As a nonprofit we rely heavily on volunteers and the work they do for us, as it helps both the people we serve, and the staff who provide care for them. Having extra help makes everything better, more streamlined, and diverse. At Living Well, we are lucky to have a long list of supporters who pitch in to help us keep our mission thriving.
This week we want to tell you about students from Visitation School and St Thomas Academy, who helped Living Well as part of their Senior Projects. From May 19 – June 1, three students from Visitation, Catherine, Lola and Jax, and seven from St Thomas, Leo, Noah, Jack, Alex, Henry, Michael, and Jackson, went to a different home each weekday to assist the staff in various ways. They visited Mears, Kennelly, Elgin, Diane, Casey, Inndale, Emerson, Cloman, and Carmen along the way.
The program is designed to get students into community where they can learn the value of volunteerism, inclusion, and learning new skills, and the requirements for community services are part of their education and necessary for graduation. The official partnership began 2018 when teams regularly started doing their senior projects with us. But in truth, the schools have done smaller projects on and off for many years prior. It’s more consistent and dialed in now, and in any given year there are anywhere from 5-15 students—including over the pandemic when we adjusted themes and created opportunities for service outside the normal model.
Catherine, Lola, and Jax have also been volunteering all year as part of a larger program where students are required to get a certain number of volunteer hours throughout their senior year. Starting back in early September through the end of May, Catherine volunteered every other Sunday at Inndale, with a focus on crafts. Lola volunteered Fridays at Carmen doing a more general activity quest and worked with a variety of the people at the home. And Jax helped out regularly with administrative projects at Northland and helped with Meal Master freezer meals.
Luckily for us, the students love the program. Leo told us, “I liked being able to work with people with disabilities. I selected Living Well because it was recommended by a friend.” And Catherine, said, “I like the close personal connection that I am able to form with residents. I did my project with Living Well because it was a convenient place to form a consistent relationship throughout the year. I love making the residents smile. It is a super fun and meaningful experience.”
And everyone at Living Well loves volunteers, too! Jenni Zeis, Program Manager at Carmen, adored the assistance and says, “Lola’s name matches her personality—you just smile when you are near her. She is seriously the most genuinely respectful and naturally happy person on earth. I miss her already.” Kathy Anderson, Living Well Volunteer Program Manager, adores the program and says, “To have high school kids show up so enthralled and enthusiastic to be here, is so amazing. They have legit positive energy and a real sense of FUN!” Kathy points out that the students are open for whatever, and that the students who pick Living Well tend to be very teamwork oriented. They work together really well, are very respectful of it being people’s homes, and are really good at listening to and helping the people who live and work in the homes they visit.
The school program leaders enjoy watching the students connect with organizations who need help. Joseph Seidel, Theology Teacher and Senior Project Coordinator, says, “The St. Thomas Academy students love the residents and staff at Living Well. Kathy Anderson and her team to a remarkable job preparing the team for the five-day experience. During Senior Projects, the students engage in many tasks and activities that benefit the residents. They are always greeted with smiles and treated with respect and patience.” And Claire Kranz, Upper School Religion and Salesian Studies and Senior Project Coordinator at Visitation School, says, “Our students love working with Living Well because they enjoy getting to see the same clients every time they volunteer. There are lots of volunteer opportunities, from painting to gardening, to playing games with residents. There is always something to do!”
Teachers are also invited to observe the students out in community, and Johanna Huang, Middle and Upper School Chinese Teacher at Visitation, says, “I went to visit without any expectations and came out with a lot more knowledge on nonprofit work and was inspired to volunteer myself with my own family. Thank you so much for connecting our girls with service-learning opportunities like this and giving me a chance to learn and grow as an educator.”
Kathy hopes what students learn in their time with us gives them a better appreciation of the lives of people with disabilities so they can advocate for them as they move forward in the future. We are building new advocates with each partnership, and that makes these relationships extra special.
Good luck Grads! You are already amazing, and we cannot wait to see the places you will go.