By Arlene Remz, Executive Director
May 3, 2012
You hear a lot about the pressures on high school students nowadays. The push to get good grades and go to the right colleges. The issues around bullying, cliques and other social pressures. The sometimes disastrous distraction of social media.
When I walk the halls of our Sunday program and see our high school volunteers, those images fade away. I see cheerful, engaged teens who are thoughtful and focused on something besides themselves. I see teenagers who wake up early on Sunday mornings so that they can work closely with a student with behavioral, physical, and/or learning challenges, and they come week after week filled with energy and enthusiasm.
Rebecca, a first-year volunteer and 10th grader at Brookline High School, explains her commitment this way: “I had a major school project one weekend, but I still came on Sunday. If I’m not here, the kids really miss me. Not just the student I work with, we are all in the group together.”
The Teen Volunteer Program has been around about as long as the Sunday Program. My daughter was a volunteer in the early days, even before I worked for Gateways. All three of my children have been Teen Volunteers, and I agree with Andy Lesser-Gonzalez, our volunteer coordinator, when she described what the program gives to its volunteers: “they learn about themselves, they develop leadership abilities and true friendships.” Andy has seen shy volunteers come out of their shells and insecure teens grow in maturity.
There are many entryways to the program. Teens hear about it through school or through friends and family. Some have siblings who attend the Sunday classes and they choose to work with another child as a volunteer. Some teens volunteer through Prozdor, the community Jewish high school program, which grants class credit to volunteers, all of whom get weekly training as part of the program.
At the heart of the program are the relationships formed between the students and the volunteers. Volunteers can work as classroom assistants who help out where needed. Those who bring special talents and skills can focus on assisting in music, videography, and other activities. And volunteers can be paired with a student to serve as a one-to-one aide for the duration of the school year (or sometimes multiple years), a support that every student in the school receives. The application process for the volunteer program enables us to get a sense of the applicant, and we work to make a good match.
“The kids are amazing,” says Rebecca. “”It can be challenging, but it’s so rewarding.” Brynn, a senior from Scituate, grew up far from Jewish education opportunities. “Just like my student, it was hard for me to go to Hebrew School. It’s a bond we share,” she says. Brynn is graduating and next year will be in nursing school in Pittsburgh. Will it be good to sleep in Sundays next year? “I love it here,” she says, “I don’t want to leave.”
Category: Reflections & Perspectives
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