Senior Allie Gans joined the Family Career and Community Leaders of America Club at Ardrey Kell High School this year because of her interest in giving back and helping others.
So when the opportunity to make homemade blankets, onesies, “lovies” and hats for premature babies in the neonatal intensive care unit at Presbyterian Hospital became available, she was all over the idea.
“I like volunteering,” she said, while ironing small baby blankets fresh off the sewing machines. “It helps shape you as a person and it’s good to give back.”
Allie, along with around 15 other students from the school, gathered in the school’s library on Tuesday, Feb. 19, with sewing machines, thread and fabric, thanks to the help of nonprofit volunteer service organization Hands On Charlotte. The organization has partnered with the school as part of a new teen service pilot program. Every month, Hands On Charlotte will host a service project at the school with the FCCLA club, though the projects are open to all students. In January, around 60 Ardrey Kell students wrapped books for local nonprofit Promising Pages, an organization whose mission is to provide books for area students in need.
Marcel Solomon, Hands On Charlotte senior program manager, said the organization launched the new teen program model after looking for options to better serve Charlotte-area youth.
“One of the challenges with high school volunteers is their access to opportunities,” Solomon said, adding that many times Hands On Charlotte needs volunteers Monday through Friday from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. while teens are still in school. “The other challenge is transportation – not having their own car or mom and dad not willing or able to take them somewhere on a week night or weekend.”
So why not bring the opportunities to the schools, Solomon said. Through mini-grant funding from one of Hands On Charlotte’s affiliates, the organization is able to bring service projects to the schools, making it more accessible and teen friendly. So far, the program stretches across three high schools, including Ardrey Kell, and Solomon said the school is currently talking with South Mecklenburg High School to get the ball rolling.
Solomon said they chose Ardrey Kell to be one of the pilot schools for the program because of past volunteer commitments from Ardrey Kell students.
“Ardrey Kell has been one of the most active schools with our regular volunteering programs. They were dependable and they really stood out from a lot of other teens,” Solomon said. “We said ‘If they are willing to reach out and to make this happen, why can’t we?’”
In the past, the Hands On Charlotte teen program did not provide specific opportunities for teens, Solomon said. And sometimes, teenagers would fill out applications and not show up to events at all, he added.
“In the past, teens had to get to the activity on their own and many couldn’t get rides,” Solomon said. “And we had a lot of students who would fill out the application, but wouldn’t do anything or the event wasn’t teen exclusive, making teens feel awkward. We just wanted to take it to the next level.”
By taking it to the schools, club advisors like Cathy Aylward at Ardrey Kell High said she’s happy for her students to have monthly service learning opportunities. Her and Solomon agree bringing projects to the schools will encourage more students to participate in service.
“If the seed is planted now, they’ll turn out to be superstar volunteers when they become adults – that’s our goal,” Solomon said.
And for Allie, the NICU project is just another way for her to give back. She likes the service projects at the school because they give her exposure to different types of service. She says the projects, along with other service learning projects she’s completed outside of school, have made her a better person and ultimately, have helped her decide on a lifelong career of working with kids.