Alyssa Mays’ passion for volunteering began at just three years old, when her mother would take her along to run arts and crafts at a local camp for children with special needs. Since then, Alyssa has dedicated her life to serving those in her Seaman, Ohio community and beyond. Now seventeen, Alyssa works as a classroom volunteer for first graders, and has been tutoring fellow students virtually since the COVID-19 pandemic began. Also during the pandemic, Alyssa and her sister started sewing masks to deliver to a local hospital, veterans’ homes, and nursing homes. They also stared sending care packages and letters to the nursing homes as well.
Alyssa is an active volunteer at her church, working as a youth minister leader and helping to organize fundraisers for people in need in Haiti. She visited the country in 2018 to deliver toys and care goods, as well as to help build a roof for a trade school. She volunteers for and donates to multiple food distribution centers and drives. Alyssa volunteers yearly with V.I.P. Camp, a summer camp for children with special needs, which in turn led her to also volunteer for Night to Shine, which organizes proms for teenagers with autism. She recently became a director of the Adams County Youth Led Coalition, which works to prevent drug and alcohol abuse, and is working on finding new members and expanding the organization. Alyssa estimates she spends at least ten hours each week working on various volunteer projects, all while completing her senior year of high school.
Describe how you started making masks with your sister during the pandemic.
We had a lot of free time since school was out, and I love crafting and making things. I wanted to start sewing again, but there wasn’t anything to really sew — I couldn’t go see family and I used to sew curtains or pillow cases or things to share with my family. Then finding out there was a short supply of masks made me realize that they were super easy to make and I had the ability. I figured I could ask my community to collect materials and donate them toward this cause. … I feel like this helped everybody who has been involved through their donations. It’s not me alone, or me and my sister alone. We’ve had donations from our community so they feel they’ve helped too, even though they haven’t had the ability to actually make the mask.
We have made over 2,000 masks. I love to volunteer obviously, and life has been [using] my spare time volunteering. During the pandemic, it’s been really hard. [My sister is] our counter and everything. She organizes all that kind of stuff and gets everything together and picks all the pretty patterns. I’m the one who knows how to sew so I do all the sewing, all the arranging. We always put it together in a cute little package with their name on it and a way to take care of their masks through a letter. It’s a really neat way to show everyone that we care and we still want to provide for our community, even though a lot of our opportunities are limited now.
Can you describe what you’ve done for people in Haiti?
I went to Haiti my freshman summer so that was 2018. … We went for 11 days. That trip was amazing. Very eye-opening. It was something crazy. I realized a lot and how blessed we are here. In Haiti, it’s very different, for sure. The kids aren’t given the same opportunities, so the schools and the orphanages are very grateful. One of my most memorable moments would have to be sharing my collection. I collected toys and care items and sports equipment to give to the kids in the communities and to the orphanages and to the schools, and they just lit up. Their eyes and their smiles were completely unforgettable. They were so grateful for everything we gave them. The sadness that they should be feeling was completely nonexistent. Their situations didn’t effect them at all. They were grateful and their gratitude was amazing. … We provided them with a roof for a trade school, and they now train members of the community for trade so they can have a successful life and begin to make their own money and support their family.
With the pandemic making traveling difficult, I’m not able to visit, so I’ve raised money and worked hard to complete tasks that benefit them. We have a rice-packing event at my church that I’m always involved in. We’ve had camps that always do rice-packing events that have sent rice over to them for meals. The big one would be our VBS [Vacation Bible School] camps. All the students are encouraged to bring in [rice], so we have created lunch benches and rooms and donated toys and things like that through church. Being our youth coordinator for missions, I can encourage the students around me to bring in, and then provide monetary donations to send for them to use in ways that we are unaware of that benefit them.
Can you describe how you volunteer for children with special needs?
I have always loved working with children with special needs. I began volunteering with my mom at one of our local special needs camps when I was three and we did arts and crafts. Then [in 2016] I started working with [V.I.P. Camp] in the summer. We gathered and taught them that their differences don’t mean anything, that they’re still as important as everyone else, and share God’s love for them and their special needs community.
Then I found Night to Shine. Night to Shine is a prom night for special needs children. You have to be at least 14. They have a prom night that celebrates them and their experiences, and shares God’s love for them and how they’re important and not overlooked, and how we all support them. I work as a one-on-one buddy and I’m assigned a new child every year. I get to experience this prom night that’s memorable and made for them. We do limo rides and we have a special crowning ceremony and we have our pictures taken in a photo booth. There’s a red carpet with all kinds of photographers. It’s a really neat experience and I’ve gotten to see it for several years and several kids get impacted by this experience, which is truly amazing. I started working with Night to Shine in 2018. It’s through the Tim Tebow Foundation. He speaks and it is really inspiring.
What inspires you to volunteer in so many different ways?
I’m inspired by the strong desire to change things around me and make a difference in the world. I started volunteering with special needs children at a young age and that’s when I fell in love with seeing the difference I could make in the lives of others. This led me to my good works, and I quickly started leading and organizing outreach events and opportunities within my community. I volunteer in various capacities and my service has exceeded hundreds of hours. I continue to be inspired by the lives that are changed through my service work.
Are there any future partnerships, programs, or events that you are excited about?
I am super excited about Adams County Youth Led Coalition. I am the director of the coalition. In Adams County, we struggle with drug usage and unemployment. I feel that a lot of that goes hand in hand and a lot of our teenagers are struggling with drug usage and alcohol abuse. We don’t encourage this kind of behavior and would like to implement drug-free awareness, and we are starting to campaign against drugs. I am heading this up and working with our local drug-free coalition, our adult group. We are expanding and trying to get members. We’ve gotten a few grants to start us off, but we are super excited to start planning events, especially post-pandemic. I feel like this could have a very big impact on my community since we struggle with drug usage, and I think it can really make a big difference. We are getting ready to donate care items to our local children’s home. We are donating backpacks and stuffed animals and plush blankets and towels, so they feel welcome in their new experience. I know that’s a really hard thing to go through, going to the children’s home, so we felt that this forever friend could provide them with somebody to comfort them, and then the backpacks will be a necessity for school to keep your items in. I think this will provide a lot of love and thought for these kids who are struggling.
What’s been the most rewarding part of your work?
The most rewarding part of my work has been changing lives, of course, but I’ve been blessed with opportunities to serve in many areas. From protecting my commuting by providing masks that are handmade during a pandemic, to donating care items to children of a third-world country, and then my other various service projects, I feel that I’m rewarded with a sense of purpose and fulfillment. I feel honored when I realize the difference I’ve made in my community, in my school, in my church, and I guess even my world, at this point.
What have you learned through your experiences as a volunteer?
I think I have learned a lot about myself, but I’ve learned a lot about my community as well. I’ve gotten to see a change in my community and my world, and that’s become very important to me. I’ve also realized how fulfilling it can be to be a leader, and to be a worker, and a member of a group that’s making change. I’m compassionate about helping others and I’m inspired by the lives I’ve changed, so I feel it’s very important to give back in even the smallest of ways. I know not everyone has materialistic things to give, but I’ve learned a lot about love and compassion and how important they can be to everyone. I think that’s made a big difference in my volunteer work.
Why do you think it’s important for others to give back?
I think it is important for everyone to volunteer because it’s giving back to the community. Sometimes it’s only a small way. I give back because I know that I’m more privileged than most and I feel I would like to provide better opportunities and blessings for those who are unable. I do not give to gain. I only give to share compassion with everyone. I understand that everyone may not have materialistic possessions, but kindness and compassion go a long way. The smallest act for a few minutes at a time can contribute to the biggest change. I think I include my community in a lot of my giving so they feel included and everyone’s felt like they have contributed to the difference I have made, too.
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