“That’s me when I used to be a grown up,” explained Donna Carroll’s grandson, 3 1/2 year old Malcolm, when he saw a picture of Malcolm X on the cover of a book his mom, Ursula, was reading.
How powerful when a child sees himself reflected in another, when we see ourselves in each other.
For many of our young people feeling like they’re part of a larger whole comes from a sense that they’re connected at the larger community level. But how can young people make this connection?
Volunteering is a great way to challenge ourselves and put ourselves on a path of meeting new people. For young people, it’s a chance to gain valuable experience, learn about themselves, interact with people they might not otherwise meet, and explore career interests.
Did you know that teens who volunteer are less likely to become pregnant or to use drugs, and are more likely to have positive academic, psychological, and occupational well-being? According to Child Trends, other positive outcomes include development of greater respect for others, leadership skills, and an understanding of citizenship that can carry over into adulthood.
An opportunity for students to give back to peers and their communities is one of the five CIS basics. Our young people are giving back every day. Here’s just one recent example.
In partnership with the Kalamazoo Public Library, The Kalamazoo Promise® and New World Flood, Communities In Schools hosted February’s First Saturday at the downtown Kalamazoo Public Library. Free and open to the public, the event welcomes families with their young children to enjoy stories, activities, guests, and door prizes. CIS partnered with the library last year to host one of their First Saturdays and it was a great experience for all involved. But Artrella Cohn, CIS Director of Secondary Sites (and lead for CIS for organizing First Saturday events) felt something was missing: our older students. “This event,” she said, “is a perfect opportunity for students in our secondary schools to give back.” So, this year, the missing piece to the puzzle was complete. With support from CIS staff, AmeriCorps VISTAs, wonderful KPL librarians, and New World Flood’s Todd “TJ” Duckett, thirteen middle and high school students volunteered. They ran five different literacy stations throughout the library: Read to Me, Scavenger Hunt, Spelling Bee, His & Her Story Station (writing their own stories), and Fantasy Station (which involved picking an item out of a basket to help build upon a collective story).
“Seeing the middle and high school students in action truly warmed my heart,” said Artrella Cohn, CIS Director of Secondary Sites and organizer of the First Saturday’s event. “The presence of the WMU Students added to the whole ‘reach back and give back’ message that I envisioned for this event. There were middle school students who were signing in, and with smiles on their faces asked, “There are 11th and 12th graders here to volunteer too?” I could visibly see our high school students—who are already mature young ladies—really jump into their role when they realized that there were older high school students and college students involved. Wearing WMU gear, Carmelita Foster and her team of college volunteers stood out in a real way for those of our students looking to successfully complete high school and obtain that Kalamazoo Promise®.”
“This event ran like a well-oiled machine because the youth volunteers knew where they fit. These young people took ownership of their stations,carried out fun learning activities and served as positive role models for the little ones.”
Colleen Marie Deswal, mother of one of those little ones wrote, “My son Teddy participated in his first story time! He volunteered and stated that the dog wiped his nose with the kleenex since that was his prop in the circle. I was shocked he understood what was going on and added to the story since he is only 2 1/2. Was an amazing moment in time. Glad you all are doing these types of events for the community. One reason I moved back to Kalamazoo is the wonderful community involvement.”
We may be stepping out of Black History Month into March, but many of our young people will continue to give back and make good choices, like choosing to give up their Saturday to volunteer. In giving back, they make history, and our future.
“I see myself in the future of these young people,” reflects Artrella. “It’s a beautiful cycle.”
Do you recognize yourself in our youth? If you do, despite what your mother told you, it’s okay* to point your finger. Point proudly at our young people and say, Yea, that’s me…when I used to be a grown up.