As the Youth Director of the Volunteer Center of Erie County, I have the opportunity to witness the extraordinary compassion of our area's youth. Throughout Erie County, nearly 600 children participate in 28 Kids Care Clubs. These Clubs engage in meaningful, hands-on volunteer opportunities. Children embody the notion that, although they are young, they can create change in their community of Erie County. This holiday season, I encourage adults to follow their example.
In 2008-09, a partial list of services conducted by Kids Care Club members included: organizing "Penny Power" campaigns to aid United Way, hosting Goodwill drives, performing fundraisers for our local wildlife shelter, throwing a Martin Luther King, Jr. Bingo Party for nursing home residents, creating Easter baskets and donating a decorated Christmas tree for children at the Erie County homeless shelter, and sending 800 books to our troops overseas. Although these activities were very meaningful, there were three additional projects the children conducted that touched them and the people they helped in extraordinary ways.
In the first project, four Kids Care Clubs hosted surprise birthday parties for four nursing home residents whose birthdays may have otherwise been overlooked. Club members decorated their classrooms, designed a cake and purchased a present for the resident. They also came up with questions to ask the resident regarding what life was like when the resident was their age. Residents were transported to the classrooms for the parties. Both the residents and the children thoroughly enjoyed the celebrations. During one party, there was concern because a resident was not talking. We discovered that he was overcome with emotion and fighting back tears.
The second project allowed Kids Care Clubs to reach out to Erie County foster children. Some Clubs, in conjunction with The Erie County Department of Human Services, implemented a marketing campaign to recruit foster parents. The children created flower pots filled with small wooden figures representing the number of foster children in Erie County needing placement. These pots were placed in various high traffic areas throughout the community.
In addition, two Clubs hosted "Suitcases for Foster Kids." Over 100 suitcases were donated. A particular suitcase held clothing, toys and a note. The note read, "I'm sorry for your situation, hope this helps." The donor's $5 allowance was taped to the note.
In the third project, one Kids Care Club served as pen pals to nursing home residents. The project spanned three months and culminated with a party in which club members met their pen pals. At the party, members gave their pen pals handmade blankets. Phyllis Ellis, a nursing home resident, noted, "Being in here gets lonesome. Getting those letters really brightened up my day."
We often expect children to follow our example. However, the stories above remind us that children are often the best leaders. Their hearts are pure, they want to help others, and they desire to create change in our community.
At the Volunteer Center of Erie County, we are witnessing an unprecedented amount of need in our community. Area homeless shelters are full and food pantries are worried about having enough food to feed the hungry this winter. On a daily basis, we receive phone calls from parents trying to provide the basic necessities for their children.
I urge everyone in our community to follow our children's example. By following in their footsteps, we can show them that we support their actions and respect their desire to create change in our community. There are many organizations that need our help this holiday season. For volunteer opportunities, contact The Volunteer Center of Erie County at 419-627-0074.
Volunteer Center of Erie County