Channeling Charity Metro Atlanta Private Schools Teach Compassion Through Volunteerism
In a world where kids are exposed to overwhelming amounts of input about the world around them, parents are left to wonder how much control they really have over their children’s development. Parents (and teachers), working to combat the influence of a culture of self-absorption, struggle to teach their kids about empathy for others. Now, many schools turn to volunteerism as a tool to teach students to look past society’s “radio noise” and focus on inequalities and injustices occurring right outside their homes and classrooms.
Volunteering positively affects children’s self-esteem because they feel appreciated, they can take pride in knowing they’ve done a good job and they will learn responsibility as they recognize that others are counting on them. According to Beth Van de Voorde, campus minister of Holy Spirit Preparatory School, “When students experience that their [volunteer] initiatives can actually meet the real needs of others, it helps them see their place in the world as active participants and not spectators.”
Many Metro Atlanta private schools make a commitment to engage students in meaningful volunteer projects throughout the academic year – including the following three. They feel, as their students’ parents do, that involvement in the community is a highly effective tool to teach children about gratitude.
Holy Spirit Preparatory School
The motto adopted by Holy Spirit Preparatory School (HSP) – ministrare non ministrari, “to serve and not be served” – aptly describes the school’s charitable work ethic. HSP requires students to complete between 10 and 20 service hours a year depending on their grade level.
“We encourage students to volunteer in capacities that reflect their unique passions and gifts, whether that’s teaching classics to underprivileged youth, building homes for the homeless or leading self-image workshops for young women,” says Ashley Meyer, director of college counseling at HSP. Jill Stedman, faculty adviser for ONE apostolate, a club that serves the homeless, shares that she’s seen students who were overjoyed when they were able to help out. She explains, “I will never forget one particular student’s happiness at having made a gentleman’s life a little more comfortable.”
David Labbe, HSP’s faculty adviser to St. Joseph’s Cohort (a Habitat for Humanity-style club dedicated to issues of affordable housing), guides an annual summer trip to Kentucky where students repair and build homes. “Students learn carpentry skills and they directly interact with people in need. They form lasting relationships with their peers and the families we assist,” he explains.
In addition, says Tim Durski, HSP’s director of marketing and communications, “Volunteering with Big Trees Forest Preserve attracts a younger population of our students. They clear trails and mulch. [It’s] hard labor but manageable for them. While most of our service activities meet human needs, that trip is about ecological stewardship and community building.”
“Volunteering gives our students a sense of accomplishment,” says Susan Spruill, director of marketing and communications for GRACEPOINT School. “This year, our students ‘adopted’ four students from Brighton Academy in Ethiopia. Our students raised money on their own to support these children for a whole year. One of our students decided to ask for donations for our ‘adopted’ children instead of material gifts for her birthday. It was amazing to see the heart of a child so young be so giving and selfless.”
Recently, a group of GRACEPOINT students raised $3,000 to provide 10,000 meals for children in poverty through Stop Hunger Now. After raising money by holding bake sales, doing chores and cleaning out their piggy banks, they packaged the 10,000 meals themselves. Another student project involved making fleece blankets and “blessing bags” with notes of encouragement, water, snacks and toiletries for the homeless. GRACEPOINT student-volunteer efforts have also benefited MUST Ministries, 7 Bridges to Recovery and the Cobb County Diaper Drive, which provides needy families with diapers.
Cindy Fennel, director of public relations at Whitefield Academy, says the passion for others ahead of self is modeled every day at Whitefield. “Whether it’s holding the door for another student who has a heavy load or gathering food donations to restock a food pantry, the concept is the same,” she notes. “From the kindergarten winter-coat drive to the high-school mission trips to Ecuador, our students learn that, indeed, it is more blessed to give than to receive.”
In the younger grades, service projects are connected to a classroom lesson. For instance, in second grade, students read about Helen Keller and then conduct service projects supporting Vision Rehabilitation Services of Georgia, greatly enhancing their compassion for those who are blind.
Whitefield’s Great Day of Service is a school-wide family event providing myriad opportunities to serve. “Students organize, paint, repair, plant, bake, clean, craft or teach in support of a wide array of Atlanta charities,” says Fennel.
Another offshoot of Whitefield’s emphasis on volunteerism is Ten Thousand Reasons (TTR), an organization that raises grant money to fund charitable projects. “Students pursue their passion for helping others by going through the TTR grant process – researching, writing and presenting their grant requests to the TTR panel to win grant funds for their cause,” co-founder Candice Comstock explains. “Not every proposal is awarded a grant, though. Recently, a second-grader submitted a grant to help a school in India. He didn’t win, but that didn’t stop him. He turned around the very next day and started fundraising. His parents helped him use social media, he sent out letters – he hit his goal. He said, ‘I’m not going to be discouraged. I’m on fire for this organization.’ The process of going through a grant application is wonderful – students don’t always walk away with money, but they gain an understanding of needs around the world and their community.”
Comstock also recounts her conversations about social responsibility with her own children. “I try to help them understand that oftentimes we will see people in need and we say, ‘That’s a shame!’ But we think, ‘Well, someone else is going to take care of that,'” she observes. “Teaching kids when they’re young that they should be the person who steps in to help is whats important.”