Learning to give back

Children can get involved with volunteer efforts

Children can get involved with volunteer efforts

November 13, 2009|By CHRIS COPLEY

With gift-giving season just over the horizon, many parents of area teens and younger children are getting lists of things children want to receive.

But some parents say they're happy their kids are also looking at how they can give back to the community.

Irene and Fred Volkening of Boonsboro have three daughters. Irene Volkening organizes a weekly group of student volunteers, mostly friends of her girls. Most recently, she said, they've been working at the Community Food Bank at St. Mark's Lutheran Church in Hagerstown.

"We clean. We paint. I make 'em work for two hours," Volkening said. "They're 15 and 16, mostly; some as young as 12. The kids love it. This is the perfect age group."

Food bank manager Beth Stouffer said over the course of the past year, the volunteers have cleaned and repainted the walls of the food bank's basement storage area. Sometimes, she said, she'll bring people down and show them what the kids have done.


"They have really been an inspiration," Stouffer said. "My grandson is in the group. He said 'My friends don't do this.' But he made a friend in the group. Took him a while."

Volkening said her group works hard for two hours each Saturday, then has another two hours of social time. That routine has worked well. Another key to the group's success is parental involvement.

"You need to have parents willing to commit," she said. "A parent or an adult has to help these kids grow."

Sharpsburg residents Sherry and Bob Sykes have two children, ages 6 and 8. Sherry Sykes said she incorporates volunteering into their daily routine.

"This is part of our life. They accompany me when I go. Since we home school, we have flexibility in the day," she said.

Sykes and her children plan to help pack lunches at the REACH Cold Weather Shelter in Hagerstown. Her children will put cookies and chips into brown-bag lunches for shelter residents; Sykes will make sandwiches.

The family is involved in other service projects through their church, Salem United Methodist Church in Keedysville. Over the summer, Sykes and her children raised $1,000 for Nothing But Net, a program to provide malaria nets to communities in Africa.

"My background was in nonprofits before I had kids, so I'm accustomed to the needs of nonprofits," she said. "I've just made volunteering a part of our lifestyle. It's not special. It's just built into the day."

Margaret Becker is manager of volunteers for the Humane Society of Washington County. She has worked with hundreds of volunteers at the humane society's shelter on Maugansville Road, northwest of Hagerstown.

"We have probably 40 young volunteers now," she said. "They can walk dogs or bathe dogs. They can socialize cats. They can help with laundry and cleaning."

Becker says kids connect with the Humane Society best when they care about animals. And there are lots of opportunities to work one-on-one with the shelter's animals.

But there are also rules to follow. For example, if Humane Society volunteers are younger than 16, they must have an adult work with them.

"Rules are important," Becker said. "Safety is important when working with animals."

Volunteering can be a lot of fun. But learning to give time and energy to community institutions is good for children, Volkening said.

"Any time you can get a child to think about someone other than themselves, that's good," she said. "It's not about 'Get me something at Toys 'R' Us.'"

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