Joe Schmitt writes a weekly blog called The Good Life, featuring information about the region’s history, culture, climate and economy. The blog also showcases new residents, clubs and organizations, outdoor recreational opportunities and local events.
This time of year, donation boxes at Yakima Valley schools fill with collections of food and warm winter clothing as students embrace the opportunity to volunteer and help people in need. Yet the spirit of giving among our younger generations doesn’t stop there. As with the Valley’s adult populations, the importance of community service and voluntarism runs strong with Yakima Youth.
Community Service from Season to Season
While the holiday season tends to raise awareness about community need, students in the Valley rise to the challenge year-round, lending their time and energy to assist organizations that offer support to members of our community. While most Yakima Valley high schools mandate community service in the form of required volunteer hours, students frequently go above and beyond the minimum. In fact, youth volunteers at Memorial Hospital provide almost 5,000 hours of service each year.
Rather than mandating service hours, some local schools take a different approach, incorporating community service as an integral part of education. For instance, at La Salle High School, the spirit of service is viewed as a natural extension of each student’s growth as opposed to a requirement. “They’re service oriented by nature and see it as something that is normal and necessary rather than as something they have to do go get something,” says Kevin Jam, Director of Campus Ministry.
Other schools adopt in-class service projects throughout the year. At Montessori of Yakima, Betsy Martin guides her students as they develop and complete their own projects, such as making scarves for the homeless. Students at St. Joseph-Marquette are helping with the Red Cross Holiday Letters For Heroes project by making homemade Christmas cards that will be sent to men and women serving our country abroad.
Whether meeting service requirements or not, Yakima youth can find volunteer opportunities no matter the season, from aiding families in crisis, mentoring children with special healthcare needs and helping with blood drives, to helping those with disabilities and elders with fall or spring yard clean up.
Finding The Right Fit
For those seeking the perfect volunteer opportunity, keep your availability and limitations in mind. Most of Yakima’s nonprofit organizations depend on their volunteers to keep things running smoothly, so youth volunteers should take care to commit only to opportunities that fit their schedules, interests, and skill sets. Some types of community service require more extensive time commitments or more hands-on participation than others.
Students with busy schedules may want to consider organizing one-day group service projects to make a big impact in less time. Others may want to look for organizations that have a variety of needs and offer a little more flexibility.
For instance, the Yakima Valley Red Cross welcomes youth volunteers at all levels of participation. “People might not realize that we’re 97% volunteer driven,” says Lisa Reinhart, executive director. “We’re screaming for youth participation and they can help with just about everything from office work or responding to emergencies with the Disaster Action Team (DAT) or special projects such as the Holiday Letters for Heroes.”
Service in The Valley
For youth volunteer opportunities, consider helping these and other local organizations in need.
Yakima Valley Red Cross Assist with office work, help with check-in or in the canteen during blood drives, respond to emergencies with teh Disaster Action Team, participate in a special project, or even coordinate your own project. Contact Lisa Reinhart, 509.457.1690
EPIC Students 16 and older can assist with a number of projects, including painting murals or classrooms to adopting special projects.
Yakima Valley Memorial Hospital Youth volunteers ages 14 and older commit to a minimum of six months or 100 hours to help as information desk assistants, office assistants, gift shop assistants, child care assistants, or with wheel chair round-up. Those 16 and older can fill one of more than 50 positions as a hospital volunteer. Students who meet requirements can apply to the YouthWorks Council to become an advocate and make a difference in the future of healthcare for Yakima youth. Volunteers 13 and older can become Children's Village One-to-One mentors, helping children with special healthcare needs participate in recreational activities they would not otherwise have access to. Kids On The Block volunteers provide puppet presentations to educate kids about disabilities.
Volunteer Chore Services Help with yard work, house painting, or other chores for Valley elders and those with disabilities. Groups with an adult leader are preferred.
Yakima Valley Partners Habitat for Humanity Volunteers 16 years and older can assist with specific home-building projects
Camp Prime Time Families are welcome to help with work parties to help open camp in the spring.
Yakima Valley Libraries Help with book sales, English and Spanish translation, and with special projects and activities.