Paige Hansen, 13, left, and Jody Hammond, 15, play with Summer Fun participant 7-year-old Eric Ayers at Memorial Park's handi-cap accessible playground. The Summer Fun Program, sponsored by Fremont Public Schools, depends on and also attracts youth volunteers.
By Melissa Smith
Striving toward community betterment has been a focus of many Fremont youths lately, and their endeavors are being accomplished through volunteer efforts.
Leaders of a few local organizations say that without the volunteer assistance the youths are providing, their respective clubs would not continue to exist.
Jake Pinkelman, a 17-year-old junior at Fremont Senior High School, volunteered for a week this summer as a YMCA camp counselor.
"I just wanted to do something with my time, and I thought helping little kids would be fun," he said. "Kids these days are getting caught up in drugs, and they need to be guided more than what they used to."
As a counselor, Pinkelman said he had an opportunity to coach children on their soccer and football skills.
"It was a chance to show them that sports are a positive way to let loose energy, and encourage them a little more to do sports activities," he said. "It was fun to watch the little kids run around having a good time."
Part of what Pinkelman said made him feel good about volunteering his time was that he was giving back to an organization whose services he had utilized. Not only did he attend sports camps there as a child, but he still makes use of the facilities.
"I'm always there working out," he said. "I like to give back to the Y."
YMCA Senior Program Director Jerry Rinne said this is a common reason why teen-agers volunteer there.
"A lot of times they've been through the programs, and they really liked the kids who worked with them," he said. "It gives them a chance to give back to what they received."
Each year, Rinne said, 150 youths volunteer at the Y and help with a wide range of activities, including coaching teams, being camp counselors and working with the homework assistance program. They also serve on committees and give tours of the YMCA.
"They volunteer for some of the not-so-fun stuff too," he said. "Some teens volunteer to mow and clean."
It's not hard to find youths who want to volunteer, Rinne noted.
"Most of them come to us," he said. "It's a really neat deal. I think they like the interaction. It makes them feel good. They have fun with it.
"They get to volunteer with adults, so they get that interaction, too, and they get that respect from them. A lot of times, I think they see the good things that they do and I think it makes them feel good."
Without people like Pinkelman, Rinne said, the YMCA could not stay open.
"The YMCA is big," he said. "If we didn't have volunteers, the YMCA wouldn't be able to function because we couldn't pay everyone. There's no way the Fremont Y would be around without all the volunteers."
Rinne said he likes to see people volunteer when they're younger because it means they will be more likely to volunteer when they're older, too.
"If we get them as a youth, 90 percent of the time we get them as an adult," he said.
Pinkelman said his experience as a volunteer was so positive that he wants to do it again next year, not just for a week, but for the whole summer.
Another Fremont program that depends on youth volunteers is the Summer Fun program. The program, sponsored by Fremont Public Schools, serves children with any type of special need, ranging from speech problems, mild mental handicaps and learning disabilities to severe or profound mental handicaps.
Like the YMCA, Summer Fun attracts and depends on youth volunteers, said program director Ann Vyhlidahl. There were 43 this summer ranging from fourth-graders to high school-aged youth.
"The program has a name for itself," she said. "Usually a lot of kids come asking if they can help."
Paige Hansen, a 13-year-old eighth-grader at Fremont Middle School, is one of those volunteers. She decided to become a volunteer with the Summer Fun program because her older sister was one.
Paige has been a volunteer for 4 1/2 years.
"It makes me feel like a better person," she said.
She likes this particular program because she not only has the chance to help disabled children, but she also gains an understanding of them.
"You know how they feel, and so you learn that you shouldn't treat them different," she said.
In the program, volunteers are matched up with a child for the summer. Returning volunteers are usually matched up with the same children they had the year before, and Hansen said she likes that because she gets to know the kids better that way.
Some of the activities Hansen says she does with the children she is matched up with are swimming, bowling, art, physical education, music, skating and movies.
Her favorite activity, she said, is swimming.
"Everybody gets to do whatever they want," Hansen said. "They get to go to the park or go swimming. You get to know some other people and just have fun."
Vyhlidahl said she thinks youths are drawn to volunteerism because it gives them a sense of worth.
"I think they enjoy it," she said. "I think it makes them feel good about themselves that they can help somebody less fortunate than they are."
Volunteers in the Summer Fun Program, Vyhlidahl pointed out, are especially important to the children they help.
"It gives the children a sense of friendship with somebody new," she said. "It gives them a role model to look up to, another person they can talk to."