By Amelia Tarallo
Hometown Weekly Staff
For most of the summer, kids fill their calendars working summer jobs and spending time with friends and family.
But for a few days in July, local kids sacrifice their time volunteering with Volunteers Around Needham (VAN). Each week of the month, a group of volunteers visits a different place in town to pitch in.
At 10:00 last Thursday morning, 11 volunteers met around a table upstairs at the Needham Community Council, all wearing matching red shirts. Each volunteer shared his or her favorite school supplies as an ice-breaker. After a brief introduction to what the Community Council does and what they would be doing for the day, the eager volunteers went to work.
Their ice-breaker was a perfect way to start the day; half of the group spent their day sorting out school supplies, while the other half worked in the food pantry.
Volunteers working on school supplies began by unloading box after box of donations onto a few up tables. Downstairs, the other half of the volunteers began cleaning the food pantry area, some taking trash cans outside to be rinsed out, while others helped sort different food donations.
Project VAN has become well known among Needham kids and their parents since its creation in 1998. Students from grades 8-12 grade sign up to volunteer with Project VAN during the summer as a way to fulfill the service hours required to graduate.
However, some choose to keep coming back and volunteer, even after finishing their requirements.
“I really like how you can see how you’re impacting the community,” explained volunteer Christina. “As you travel from place to place, you can see a bunch of different places you can volunteer at and make a difference.” Christina has been volunteering since 8th grade and will be a senior next year. This is her last year participating in Project VAN. She plans to continue volunteering around her community.
“When we start talking about volunteerism with younger kids and teenagers, and we set up that standard in the community that volunteering can be fun, it’s helpful - you’re giving back to where you grew up. That’s really our goal,” explained Carolyn Tracey, who helps run the Project VAN program.
Upstairs, volunteers working on the school supplies faced a mountain of a problem. “I think we have to call it binder mountain,” said one volunteer, referring to the slouching pile of binders at the end of one table. They needed to find a better way to sort the binders out so that they didn’t tumble to the floor.
They had only been there a half hour, and the group had already carefully combed through the boxes and filled the tables with supplies. Tape dispensers, staplers, scissors, pencils, and markers were all neatly sorted. “What should I do with this lock?” asked one volunteer. Space was made and the lock was quickly added to the pile. The kids smiled and laughed as they found strange donations, including a collection of pens neatly organized as if for display.
By the end of the day, the group had conquered their mountain and organized supplies for the 90 child and adult students who depend on school supplies from the Community Council.
School will start back up in just a few weeks. When these students return to school and glance at the supplies in their backpacks, they will surely be reminded of the difference their one afternoon at the Needham Community Council made.