Fifteen-year-old Avery Robins has played varsity basketball since her freshman year. She made it to State last year in shotput. She’s perfected her chicken fried rice technique and found a $13 North Face puffer with her savvy thrifting skills. But one of her biggest accomplishments has been helping others.
Avery has worked with Project Night Night for the last ten years. Project Night Night comforts children who live in shelters by providing each with a blanket, a stuffed animal and a book. While the story is always different, many kids are in the shelter with their mothers due to some type of domestic abuse. Of the 30,000+ bags that go out every year, Avery herself has distributed over 1,200 bags this year.
What inspires you to volunteer?
I can’t really remember a time when I wasn’t volunteering. Ever since I was little, my older brother and I would pick up cigarette butts in Golden Gate Park. I went to a Catholic school for elementary through middle school, and they really valued volunteering. So we got involved there. We would do little things like make sandwiches and gift bags for the Hamilton House [a local shelter for unhoused individuals] or period packages with sanitary pads for women’s shelters. And when I could see the difference I was making in people’s lives, even if it was for a short second, I got hooked on that feeling.
How did you get involved with Project Night Night?
The blanket and the stuffed animal we give each kid are so they can sleep at night, which I feel like is why I chose PNN to really put my heart and soul into. I really connected to that. You always have someone there for you, even if it’s just a stuffed creature. The book helps them with learning how to read and write.
We heard about them in kindergarten. My brother also loved going to sleep with a stuffed animal and a blanket. So we started a book drive at school. Our goal was to get 100 books, and we got 132. We were so proud of ourselves. And as I got older, I started doing more things, and I just got really involved in the organization.
What is your role with the organization?
I do a lot of things – some more glamorous than others. My favorite thing to do is to write thank you notes to donors. I feel like a lot of times in the charity realm, there’s not enough gratitude. That’s my way of paying it forward.
And I pack Night Night Bags, which is at the heart and soul of the organization. I love doing that, too. I also enter the tax receipts into QuickBooks. It isn’t my favorite job, but it’s something that needs to get done.
How did the pandemic affect the organization and the needs they strive to meet?
We still got to help a lot of people, which was the best part of it. Even though everyone was separated, we still got to connect with people. We couldn’t go inside, but we could still give them the Night Night packages. The only real thing that affected us in the pandemic was having fewer corporate programs. It made it less stressful, because there’s a lot to do for those.
What’s been the most rewarding part of your work?
For me, it’s the kids. A lot of times, we can sit and unpack the bags with them, and maybe they’ll have us start reading the book. When we can go into shelters and give them the bags, seeing the smiles on their face and knowing that I’ve touched their lives, even for a moment, is pretty special.
What have you learned through your experiences as a volunteer?
The biggest thing I’ve learned is that everyone can use a helping hand, no matter what it is. In Project Night Night, obviously these kids need to feel safe in the shelter, and they need to read books develop their literacy. It’s helped me recognize how people are feeling and what they need. If it’s a friend who’s feeling down, I can reach out and just sit with them. Things like that.
Are there any future partnerships, programs or events you are excited about?
I’m really excited about the holiday season, because a lot of times the kids in the shelters don’t get a lot of gifts for Christmas or whichever holiday they celebrate. So, we like to add some extra things in the bags like playing cards. I love to add handwritten notes or an extra stuffed animal to make them feel more special.
Why do you think it’s important for others to give back or be involved in their community?
I’m just a high school student. You don’t need any extra skills, and you can learn a lot of lessons through volunteering. You can just do a little bit, and it can make a big impact on someone’s life. There’s never an issue too small to help out with.
If you could model certain aspects of your life after someone else’s whose would it be and why?
The main person I take my inspiration from is a senior who I played basketball with last year, Annabel Schneiberg. She’s the model of hard work, and no problem is too small for her. If someone needs a hand, she will always be there to help that person. I learned a lot of lessons from her.
Do you want to make a difference in your community like Avery? Find local volunteer opportunities.