Kids to Community program teaches valuable lessons
Teens and younger children with the Boys & Girls Clubs of Central Arizona in the past three months have organized food drives, made Christmas ornaments and sung carols for veterans, cleaned up Prescott Valley parks and ponds, and collected household items and clothes to help a family who lost their home in a fire.
As part of the Kids to Community initiative, teens organize and lead service projects, thanks in part to a grant from the Jewish Community Foundation of Greater Prescott, said Casey Knight, chief professional officer of the Boys & Girls Clubs of Central Arizona.
"The older kids say 'Oh, we'll do it,' then they get there, and they have a great time," said Kathleen Gillis, development director of the Boys & Girls Clubs of Central Arizona. "The little ones are more vocal. After the kids came back from singing at the VA Medical Center they were so excited, the little ones said 'they really loved us.'"
The program aims to instill a strong sense of character and leadership in the more than 100 kids taking part as they help their community, stay focused on graduating high school, and prepare for their careers, Knight said.
"The kids are learning that there are things they can do at their age to give back to the community and that helps them make good decisions about their futures," Knight said.
Every 26 seconds, a student drops out of high school in America and the national graduation rate currently stands at 69 percent, but studies show that teens who do community service perform better in school, avoid risky behaviors, are more likely to have a positive work ethic, Knight said.
"It isn't enough to just teach youth about character - it needs to become a part of their core," Knight said. "If a young person can feel self-confident and make positive choices in life while helping others, then they are more than likely to graduate from high school and become tomorrow's community leaders."
Upcoming projects for the Kids to Community initiative include helping the Highland Center and Prescott National Forest clean up and preserve trails, volunteering at Heritage Park Zoological Sanctuary, working with neighborhood assistance projects helping seniors, and organizing drives and fundraising for hunger relief, Gillis said.
Teens will also research bullying, organize a community-based presentation that highlights the effects of bullying and finds ways to address this growing concern, Gillis said.
"We need parents, schools, teachers and other organizations in the community to help us identify kids who would benefit most from this program," Gillis said.
Anyone who has potential projects the teens could work on may call Charity Bergman, director of operations at the Boys & Girls Clubs at 928-776-8686 or email her at firstname.lastname@example.org.
The teens are also learning how working together with other groups multiplies their efforts. They've done some clean-up projects with Bigs and Littles from Yavapai Big Brothers/Big Sisters and kids and staff at the Yavapai County Juvenile Justice Center, Gillis said.
The group is also looking for groups of older adults, possibly retirees, who would like to work side-by-side on projects with the teens, Gillis said.
"This initiative gets kids outside themselves and exposes them to other people's needs," Gillis said. "They also learn the importance of tolerance, compassion and responsibility."