Why Volunteer?

Why Volunteer?

Staff and students at two Gwinnett high schools— Collins Hill High and North Gwinnett High— recently shared some insights from their own volunteer experiences: what they’ve learned, why they volunteer, some examples of volunteer opportunities, and how service helps students learn and grow. Of course, volunteer opportunities are in every school and every community, and involved students around the county are contributing to the quality of life here in Gwinnett. Learn more about volunteer opportunities at your school, on your school web site, and in the community. Check the tipsheets, links, and resources in this article to learn more.

Volunteers hone leadership skills
Student-led volunteer activities, clubs, and events present a wonderful opportunity for students to gain leadership skills while they do good work for others. Not surprisingly, when students select the causes and concerns around which they volunteer, they are passionate about the subject, says Graduation Coach Kim Stewart who works with student volunteers at North Gwinnett High. “In student-driven initiatives, students have an authentic leadership role in creating and leading” as they determine the scope and reach of their volunteer work. She says this is especially true in leadership and mentoring activities in which students are helping other students.

For instance, North Gwinnett student leaders design and run “Expectations 101,” a summer event for incoming freshmen. The school also conducts a full-day Leadership Summit for student leaders during the summer. Bulldog Ambassadors volunteer to help new students during their first days and weeks at the school, sharing a welcome package developed by students, for students.

More than 200 juniors and seniors step up to mentor all North Gwinnett 9th graders in small-group sessions twice a week. The older students who started the Freshman Mentoring Program design the lessons and share best practices with each other in monthly mentor training. Student leaders at the high school also mentor Peer Leaders from North Gwinnett Middle. Undoubtedly, many of the younger students will move on to become mentors and leaders at the high school themselves, inspired by the skills and qualities modeled by their high school mentors.

Student Leadership Team members facilitate leadership development at their school
by promoting leadership books they read.

Check out tips for students on how to get started as a volunteer, with suggestions from student leaders at North Gwinnett High.

Student volunteers have ‘impact’ in school community and beyond
At Collins Hill High, students on the school’s “Dream Team” run the school’s Volunteer Center with the guidance of Service Learning Coordinator Jessica Sedor. Student volunteers participate in activities through both the Dream Team club and a service learning elective class.

A Collins Hill High student volunteer reads
to Walnut Grove Elementary students
on National Read Across America Day.
The Volunteer Center is open three periods each day, during lunch and advisement time. At the center, students can learn more about upcoming projects, sign up to participate, or get help on a service project. Ms. Sedor says about 10 projects are in the works at any given time, appealing to a range of interests among the school’s students.

Year to year, student leaders review which projects have been most successful and which causes drew participation. Ms. Sedor tells her students to pursue projects that really resonate with their peers, but, more importantly, have real meaning for the volunteer leader. “If you don’t love it, it’s just a chore,” she says. “If you love it, it’s a lifelong thing.”

Ms. Sedor says she’s seen remarkable growth in her students as they mature as both volunteers and leaders. Over the course of three or four years, students go from being “slightly involved to being head-over-heels” with volunteer work.

Dream Team club members are particularly involved in volunteer efforts. A list of projects led by club members is long and varied— fund-raising events to benefit established charities; drives to collect food, blankets, toys, shoes, books, clothing, cell phones, and school supplies; environmental projects; festivals and fun days; sporting events; and activities to support other schools and students. Dream Team club members are required to lead at least two projects each year.

The Volunteer Center runs a drive of one sort or another every month of the school year. This year’s three blood drives have been very successful, with 485 units donated to date and a fourth drive set for April.

The Dream Team also holds “Project Impact” four times a year to raise awareness of a particular issue, hosting a guest speaker from the community, showing a related movie, and including a related activity. The projects are designed to draw more students into volunteer activities. The fall events focused on the issues of poverty and disabilities, while cancer awareness and teen pregnancy were the focus in the spring sessions. Project Impact has averaged more than 100 participating students at each of the four events.

Ms. Sedor says that Collins Hill actively encourages volunteerism in all students, rewarding volunteer commitment with annual service awards and graduation cords for seniors for cumulative volunteer hours, as well as scholarships awarded to exemplary student volunteers. Since the 2006-07 school year, 157 graduates have earned Volunteer Cords (200+ cumulative hours) and 56 graduates have earned the Soaring Eagle Award (500+ cumulative hours).

Collins Hill High Teacher Tara Termes
participates in a recent
school blood drive.

In the last three years, 13 students who have led 10 or more major volunteer projects in high school also qualified for a Servant Leader Cord, with seven students qualifying this year.

These student leaders set the pace, and overall volunteerism at the school is high, Ms. Sedor says. A total of 1,488 Collins Hill students donated a cumulative total of 26,023 hours between March 1, 2009, and Feb. 28, 2010. The Center holds an annual Volunteer Recognition Banquet during the spring to honor student volunteers donating 50 or more volunteer hours during the year.

Students don’t have to be on the Dream Team to be an active volunteer at Collins Hill. For instance, senior Haley Nash started the EAGLES Friendship Club, which brings together regular education students and special education students in a social club. She says the group’s 50 or so members participate in a monthly social activity— for instance, a Halloween party in October and a tailgating party during football season. Haley was inspired to start the club to ensure that students with special needs had the opportunity to enjoy the same high school experiences as other students at the school. While starting a service club can be hard work, she says it’s worth it. “I have learned that the time and effort that you put toward your volunteer work is always rewarding,” Haley says. “The best memories I have [as a volunteer] are after all the hard work is done and [I] get to see how happy the students are and see their smiling faces.”

Service to others

North Gwinnett High student volunteers participate
in a Habitat for Humanity building project.
Most Gwinnett high schools have established service clubs affiliated with service groups in the community. For example Interact is a Rotary International service group for teens, while Key Club, a student-led organization that teaches leadership through serving others, is affiliated with Kiwanis International.

In addition, student service groups like Beta Club and Habitat for Humanity are part of national organizations. (Many student clubs that are not exclusively “service” groups also require members to work service hours during the school year as a way of giving back to the school community.) GCPS elementary and middle schools have their own service clubs and community projects as well. Check with your child’s school to learn what opportunities are available.

The family that volunteers together…
Counselor Margaret Cheeley, host of GCPS TV’s popular ParenTVision show, says that parents who are volunteers themselves encourage their student’s service spirit through their own example. Better still, she recommends taking opportunities to volunteer as a family. She cites a number of benefits when parents and children volunteer together. Parent and child spend quality time together and have a shared purpose. Shared volunteer work also promotes communication and facilitates teamwork within the family. And, depending on the project or event, the whole family might learn new skills together.

Learn more tips for parents on encouraging volunteerism in their student online. And, watch episodes of ParenTVision, highlighting teen issues for concerned parents, online on GCPS TV on demand.

You also can use these resources to learn more about volunteer opportunities: