By Ginelle Testa, generationOn Coordinator, AmeriCorps VISTA
As both a recent college graduate and a fresh, incoming VISTA Americorps member assigned to youth engagement, I was excited to see what Boston Cares is doing to tackle community issues and to see how I fit into their efforts. I started my experience with a volunteer opportunity: attending the summer session of Teen TeamWorks. I was there to get a feel for how it ran because I will be facilitating the group over the next year! Not knowing exactly what I was coming into, I was pleasantly surprised at how the program energized teens to partake in service in an active, educational, yet genuinely fun way.
Participants are youth ages 13-17 spending 4 long days to learn about what’s going on in the community and get their hands dirty directly and indirectly serving the most prevalent needs in the Greater Boston community. At first, they were hesitant, but after just a few hours together we worked like a well-oiled machine.
An overarching goal for my Americorps VISTA service year is to be engaged in an organization in a way that tackles the issue of poverty. Teen TeamWorks challenges its participants to deconstruct stereotypes and stigmas surrounding poverty, homelessness, environmental concerns, hunger, and more community issues. Through interactive activities, we brainstormed what the earth would look like if humans went to sleep and woke up in 100 years. The result was that we’d have more green space, cleaner air, and more wildlife. We also joked that we’d be pretty hungry after sleeping that long! After the activity, their brains were turning with ways in which they could improve their local communities.
Beyond the educational engagement, we went out into the community and participated in hands-on service. My favorite site was Community Servings, a not-for-profit food and nutrition program providing services throughout Massachusetts to individuals and families living with critical and chronic illnesses. As they describe themselves, “We give our clients, their dependent families, and caregivers appealing, nutritious meals, and send the message to those in greatest need that someone cares.” They bring meals to about 750 individuals a day! We spent hours packing meals and had lots of laughs.
Overall, Teen TeamWorks was a fantastic experience, and I get to create and facilitate the next few that we run! What I was able to understand and see first-hand is that this program is not just parents plopping their kids into the program, hoping they do something productive and social. Rather, the teens get excited, engaged, passionate, introspective, and grateful while actively contributing to the greatest needs in the community. The program is multi-faceted with direct and indirect service, social components, as well as learning about community issues in a depth that they can really take with them.
Here are some quotes from our teens:
“I am even more eager to help now.” – Julia, age 16
“It made me a better person and encouraged me to help people out.” – Andrew, age 15
“Teen TeamWorks is a great experience. It opens your eyes to all the ways you can help others.” – Olivia, age 14
I can’t wait for our next Team TeenWorks this Winter! Stay tuned for an exciting new incorporation of the generationOn goLEAD curriculum into an already awesome program for youth.
Now through September 30th, we are recruiting members for the Boston Cares Teen Advisory Council. The Council meets on the first Sunday of every month from 4:00 PM -6:00 PM. Members also participate in service opportunities as a group between meetings, including National scale days of service. Click here for an online application.