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United Way youth take initiative to benefit community

By Ken Levy

The United Way of Treasure Valley Junior Service Club began in the spring of 2009 with six students, ages 12 to 13, who were on a mission to make some changes, said Neva Geisler, UWTV director of volunteer engagement and advisor to the club.

The students got some exposure to service learning and were ready to move up to greater outreach and higher-level engagement.

They decided early on that their service program would be led by students and focus on community poverty issues. Each service project has a learning component throughout, “so that they could wrap community education around their hands-on work,” she said.

Service projects included creating a community garden to provide fresh produce for children and families in the Giraffe Laugh program; serving lunch during the Boys and Girls Club of Ada County summer-feeding program, and making 10 fleece blankets for delivery to seniors in the Meals on Wheels program during the holidays.

The youngsters also stocked food shelves for the Salvation Army, and prepared and served dinner and did cleanup for the Boise Rescue Mission’s City Light program.

Geisler said Aidan Weltner, 13, told the club he was ready to do something big, after several service projects. With the other students joining in, they created Hunger Bites, a program designed to raise awareness about hunger in the community. This was their largest undertaking, “and is likely to become an annual community-education opportunity,” she said.

The hunger-awareness program, student-led and driven, involved each student taking leadership roles in the planning of the program, including graphic design and collateral production; venue research; sponsorship presentations; media outreach and spokesperson, and event budget management.

In addition to these leadership roles, “the students sold tickets to the event and created the evening’s program,” Geisler said.

“I think that Hunger Bites really provided a new look at hunger and poverty in the Treasure Valley,” said student Emily Volk. “We tried to create a scaled down, visual representation of poverty statistics that also showed how people close to us can be struggling to get enough food. Before we chose hunger awareness as our project, I just thought of people in poverty just as numbers. But as we started doing service projects, I realized they are just normal people fighting for better lives.”

“The Hunger Bites presentation surprised me with how easy it was to do something so great,” said student Charlie Saad. “It makes me think that if I stretch myself I can accomplish even greater things.”

Presented this summer, the program met with dramatic success, Geisler said. The venue, food, catering, rental equipment and entertainment were all sponsored, “so ticket sales could cover event-production costs including printing and T-shirts. The students assembled take-away bags with information on volunteer and donation opportunities, and handed them out to every guest.”

“Life’s Kitchen was honored to be a sponsor of Hunger Bites,” said Kurt Alderman, the Boise organization’s executive director. “The event was a creative and interactive way to raise awareness of hunger and poverty in the valley. It offered an opportunity for high visibility and great media coverage to get their message across. We were proud to help make their vision a reality.”

The club, now comprised of seven students ages 12 to 14 – with several adult advisors – continues to meet regularly and runs several community service projects. The club has no budget, raising funds as needed for each project.

“The success of this group demonstrates the underestimated power and capability of kids in this age range,” Geisler said.

“This is a group of students with astounding leadership potential for our community. It was amazing to see their ideas come to fruition,” said Derick O’Neil, CEO and president of United Way of Treasure Valley. ‘They approached the work with enthusiasm and a can-do attitude, and demonstrated a maturity and confidence far beyond their years.”
Ken Levy is a writer and photographer residing in Driggs, Idaho.

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