Fourteen passionate and committed young ladies from Miss Porter’s had a transformational experience this winter. Hands On Hartford planned a multi-week service project for student volunteers – the first of its kind. Although we have accommodated numerous mission groups and planned multi-day projects in a single week, this 9-week winter service activity was different on many levels. It gave us an opportunity to bond with the student volunteers and expose them to myriad non-profits, community needs and individuals – individuals who left a lasting impression on the students. Miss Porter’s created this winter community service activity as an alternative to a sports class. For nine weeks between December and February the volunteers engaged in 4 hours of service weekly.
The season kicked off early December with visits to Community Meals, Simpson Waverly Elementary School and Salvation Army Marshall House. The students organized and overhauled the storage room including all of the food products and paper goods at our soup kitchen, brightened up the interior of the school by applying fresh coats of paint to worn doors/converted off-white walls to royal blue, spruced up a resident’s room at the shelter with fresh coats of paint and prepared holiday cards for the residents.
We resumed our weekly engagements once the students returned from their holiday break. For the month of January, the students were introduced to additional organizations including Ebony Horsewomen and ML King Elementary. At Ebony Horsewomen, the volunteers were given a tour of this urban agricultural center; they enhanced the animal science classroom (which was filled with ferrets and other living creatures) with fresh paint and created a special bulletin board to recognize the student and rider of the month that now hangs in the hallway. Prior to this, Ebony Horsewomen did not have a formal way to recognize students – the beautiful cream and purple board that was erected can now be used to recognize well behaved students who have worked hard – it will serve as a great esteem-builder.
The project at ML King school differed significantly from others – it was the longest recurring project that included heavy client interaction. The students from Miss Porter’s worked closely with 1st and 3rd grade students in the after-school program. The students visited ML King a total of 4 times during the month of January and assisted with homework help, fitness related activities and prepared the students and school for the upcoming Black History Month. As part of Black History Month, the Porter’s students came up with a creative depiction of Harriet Tubman and the Underground Railroad that included lots of yarn (which represented tracks) and tissue paper. Moreover, they helped the children memorize poems that correlated with the theme of the month. In a very spontaneous act, the volunteers also sang with the children during the school’s PTO meeting.
Even though the duration was short, the volunteers and children developed a very strong and meaningful connection. As the Parent Educator, who leads the after-school initiative commented, “the girls have connected with the students beautifully.” The Parent Educator also shared that the one-on-one interaction led to an improvement in the behavior of the students and that the children truly looked forward to the visits – there were many hugs and many smiles on both ends. When the bond became evident to us, we recognized that we had to amend the volunteer’s schedule to allow for more interaction with the children during the month of February. During the month of February the volunteers returned to the after-school program and led photography workshops with the students. One of the Porter’s students has expressed an interest in returning to work with the students, “ I would love to come back in the spring to MLK and do more art workshops with them. I am really, really serious.” We recognize that the connections that we make are intangible and sometimes life altering.
For the the final month of February, the student volunteers served at our Community Pantry, Peter’s Retreat and Wish Elementary School. The students helped pack backpacks with kid-friendly meals for our 270 recipients, arranged a special game of Bingo for the residents of PR and also served them dinner. The 9-week service project culminated with a visit to Fred D. Wish where the students were greeted by the principal, given a tour, treated to pizza and painted three beautiful and vibrant murals in the pre-k/kindergarden wing of the school. Currently, the walls of the school are covered with uninspiring faux beige cinder block walls – the images of happy children in bold colors has truly transformed the space into a more child-friendly/inviting environment and both the staff and students at Wish Elementary are anxiously awaiting more. According to a graduating senior, the best part of the whole experience was “getting a greater appreciation for Hartford and all the great programs HOH runs. I loved getting to know the people who work/live in the these communities. I’m so sorry I’m graduating.”