Giving back is 'in' with students

DeWayne Bartels
Metamora Police Chief Mike Todd smiles as he listens to Skyler Hessinger, 7, a first-grader at Metamora Grade School, read to him. Todd initiated a program which brings Metamora High School students into the grade school latchkey program as volunteers.

Brittany Call was moving fast. She was being called by one student for help with homework before finishing her help with another.

Such is the day of a student helper at Metamora Grade School’s Latchkey Program.

Call, 16, a junior at Metamora High School, as a student helper, has her hands full.

Volunteer support

Traci Hessinger, director of the latchkey program, said the pairing of teens and children might seem strange, but is a great success.

“It’s great for all our volunteers. It could lead to jobs for them,” she said. “They are latchkey assistants.”

The program began at Metamora Grade School in 2002. There was a growing need among working parents, Hessinger said.

“It’s hard for parents to find day care for two hours,” Hessinger said.

The program is offered K-8. The students rotate through homework help, computer lab, outdoor play and crafts.

Between the morning and afternoon latchkey programs, the school is serving 85 students, on average.

“It’s a huge success. It makes the school money and it fills a need,” Hessinger said. “We’ve heard only good things about the program.”

Parents, she said, love it because the students get adult supervision, quality programs and pay only $3 per hour for the service. That, she said, is a real bargain.

The students, she said, see the program as an after-school club.

“I think it is all so great. I am so thankful. The high school student volunteers are so happy. It’s like a big brother big sister sort of thing,” Hessinger said.

“The younger students see them as role models. The older students get as much out of it as the younger students. There is satisfaction in helping others. They are taking time out of their schedules and giving our students one-on-one time. Some of our students don’t get a lot of that.”

The genesis

The genesis of the high school student volunteer program is from an unlikely source — Metamora Police Chief Mike Todd.

Hessinger said she is thankful for Todd’s brainstorm.

“Chief Todd has been so great,” she said. “These high school students are giving back with no expectation of something in return. Chief Todd is teaching them that. What a great example he is.”

The program Todd initiated began in the 2008-09 school year.

“My big thing is I wanted to do something that got me in front of and involved with kids of all ages,” Todd said.  “This allows them to be comfortable around someone in uniform.”

Todd said getting the students comfortable with him has taken some time. There was a time, he said, in the beginning of the effort where the latchkey students and the high school volunteers were standoffish.

“Now they see me as a regular person,” Todd said. “It’s just amazing to me the amount of extra-curricular activities the high school student volunteers are involved in and yet they make time to do this.”

The program started out with five student council members and has grown now to include about 25 high school volunteers.

“There are certain volunteers who have really connected with one of two of the younger students. When they come in they look for each other,” Todd said.  

Todd said he is so proud of the volunteers.

“I’m hoping this is just the beginning. I’m hoping to see the same number of volunteers, if not more next year.”

A difference

Emily Karson, 17, and Corey Russell, 18, both Metamora High School seniors, said they are giving back because they feel they are making a difference in the lives of the students they interact with.

“I’m an officer in the student council. This is a good way to give back to the community,” Karson said. “The community does so much for us. This is something we should do ... We are busy, but we can give up an hour.”

Russell, a member of the Fellowship of Christian Athletes, said it was his duty to help.

“Service is a big part of being a Christian,” he said. “Maybe many of these kids have an older brother or sister who don’t pay much attention to them. They want attention from older kids.”

Russell said, however, there is a pay off for the volunteers.

“It’s fun being around the younger kids. I remember a kid who was drawing monster trucks,” Russell said. “He had me sit down and help him name them. That was fun.”

Gary Finch, Metamora High School guidance counselor, said he is very proud of the youth who volunteer in the latchkey program.

“They believe in volunteerism,” Finch said. “I don’t think they realize the full benefit of what they are doing. That’s something you realize as you get older.”