." On busy days Emma works double time, hurrying to replace the bedding between patients, restock the drawers with sheets and pillows, run specimens to the lab and give blankets to patients.
Clarissa Eagle, 17, is the Junior Volunteer President of CHOMP. A senior at Monterey High, she has volunteered for the past four years, accumulating almost 300 volunteer hours.
Finding youth volunteer assignments isn''t always easy. When comparing positions for youth to those for adults, "there''s very little opportunity for kids 16 and younger," reports Jane Maines, executive director of Volunteer Center of Monterey County, which pairs volunteers with positions suited to their experience and liking. Maines says that of 1,040 volunteer positions recently listed in the database, 33 were open to teens 16 and older, and 14 openings were for volunteers 14 years and up. For youths 11 years and under, there were no positions at all. According to Maines, some organizations fear the legal repercussions involved with youths. "The two main barriers are liability and supervision," she says.
Terri Weigand-Kirby got around the barriers to youth participation by volunteering her entire whole family--a solution encouraged by volunteer organizations. Her family volunteered to visit an 83-year -old woman living alone, through the Friendly Visitors program of Alliance on Aging.
"When we first began seeing Trudy, her memory was very bad," says Weigand-Kirby. "We visited her often, went shopping with her, brought groceries over, and had her for Thanksgiving and Christmas." But, says Weigand-Kirby, "over the next 1 1/2 years we watched her mental capacity deteriorate. I became afraid that someday she would not find her way home. Finally Trudy''s family from Hawaii intervened."
At every visit, one to four of Terri''s children were present. But it was 6-year-old Ali who became closest to Trudy. "I liked spending time with Trudy because she was always nice to me," says Ali.
Like Weigand-Kirby, other local families involve their youngest members in volunteering--particularly during the holidays as a counter-balance to commercial messages of consumerism that seem to dominate the airwaves. Robyn Venuti includes her family in many volunteer activities. Among a myriad of events they participate in is "I Remember Mama." Put on by the Ombudsman For Long-Term Care, this Mother''s Day program uses 60 to 80 volunteers to distribute 1,000 potted donated flowering plants to women in nursing homes who might not otherwise be remembered.
Venuti says she rounds up her 10-year-old daughter and 5-year-old son to volunteer because "I want my kids to see that other people aren''t as fortunate as us. And I want them to reach out. Another reason is that it brings a smile to those at the nursing home."
Sometimes having kids volunteer means introducing young people to some of life''s harsher realities. Venuti''s son, Stefan, is scared to approach the elderly and often incapacitated women. Despite the fact that he''s frightened, Stefan still asks to be the one to hand them flowers. Giordana, Venuti''s daughter, is less shaken by the experience and says "I feel sorry for them, but I like to do it because it makes their day."
For youths who do want to get involved with volunteerism on their own, opportunities do exist even if they are more scant than for adults. On a probe of youth volunteers in Monterey County, a surprising number of kids helping the community turned up. The Volunteer Center even recently received enough funding to begin a Youth Services Program. American Red Cross officials would like to do the same, but, says Paula Herrera, executive director of the Salinas chapter, "We''re still waiting for funding."
That didn''t stop Red Cross from incorporating 60-80 youth volunteers into their disaster relief program last year during the floods and power outages. The youths prepared shelters by setting-out and making hundreds of beds, making thousands of sandwiches, serving food, and registering incomers. "It was a magical thing to see," recalls Herrera. "Young people came to help with their Scout group, their church, their parents, and by themselves."
All around the county, a plethora of young volunteers are turning their efforts to diverse tasks. Anthony Isneros, 15, is a volunteer office assistant for the American Red Cross at the Salinas office. His duties entail answering phones, filing, shredding documents, sorting packets, making coffee, sealing envelopes, and other odd jobs. He found out about the position from his Braille instructor, since he is blind. "I enjoy and take pride in helping people, and encourage all youth, including sight- and hearing-disadvantaged to participate in volunteer activities," says Isneros, who was nominated as one of two Monterey County youth volunteers to receive national recognition for his outstanding efforts. "I hope to teach CPR, First Aid and disaster relief to the sight- and hearing-impaired," he says
Even younger than Isneros is Marisa Boyns, a freshman at Pacific Grove High School, who has been a volunteer on her own and with her mom, since she was 9 years old.
Boyns'' accomplishments are many, and when asked which she liked most, Marisa declares, "My favorites are working at History Day and the triathlon." At History Day she says, "I get to be with my friends and see all the different projects." Unmistakable is her enthusiasm towards the triathlon, and the excitement that goes with being in an athletic environment. At this event she passes drinks to runners as they whiz by.
A variety of opportunities for the physically inclined are also available. Kids, adults, or families can volunteer to build and remodel homes with the local chapter of Habitat for Humanity. Two recent Habitat projects entailed painting the entire exterior of a home and replacing all the windows of another. The Bureau of Land Management also has openings at Fort Ord National Recreation Area for those interested in volunteering for a trail maintenance crew. That program accepts teens 13 years and up. cw
If a family or youth wants to get involved in community service, all that''s required is a phone call to the Volunteer Center of Monterey County, 655-9234.