03 May 2009

Open Books

I wanted to take a moment to piggyback a little bit off of Clair's last post about volunteering.  It reminded me of how important it is to instill in children and young adults the idea of service and giving early in their school lives.  I think so often children and teens are over-scheduled with sports and programs and homework and other activities that we forget to teach them about taking time to help others.  My sister is working for AmeriCorps this year.  She works at an inner city high school where she is in charge of school service projects and teen support groups.  The service that they have done this year alone has been amazing.  One of my favorite events is when they work in the city gardens.  All over Chicago there are neighborhood gardens where people can work together as a community to plant and garden.  The teens that my sister works with help maintain these gardens.  They also do a lot of service work at camps in other parts of the state, cleaning, clearing brush and helping get the camps ready for visitors.  Giving these city kids opportunities to see another way of living, a place beyond the projects and concrete will give them a better sense of the world.  

Teaching teens at a young age to partake in volunteer and service activities will foster a love of it as they become adults.  While this may not be a completely teen oriented program, the organization Open Books Ltd is an incredible literacy initiative started by a college classmate of mine.  Open Books is a non-profit that operates a bookstore, provides literacy programs to Chicago schools and offers incredible volunteer opportunities for teens and adults.  With so many inner-city children falling behind in literacy, it is so important to have opportunities to help in any way possible.  Open Books offers writing programs, literacy programs and reading buddy programs to children all over the city.  In addition, it is a great opportunity for volunteers who want to work with children.  Volunteers can visit children during their lunch hour and work with fluency, comprehension and reading accuracy.  Volunteers can become a part of the writing field trip program.  These volunteers visit classrooms and help coach students in writing.  One of the most intriguing volunteer opportunities to me is the Virtual Mentoring for High School students.  Adult volunteers can mentor students through email, instant messaging, or phone conferences.  How nice would it be for students to be able to IM a mentor during their computer lab time at school?  Or what if a student doesn't have transportation to meet a mentor in person?  They can conference over the phone.  Teens can volunteer at Open Books events.

So, my point here is that if volunteerism is fostered at an early age, the same teens who helped others as young adults, will continue to do so as adults.  The kids who helped pull weeds from a community garden could be the same adult who helps a 5th grader write a poem.  And in addition, maybe that 5th grader will become a volunteer when he's an adult.  It's a circle that we must keep going.  


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