For about the past year, Annie Jackson has been teaching children at the J.W. “Blind” Boone Center how to turn trash into treasure. She’s made flowers out of plastic and a miniature city out of old radio parts.
On Tuesdays and Thursdays, she shows about 40 children enrolled in Columbia Housing Authority programs how they can reuse recyclables to make their own works of art.
“I believe in recycle and reuse,” she said, “because all this is junk. Use some of that junk you’re throwing away. Be creative.”
She said, “All my life I’ve liked to do this kind of stuff.”
Jackson, 70, is one of about 65 volunteers who help the Columbia Housing Authority with family self-sufficiency and youth programs that run Monday through Friday, assisting adults and children alike.
But the authority now is looking for more help because about 50 of its volunteers are students who leave for the summer.
Program coordinator Carroll Zu-Bolton said the authority will need more people like Jackson soon.
Jackson brings all her own supplies, such as cardboard, bottles and cans, to her classes, where she demonstrates art projects. She makes collages and key chains and shows children how to make gifts for holidays. Next week, she’ll help the kids make Mother’s Day gifts, such as vases with flowers and champagne glasses.
“This is stuff I show them that they can do,” she said. “Kids need to know what they do is important.”
Jackson said, “That’s how you find out they are artists. They get to express themselves.”
Jackson also enjoys volunteering because of the important time spent with the kids.
“I love children and I think they need to have more love and understanding,” she said. She has eight children of her own, all grown, and does not work because she is disabled.
“I make this my job,” she said.
In addition to programs that lead children in arts and crafts, the housing authority also has after-school tutoring for children and programs for adults such as mentoring in financial management and instruction in computer skills. Volunteers typically stick to one position.
Juanita Spilker, for example, has been tutoring students after school for a little more than four years.
Spilker got involved after seeing a notice in her church newsletter that the housing authority was looking for more help.
“Sometimes it’s hard work; other times it’s pretty easy,” Spilker said. “I consider it to be very worthwhile.”
Spilker, who holds a teaching certificate, taught for a few years before going back to school for a degree in health science. Now retired, she says she still has plenty to do but enjoys working with kids again. Monday through Thursday, she tutors kindergarten through seventh-grade students after school. She works with the same two children every day and sees her constant presence as being important to their success.
“You get involved with the students,” she said. “It’s good they pair us up so you stay with the same students. The idea is to give them some consistent help.”
She concedes that some of the children are not always enthusiastic about homework, but she doesn’t take it personally.
“You have to feel your way sometimes,” she said. “You have to be prepared for rejection for some of the children.”
Justin Schmidt, 18, also is an after-school tutor. A senior at Hickman High School, he sometimes has difficulty balancing school, sports and other commitments with volunteering two afternoons a week, but he insists it’s worthwhile.
“I schedule around it,” he said. “It makes you feel good ... what you’re doing, rather than just doing something for yourself.”
He plans on becoming a teacher some day and sees that time spent working with kids as good preparation.
“I thought this would be a good experience,” he said.