Young volunteers gain understanding, joy

Most CHS students have walked past the homeless who are in need of basic essentials. Others watch news programs and develop a desire to travel and help in third world countries. Numerous teenagers at CHS choose to volunteer their time at organizations in the St. Louis area or abroad.
“Volunteering gives teenagers a chance to positively impact the community, and as a result, feel good about themselves,” senior Allie Lake said. “Volunteering can also help to provide awareness of what is going on in the world, outside of one’s comfort bubble.”
Often, a students’s typical after-school hours are packed with homework, athletics and other extra-curricular activities. However, weekends and breaks from school throughout the year provide opportunities for teenagers to help out in the community. A plethora of volunteer opportunities are available for teenagers in the St. Louis area.
Each volunteer opportunity provides a new experience for a student to gain sets of skills to help them succeed in the future. Volunteering is an opportunity that can provide students with a sense of fulfillment.
“Volunteering is never about our own personal benefit, however we do receive a benefit from doing it,” counselor Anthony Henderson said. “Volunteering is about giving back, not because we have to, but because we can. I believe that we all can.”
Junior Mimi Liu volunteered last summer at a preschool. She developed new sets of skills and formed new friendships. She finds it extremely important for teenagers to find volunteer opportunities that fit their interests.
“My volunteer experience last summer was absolutely amazing,” Liu said. “Despite my cynicism, I really enjoy helping younger kids. I developed bonds with all the kids in the preschool. In the process of taking care of the children, I also became friends with the other counselors.”
Senior Hannah Klein also developed a set of new friends through her summer volunteer trip to Ghana, Africa. Her experience playing with orphans and painting hospitals contributed to her further interest in volunteering.
“This was a life changing experience which has encouraged me to continue volunteering at home,” Klein said. “Compared to students living in Clayton, these children at the orphanages have nothing, yet they are the happiest people I’ve met in my life. It’s good to experience how other people live to earn an appreciation for what you have. You gain a sense of satisfaction when helping others.”
If a teenager is not required to find a paid job, Klein recommends they spend time in high school volunteering. As adults, Klein believes a majority of citizens will have less time to volunteer.
“All teenagers should contribute time as a volunteer,” Klein said. “If you are in a financially safe situation, I think you should spend even more time volunteering instead of choosing to work in a paid position.”
Rather than going abroad, other CHS students have gained essential skills through volunteer opportunities in other communities in the United States.
“Besides volunteering locally, I definitely felt the most accomplishment from volunteering at two centers in Mobile, Alabama,” junior Marin Klostermeier said. “In Mobile I volunteered at a center for people living with HIV/AIDS and spent time with adults with developmental disorders.”
Klostermeier found that volunteering helped strengthen her talents. Since starting to volunteer, she has developed better time management and organizational skills that have influenced all components of her lifestyle.
Over the past year, junior Dusty Kessler has volunteered at the Jewish Community Center with an autistic boy. Through this experience, which lasted six weeks, Kessler has developed a greater sense of patience.
“He was on the basketball team, but because of his problems it was hard for him to understand the rules of the game. It was also hard for him to stay focused on the game and sit calmly on the bench when it was not his turn to play,” Kessler said. “My job as a volunteer was to help maintain his attention to the team, learn the rules, and guide him so he could play on the team.”
Throughout the program, Kessler developed numerous noteworthy memories of playing basketball with the young boy.
“I found the experience challenging,” Kessler said. “When the boy and I got to know each other I felt like I was really helping him.  One memorable experience was when the boy’s mom told him it was time to go to practice.  He did not want to go to practice, but when his mom told him that I would be there to help him, he got excited and came to the practice.  His mom was extremely appreciative that I was playing with her son. I learned to understand that we all deserve an opportunity to try to be a part of a team.”
Some high school students debate whether a volunteer position is more beneficial than a paying job.
“If a teenager could find a paying job that they find meaningful and fun, I would advise them to take the job,” Lake said. “Having experience in the work force early on is always helpful for the future.  However, volunteering can often be a more emotionally fulfilling activity.”
Even though junior Cooper Minnis finds volunteering extremely beneficial for the community, he chooses to work in a paid position at Cafe Manhattan in Clayton.
“I’ve done things in the community, but choose to spend most of my time working for money at a local restaurant” Minnis said. “The results of a volunteer position could be better for the community, but I have already developed many important interpersonal skills from my part-time job.”
Some students spend time volunteering to fill their college resumes. Junior Mariah Olschansky has a paid job, but is interested in getting involved in volunteering sometime in high school to improve her resume.
“In the future, I will most likely volunteer, but now I have a paid position as a counselor at the Missouri Athletic Club,” Olschansky said. “If I volunteer later in high school, the main purpose will be to build a stronger resume for college. I would spend time volunteering with kids, but at the moment I am already being paid to do activities with them.”
Besides adding volunteering to a resume, Henderson believes participation in service can provide important experiences for high school students who are leaving for college.
“Volunteering helps students that are going off to college in a number of ways,” Henderson said. “They have the opportunity to witness the human condition first hand. I also believe that you get an understanding that we are not all created equal. For some it’s through volunteering that they get their direction for life.”
Junior Erin Sternberg was volunteering weekly at a program at her church in University City. Kid’s Place was a safe environment for kids to play after school. Due to time constraints with other school activities, Sternberg had to cut back volunteering from three hours a week to a few times a month.
“When I volunteer with young kids, they are so happy to have older kids to play with,” Sternberg said. “If someone is less fortunate than you, it is important to give up a little bit of your time to make their day better. Volunteering makes me slow down, and try not to take things for granted. Knowing I made a small difference in another’s life is pay enough.”
Numerous studies display that helping others will improve a teenager’s lifestyle. Teenagers who volunteer are more likely to perform better in school and avoid violence. Psychologists believe that further research is necessary to figure out whether people who are happy are more likely to volunteer or whether volunteering makes people feel happier. These researchers believe that either scenario will ultimately lead to a state of well-being.
“Research has demonstrated that being with others tends to make people feel good,” said St. Louis Children’s Hospital Clinical Psychologist Kimberly Sirl. “Volunteering might also foster personal happiness because we’re spending time with others as well as being helpful. Being in a good mood seems to be contagious. People prefer to spend time with others who are typically in a good mood.”
Klein also finds that volunteering helps teenagers develop a sense of belonging, satisfaction and accomplishment.
“Volunteering definitely makes me appreciate the opportunities that I have in my life,” Klein said. “Volunteering can improve your mental health and give students a sense of accomplishment and a boost in self confidence.”
When a student starts volunteering at a young age, they are more likely to continue throughout life.
“It’s important for people to start volunteering when they are young to give them a better understanding of helping people,” Klostermeier said. “These kids will learn that volunteering is a really good thing to do. Hopefully, this value will stay with them throughout their life.”
Many local organizations are looking for youth volunteers for the summer. To get involved in volunteering this summer, teenagers can contact local organizations. As a volunteer, teenagers can help contribute to make the community a better place to live and work.