Instead of spending last summer swimming at the pool, cruising the mall or going to the movie theater, 13-year-old Jessica Diestel decided to make a difference. So she signed up for a volunteer program that allowed her to help with community gardening, washing dogs at an animal shelter and recycling.
That program is Columbia’s Youth in Action.
“You leave (activities) with a happy feeling inside knowing you were part of something good,” Jessica said.
The participants’ parents said they see a difference in their children’s outlook.
“She’s 13, so there are changes all the time,” said Jessica’s father, Thomas Diestel. “But (Youth in Action) is really just about educating the child about the world around her. She gets a chance to focus on someone other than herself.”
Youth in Action this year will run from June 10 through the second week of August. Columbia residents between 12 and 15 are eligible. The city’s Office of Volunteer Services will hold two meetings, one on Wednesday evening and one on Saturday morning, so that those interested can check out the activities planned for the summer.
“The meetings are really just an opportunity for the volunteers to come meet me and past participants to just ask questions and sign up for programs,” said Emily Hoel, an intern in the Office of Volunteer Services.
Teens can volunteer for activities that fit with their schedules. There will be opportunities both on weekdays and weekends, and indoors and outdoors. City staff will supervise activities.
Past Youth In Action participants will be notified by mail or e-mail about the meetings, and information about this summer’s activities and how to apply is available online. Hoel said the list of activities could change and grow throughout the summer.
“There is a whole list of things on our Web site,” she said.
“We’re doing something with the Rainbow (House), the Multiple Sclerosis Society, and there are a bunch more.”
Leigh Nutter, volunteer coordinator for the city, said a couple of factors play into each volunteer’s experience.
“We try to have group and hands-on activities, something kids can keep busy with throughout,” she said. “We try and get them to learn that they can make a big difference working as a volunteer and leave with the fulfillment that their time was spent well and they made a valuable contribution.”
Dylan Conn, 15, has been volunteering with Youth in Action for three years. He said he has realized the goals Nutter talked about.
“There is a lot of variety of things to do, and you get to meet a lot of people,” Conn said. “You get a stronger sense of belonging in your community; you can learn new skills and get life experiences that you wouldn’t normally get.”