Students from John Glenn Middle School have teamed up to form the Youth Volunteer Force, a powerful group that greatly impacts the community and the students. What makes this group so unique is that the students reaching out to the poor and elderly in their community are working through their own challenges with special needs. All of the students in this service group are mildly mentally handicapped in some way.
This group of fun and energetic teenagers ventures to Sharing & Caring Hands in Minneapolis, MN once a month. Sharing & Caring is a homeless shelter that provides daily meals, basic necessities and shelter to people in the area who are in need. When the students arrive in the morning, they dive into whatever needs to be done to prepare the morning meal. Preparation responsibilities include, but are not limited to, wiping 50+ tables and chairs to provide a clean atmosphere, arranging the donuts on trays and washing the many pots, pans and dishes used to prepare the morning breakfast. During this whole process, the students are eager to help where they are needed and maintain a positive attitude in the midst of some difficult jobs.
After all of the preparations are complete, the real challenge for the students begins. These youth each are responsible for serving a certain dish to the people who are homeless, while smiling at each person and giving each of the guests the utmost respect. The students refer to individuals as "Ma'am, Sir or Miss" and politely asking if they would like the dish they are serving. The most difficult, but also beneficial, part for the students is when the hungry individuals ask for a larger portion than that which they are given. The volunteers must tell them gently that they must return to the end of the line if they desire more food. They have done this task with kindness and respect in the midst of angry, sometimes crabby, guests.
The achievements the students have made are reflected in the positive feedback from the homeless individuals and the students themselves. Those who have been served appreciate the smiles of the youth and the respect they receive. The students are also impacted by the experience. One boy commented, "My favorite part about school is going to Sharing & Caring Hands, it makes me feel so good about myself." Other students have gained a greater respect for people and realize how fortunate they are to live in a house and eat food regularly. They also have realized that there is no difference between them and the people they are serving except these people do not have a place to live.
The project began two years ago with a small group of students that continues to grow. Many students are eager to attend, but in order to handle the challenges of this service project; they must be at a certain maturity level before they are allowed to volunteer. The project is an ongoing partnership between the John Glenn Middle School Youth Volunteer Force and the Sharing & Caring Hands homeless shelter.