Originally created 11/23/04

Teens find benefits in their volunteer work



Shellisa Coates, 17, had to volunteer because of a class requirement, while Kari Brown, 16, , chose to volunteer after being inspired by a church mission camp.

The teens had different motivations for beginning community service, but they have continued because giving to others gives them so much in return.

"Just knowing that I can help somebody along the way, it really helps your self-esteem," said Shellisa, a senior at Aiken High School, who spends 10 to 15 hours each week working the phones for the Aiken County CSRA Teen Line.

It's given Shellisa a chance to help teens in the area but it also has allowed her to help herself.

"(Before,) I got into a lot of trouble and did a lot of things I had no business doing," she said. "With Teen Line, they take you through a lot of training and expose you to lots of information and it makes you think about the decisions you're making and that you can be doing better."

When Kari, a junior at Brentwood School, started the community service program Giving Back with her boyfriend, Jake Rachels and her little brother, Allen, 11, last year, working with the seniors at a Washington County extended care facility was a way to bring joy to seniors.

Through visiting once a week and playing bingo, creating a garden or just talking, the group has experienced just as much delight as the residents.

"They're (the seniors) just so funny and over the years they've acquired so much wisdom," Kari said. "They enjoy seeing young people so much. You can tell it brightens their day and it brightens our day. It really goes both ways."

Volunteering does that, said Joy Zhang, 16, a junior at Lakeside High School who does community service with the Augusta Urban Ministries, an organization that provides one-on-one mentoring and activities.

"The thing you get from helping other people, is that it boosts you up," she said. "It makes you feel good to know that someone appreciates what you do."

Even though volunteers don't get paid and have to give up free time to help out, it's not too much to ask, Joy said.

"A lot of the things we do in high school we don't get paid for. I don't mind spending my Friday volunteering because I have fun," she said. "It's the easiest thing a person can do."

It's also the least a person can do, said Casey Corbin, 17.

"A lot of these (community) programs need help. They can't pay people," said Casey, a senior at North Augusta High School who volunteers four hours each week with after-school and arts programs. "People need volunteers, so somebody's got to do it."

Volunteering is addictive, said Lynn Reese, the director of volunteers and youth services with the Red Cross in Augusta.

"Helping others kind of gets in your blood," Ms. Reese said. "It builds to where volunteers see they are capable of making a difference in somebody's life."

Though it does look good on paper, there's a lot more intangible rewards, said Lou Cheek, the director of volunteer services at University Hospital.

"Needless to say it can give them something to put on their rsum. We do a lot of letters of recommendation," Ms. Cheek said. "But volunteering also gets them out in the community and gets them giving of themselves at an early age."

Shanice Brown, 15, a sophomore at Jefferson County High School, volunteers about eight hours a week with various clubs, either baby-sitting or conducting food drives.

"One reason I volunteer is that it's definitely a good thing to go on my college record, but I also like helping others and it's helping me become a better person by sharing my time with others," she said.

Volunteering also broadens perspectives, said Joseph Butler, the children's program director for Augusta Urban Ministries.

"The testimony I have heard is that students say that working with us has (helped) them in breaking stereotypes and barriers they may have formed," he said. They'll say, 'When I first came I was hesitant but after getting involved in this, I want to keep doing it, I enjoy it.'"

Allison Crawn, the coordinator for the Aiken Teen Line, has seen similar reactions from her volunteers.

"It gets them to look in the mirror more and see what can be accomplished," she said. "It gets them to look at the big picture instead of dwelling on what's right in front of them."

Kari, who's watched "some big, huge football player connect with a 90-year-old man" while working with Giving Back, agreed that volunteering removes the ability to be self-absorbed.

"It seems so often life just focuses on 'you, you, you,' and I guess it's therapeutic to do something for someone else," she said.

Shellisa found that out long ago.

"When you put yourself out there as an example, people can look up to you and you can inspire them," she said. "Everybody is not meant to touch everybody but one person is able to help another person."

GET INVOLVED

Want to find volunteer opportunities? Give these organizations a call:

American Red Cross: 724-8481

Augusta Urban Ministries: 722-8195

Golden Harvest Food Bank: 736-1199, ext. 208

Ronald McDonald House Charities: 724-5901

Salvation Army: 826-7933

University Hospital: 774-8877

Reach Kamille Bostick at (706) 823-3223 or kamille.bostick@augustachronicle.com.