Volunteering: Peer to Peer in School or Community

I’m Somebody & So Are You!

The ‘Human Connection’ in Education:
Teaching Tools for Character & Academic I.Q. Growth:
Volunteering: Peer to Peer in School or Community

By Vera Ripp Hirschhorn, M.S.

Contact vera@creatingcurriculum.com for professional development & teacher training workshops

“Everybody can be great… because anybody can serve. You don’t have to have a college degree to serve. You don’t have to make your subject and verb agree to serve. You only need a heart full of grace. A soul generated by love.” Martin Luther King

Viktor Frankl, in Man’s Search for Meaning suggested that his depressed, unemployed patient begin to volunteer.
Frankl believed that behavior was driven by a subconscious and a conscious need to find meaning and purpose in one’s life. By volunteering, Frankl’s patient felt like a victor rather than a victim. Victors focus on solutions while victims focus on problems.

What are the benefits of volunteering? Harvard Business School referred to them in a study entitled “Feeling Good about Giving:
The Benefits and Costs of Self-Interested Charitable Behavior.”
The study indicated that:

  • donating one’s time, interests, talents and skills could build ‘social circles as well as mental, physical and spiritual’ well-being’
  • volunteering could open students up to new experiences and new people.
  • helping others could highlight and develop one’s talents
  • a mentor could discover talents or skills that she/he never thought she/he had.
  • mentoring could make one feel needed and therefore boost one’s own mood if feeling low
  • volunteering could make one feel more grateful for what one already has rather than what one doesn’t have.
  • mentoring could be rewarding to see the positive impact of one’s volunteering efforts for one or many individuals.

How can teachers encourage volunteerism or service learning?

Teachers can create Volunteer Days or Volunteer Months
As an example, I created November as “America’s Young Heroes Month” with the approval of the School Board of Palm Beach County. Students submitted essays, poems, art, photos, videos of psas, documentaries that highlighted contributions of their heroic peers; that is, those who demonstrated how they resolved challenges at home, school or community with positive words and/or action.

Recognition was given to students and teachers of first place winners at district-wide annual awards ceremonies in a designated school.

One or more volunteers can also be honored, simply, in a classroom setting as Volunteer(s) of the Month. Teachers or students can create the criteria which can include a volunteer’s ‘portfolio’ of:

  • a reference letter that expresses the recipient’s assessment of how the volunteer made an impact and difference
  • a students’ own assessment of benefits received via a poem or essay
  • a visual such as video, graphics, photos, power point, that reflects the volunteer’s contributions

How can teachers help students select the type of organization for which they can volunteer?

Teachers can help students identify or ‘discover’ their uniqueness with activities such as the ones in Teens Are Heroes, Too! Challenges, Choices & Character:

  • ‘My Uniqueness’
  • ‘Talents/Skills’ Survey &’ Hobbies/Interests’ Survey
  • the ‘Peer Identification’ Questionnaire
  • ‘My Hero Checklist’
  • ‘My Learning Style Survey’

Themes for initiating a volunteering program can be selected by the teacher or by teams of students who can decide the theme based on issues about which students are passionate and concerned; these can include the homeless, the elderly, foster children, orphanages, social injustice, illiteracy. The following are examples of other themes.

A seventh grader wrote a poem about her 14 year old sister who learned how to sign and brought smiles to hearing impaired youngsters after school.

Another seventh grader wrote a poem entitled, C.C.C. which referred to Carolyn’s Compassionate Children. Carolyn Rubenstein was 13 years old when she volunteered her time to create an organization with its own website to link critically ill children and children with life challenges to teens in schools via a ‘pen pal’ letter writing program.

Carolyn’s organization has since expanded to include organizing annual school supply, holiday letters, gift drives and awarding college scholarships.

I’ve witnessed the success of peer-to-peer tutoring and mentoring of middle school students; they volunteered to help special needs students with homework assignments, preparation for exams and even playing games with them.

In my award winning America’s Young Heroes book series, teens have described their successful experiences with volunteering in their communities. The following are excerpts in their own words:

“I help by teaching kids how to read because they wouldn’t know where to go if their mom and dad told them to go to the store to buy some milk for their cornflakes.

I help them solve math problems so they won’t get cheated out in the real world when they grow up. I have to play games with them because I think they need a break from all that work they have to do.”

She adds, “I like volunteering because the kids need my help and I am able to provide that to them; they have a lot of questions and I know they won’t ask their mom or dad because I was the same way. I teach them why this is right and why this is wrong. I keep it real with them; otherwise, they wouldn’t trust me with their problems, secrets, etc.”

She proudly wrote, ‘my hero is myself.”

Another ninth grader had volunteered at an elementary school in a program during the summer months called, ‘Streetbeat:’

“I felt like I was a hero because some of the children didn’t know how to read; some couldn’t spell and it seemed like they were falling behind for their age and their grade. So I came and helped the children understand how to pronounce words and read. By the end of the summer, the children were reading very well and thanked me for that. I felt honored.”

A very young good Samaritan who tried to console an elderly couple in a car accident and got run over accidentally by a paramedic still managed to volunteer. She held seminars, in a wheelchair for other young paraplegics like herself.

A seventeen year old created a theatre called Unified Theatre for children with mental and physical disabilities to ‘teach those who are different to love themselves and to prove they can do anything.’ She helped them ‘participate in musical productions of varying decades in American history.’

An eleven year old girl created an organization named, Children to Children, with her two older brothers for foster children. “Trying to put herself in the mind of a foster child, she realized that one way to help was give every foster child in America a duffel bag to put their possessions in and a soft little stuffed friend to cuddle when they felt lonely for their families.”

A fifteen year old girl who is ‘not ashamed of the place she lives in, with ‘broken glass scattered along the roads and the images of the ‘thuggish’ and ‘gang-like’ lifestyle, decided to spend all of her yearly savings to buy blankets and provide hot meals for those less fortunate every winter/holiday season….”

An elementary school student pleaded with his grandfather to take him to the store to buy twenty cases of water, forty loaves of bread and twenty pound bags of ham. He, also, asked his grandfather to help him deliver them. This young boy ‘risked his safety in the dangerous winds of Hurricane Frances with bad traffic conditions to supply goods for people who didn’t have the same luxury. ‘

A ten year old girl realized that she had an interest in helping her state ban violent hate videos. This young activist wrote a petition, which she presented with over 2000 signatures to video retailers, and local NJ Legislators. Thanks to Ashley, the lawmakers sponsored a bill that banned the production and distribution of such videos.

A fifteen year old girl chose to donate her time

  • organizing ‘clean-ups’ of old playgrounds or streets ‘to make a neighborhood look and smell cleaner and nicer for young ones to live and play in.’
  • visiting different shelters to help out with young children and adolescents.

Other teens respectively:

  • read a book to a blind person or
  • simply sat and talked problems through with anyone in need
  • shared their story courageously in an American Red Cross program called HIV/AIDS Peer Education; More than 200 high school students trained to talk to middle school students about this sexually transmitted disease and the importance of making safe, self respecting decisions about sex
  • created an organic garden outside the school
  • helped disabled parents, sick siblings or abused children

It’s amazing as to what one person can achieve alone, or with the help of others to make a small difference in the life of another while benefiting him/herself at the same time. All student volunteers can experience and develop a sense of responsibility and a ‘feel-good’ feeling especially those who appear upset, depressed, isolated and withdrawn.

Volunteering is truly a win-win! regardless of the situation involved.

Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it’s the only thing that ever has.

Always remember that you are absolutely unique. Just like everyone else.

Never believe that a few caring people can’t change the world. For, indeed, that’s all who ever have.

(Margaret Mead, anthropologist)

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