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Get Involved!

27 Nov

Volunteering is an activity that I believe everyone should partake in as much as possible, due to the change that it can provide in the lives of both parties who participate. For the volunteers, they get to enjoy the sensation of feeling that they made a difference in the world or in someone else’s life. And for those that are helped by the volunteers, they too have their lives changed as they get to know the volunteers and have them integrated into their own lives.

Back in high school, I pretty much lived up at the elderly and rehabilitation home near my house. I was always helping out on the weekends or after school. However, coming to college I had no idea about how to get involved in the community that is Washington, PA. In spite of my initial concerns, participating in AmeriCorp has me partaking so much in W&J’s surrounding community, and I love every minute of it! I have been volunteering for PresPrep over at Washington High School, as well as at the LeMoyne Center, the community garden, and even a trolley museum! Through each experience, I have been meeting new people and learning about each individual’s life experiences and how that has contributed to who they are as a person.

For example, my friend Elizabeth and I spent three hours volunteering one Saturday afternoon at the Highland Ridge Community Garden. It was amazing! We were outside and having fun helping others and assisting the community with cleaning up their garden in order to allow them to grow vegetables that they then supply to the community. We met members of the community who have so much passion for helping others through the garden, that it’s impossible to not want to return and continue lending a hand! Here are some photos of the garden getting cleaned up.

Community Garden

Community Garden

With so many opportunities available to those in the W&J community, I highly suggest that everyone on campus should get involved at least once in one of these fantastic opportunities and I am very appreciative of having the ability to do so!

– Emma Church

The Days Add Up

16 Nov

The beauty of volunteering is that you have the freedom to work in any area you please while still working towards a common goal of helping others and bettering the future. As my second year of being an AmeriCorps Fellow, I knew exactly what areas peaked my interest and best suited my abilities. I had the opportunity last year to explore the vast array of possibilities in volunteering and really hone into what was most important to me. I spent time all over the gamut, from the Lemoyne Center working with young children, to Pres Prep at Washington High School helping in after school tutoring, to babysitting children in the morning to give mothers a break, to even cooking and serving a local church spaghetti dinner. Even though some of these may not have been my ideal work, I learned a great deal from them and saw that helping others can come in so many different ways and that they are all equally important if we are to make a better world.

Now knowing this, I am able to devote my time to Pres Prep, Family Promises, PAL tutoring, and an adult GED education class. I find my favorite things involve helping older children or adults and working on specific areas like math and sciences because those are my favorite subjects so why not share them with everyone and see if anyone else likes them as much as me.

Pres Prep is hands down my biggest focus as working with those kids at the high school is incredibly important. I have the chance to turn a kid in the right direction and get them excited for school, instead of them waiting to drop out. Many of them are very intelligent, but they do not have the drive or the care to want to graduate and possibly go on to college. I think it takes one person to step in their lives and show them the endless chances they can create for themselves with just a bit of work now. It may be hard at first, and you may come up against a lot of opposition, but that makes the end result so much more rewarding. I remember last year that two kids would come in everyday after school and mess around and refuse to do any work. Finally, after about three weeks of begging, we broke through and got them to start to study and really care about grades. And what difference it made! They took failing grades and turned them into something spectacular. In fact, the one kid went six straight weeks with perfect vocabulary tests just by staying on his work and doing a little bit of studying each day with us after school. It’s stories like this that make me want to continue volunteering and go back every day to see the improvement that has come with only one extra day of work because those days add up and eventually lead to good habits and a kid that is now graduating instead of dropping out.

The point here is that do what makes you happy and go into an area that you have a passion for. All areas are important and there is no one better than another because people are all so unique and want help in their individual areas. Spending just a small amount of time may make all the difference and turn a life around for the better.

– Nikki Hladik

Trying to Make a Difference, No Matter How Small

9 Nov

I come from a financially stable family, which I’m sure is obvious being that I can afford to go to a school like W&J. I have never known what it is like to wonder where my next meal was coming from, where I was going to sleep at night, or whether or not I could find transportation to school in the morning. Nor did I ever have to give up an extra-curricular activity at school because I had no way to get there and get home. I never had to worry about having clothes to wear or blankets to sleep under. However, it wasn’t until I volunteered with Family Promise that I began to realize how fortunate and lucky I am to have lived the life I have up to this point.

The people that the Family Promise program helps are those who cannot afford to buy groceries, let alone a roof to live under. Many of these people do not have jobs and because of other circumstances they are unable to seek one. This program provides meals or these people, a place to sleep, and help with finding a job and moving forward with being able to support oneself, along with any other family members (spouses and children). Seeing these people up close and personal made me realize how lucky I am and compelled me to try to make a difference in these people’s lives as well.

This is my second year volunteering with Family Promise and let me tell you, it doesn’t get any easier. It is tough to watch these families struggle and know that there is little one person can do to help. So I do the best that I can. I visit them at the local church they are staying at, play games with the kids, watch movies with the families, or just listen to what they have to say. All the while I sit and wonder what I would do if I were in this unfortunate situation. I also wonder, “How will this affect their kids?” But at the same time, I am able to connect with these families because they really are no different than me; they have just simply been dealt a rougher hand. Knowing this, I continue to volunteer with this program in hopes that I can make a difference, even if it is as small as allowing a mother or child to vent about what is bothering them. And for this reason, I advise you all to go out and volunteer with this program, even if it is only once. I promise you that you will better appreciate your life and you will want to call Mom and Dad to thank them for everything they have done for you so that you can follow your dreams.

– Taylor Gruss

Chicken Soup

6 Nov

Last year I wrote a little bit about my Sunshine Substitution (its pretty good- you should read it) and I mentioned in brief just how good it makes you feel to volunteer, although not so eloquently said. Well, at any rate, I have decided that this year I should make an earnest effort to pin point just what it is that makes you feel so good. You see, I have always been a fan of the Chicken Soup for the Soul books but have always been concerned with the idea that all the things that go into those chicken soup books start off rotten and only in the end produce a lesson. While there are inevitably days where America Reads is like that, it usually is just wholly positive, it warms your heart and feeds your soul. On any given day when I’m not feeling my absolute best I can always count on walking into America Reads for some Chicken Soup.

Chicken Soup America Reads style has quite a bit that goes into it. It is truly miraculous but somehow these children seem to be lighthearted, witty, humble, kind, and a montage of other admirable traits on the days that any given mentor most needs to witness these traits. On any given day there are a few things I can count on at America Reads. I can count on my “home dog skillet biscuit” to say or do something silly and in turn make me smile. I can count on at least one hug and hugs always make a person feel good. I can count on at least one child wanting or asking me to help them with their homework which makes me feel good for being needed. I can count on funny faces that make me giggle. I can count on high fives and fist bumps. I can count on at least one child teaching me something new, even if that new thing is an obscure way of thought, I can honestly say I learn more from these children than any class could ever teach. I can count on playing games, which proctors an opportunity to be relaxed, carefree, and stress-free. Nevertheless, what I can count on most and what truly makes my soul gleam, like chicken soup on a gloomy day, is the prospect that the majority of these children will be just as happy to see me as I am to see them.

The idea that not only can they make my day but also I have the capacity to make theirs and unfortunately, many of these kids need their day to be made. Even though they do not always remember to tell you so, you can tell by the way they react to you and converse with you that they appreciate you and look-up to you! Try as I may, I cannot quite articulate the magic of working with these kids at America Reads but believe me when I say it is a blessing. Each one of these kids has attained a certain inspiring influence over my everyday outlook! Moreover, many of these kids have found a special little place in my heart! Thanks to the kids at America Reads no matter if my day is gloomy or sunshiny bright I can always count on a heart-warming bowl of Chicken Soup for the soul.

– Amy Doherty

Be There

29 Oct

I was up at the LeMoyne Center today and although this is my third year volunteering there, hearing certain things will never get any easier.

The way I grew up was completely different then what these kids have been through. I have lived a very sheltered life. I was given opportunities and worked hard to achieve what I have. I am loved by my family and friends and I know there are people out there that care deeply about me. I know I have support and can rely on people to help.

I know that the kids at the LeMoyne Center are not always in a situation like mine. Some do not have people to look out for them, to care about them, to love them. It is heartbreaking to hear stories. I feel helpless. It was just extremely hard to hear a story about a child’s background today. It made me tear up because I could never imagine growing up in that type on environment.

But what a volunteer can do is be there, be reliable, tell the kids that they have someone who cares. I was so excited on October 1st because I was able to see these kids again. I care about these kids so much and I want to see them succeed.

I know that my volunteering at the LeMoyne Center matters to these kids. On a positive note I saw two kids from last year that have not been back to the program yet. Both gave me the biggest hug and it just warmed my heart. Also, one of the students was talking about college and his dream to be an architect. It was awesome to hear!

I know I have an impact and I will never stop caring about the kids!

– Chelsea Cummings

Introducing Our 2012-2013 Fellows!

23 Oct

Hey W&J and Friends!

It’s been a while since we’ve posted, but that’s because we’ve been busy selecting our 2012-2013 W&J AmeriCorps Community Fellows!  Our new Fellows will be sharing their experiences on this blog every week, and we hope that you’ll continue to read our stories!  Below are the 2012-2013 AmeriCorps Community Fellows:

  • Abby Boytos
  • Ahleighia “Twiggy” Carter-Croom
  • Amy Doherty
  • Brianna Medieros
  • Caitlin Fadgen
  • Chelsea Cummings
  • Connor McKenzie
  • Elizabeth Ekstrand
  • Emma Church
  • Gabriel Vazquez
  • Jamie Stein
  • Katie Finn
  • Mike Kasunic
  • Michael Nemchick
  • Natalie Gill
  • Nicole Wagner
  • Nikki Hladik
  • Sara Crayton
  • Taylor Gruss
  • Ted McClain
  • Vincent LeDonne
  • Wes Corbin-Pein

Be sure to look out for our first post soon from returning AmeriCorps Community Fellow, Chelsea Cummings, about her experience!


The Final Stretch

18 Apr

As students, we are in the final stretch of our Academic Year. Final exams, papers, and presentations are looming. The end of the year brings festivities and brings opportunities that will keep us busy, non-stop, until our final day.

Volunteering won’t stop, either. Our commitment to the LeMoyne Center is in its last day, and I’m happy to have cleared my schedule to be able to go up, from now until the end, all of the days.
I am also happy to say that everyone seems to share a great energy toward finishing our AmeriCorps year out strongly.

I know that we can do this, everyone.
We’re a great team.


Meg’s Last Day

9 Mar

Today is Meg’s last day with us at W&J. It would be an understatement to say that she will be missed. She has touched the lives of so many people at this school and within our community. We are so happy for her that she has received this new opportunity and we’re all so proud of her for going after her dreams. We wish her the best of luck with her new job and her continued work with her non-profit, Bev’s Birthdays.

Megs, thank you for inspiring us, challenging us, and reminding us to live with our hands and our hearts open. We’ll miss you!

A Bittersweet Feeling

25 Feb

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Volunteering with Family Promise has truly been a life-changing experience. I never realized the bond I would create with each of the families. Especially with one family in particular who has been there since I started in September. In a quick few months, I went from a volunteer to a best friend. No matter what mood I was in, when I walked in the door and saw the smiles on those kids’ faces as they ran to me with open arms, I couldn’t help but smile back.

On a particular evening at Family Promise, I was playing the board game, Risk, with one of the older boys. As he slowly took over all the territories, he began to tell me about his life. He mentioned his strong anger toward his Dad, who he blames for why he is in such a horrible situation. He talked about his Mom and how he needed to take care of her. All I did was listen and I could tell that is all he really wanted. Having just met this young boy a few days earlier, I did not expect him to be so open about his situation. He was wearing a Penn State hat, so I asked him if he liked that school and he told me how much he loved it. His face lit up as he told me about his dream of playing football there and studying all about Egypt. In an instance, it seemed as though he took a look around at the church basement and suddenly his grin slowly faded. He claimed that his dream will never come true because of the situation he is stuck in. I encouraged him to keep his dream alive and do whatever it takes to achieve it. I returned to my room later that evening and just cried. I thought about how college for me was something that was just expected, never something far out of reach. I thought about how he explains his situation to his friends or if he has a hard time even making any friends. Suddenly, my professor wasn’t so horrible for assigning me all this homework and my life really is not as hard as I think it is sometimes. I think we all take what we have for granted and you don’t realize it until you see a person who without this program would not have a warm place to sleep tonight. I can’t even imagine how hard that has been on him. Although he is no longer a part of the program, I know I will never forget that boy or the impact he had on my life.

As they say, all great things must come to an end. However, for the only family remaining, it is just the beginning. They are close to finding a place to live and I realize that every time I see these kids may be my last. However, when it comes to these kids, out of sight will never be out of mind.I know my consistency in their lives has helped them to forget even for just a second, the constant inconsistently which they live in. Although it saddens me to think I will never see them, I am so happy that they are able to get out of this horrible situation. I will never forget the relationship I have created with each of  them or the impact that they have made on my life.

Tori Bishop

New Year, Not New Changes

19 Feb

A new year means a new start, right? Unfortunately this cannot be said for the families that rely on the Family Promise Program. While some of them come and go, one family has been there from the start, well my start that is. I started volunteering with the Family Promise Program last September and there is one family that has been there this whole time.

For those of you who don’t know, the Family Promise Program provides a roof over the heads of families who have nowhere else to go. During the day, the families stay the “house” and then after 5 o’clock they go to one of the participating churches. They stay the night at these churches for a week and then move on to another one.

But as the months went on I became less of a volunteer and more of a friend of the family’s. The kids know my name and get excited when I come to visit with them. Their mom talks to me like an equal. I thoroughly enjoy spending time with them. Despite the smiles that are ever present, the fact that this mother and her three kids are homeless never leaves my mind, not for a second.

I have grown very attached to this family and want them best for them. That means that they move on and find themselves a better life, and I hope that this happens for them. Not only have I made an impact on their lives but they have impacted mine too. I have grown as a person and appreciate and no longer take for granted the simple things in life, because all too fast they can disappear.