Students find way to reach out

Program lets them volunteer to help children


Published: Sunday, January 16, 2011 at 9:59 p.m.
Last Modified: Sunday, January 16, 2011 at 9:59 p.m.

A new youth leadership program is offering local high school students volunteer opportunities to give back to their community.

Facts

Want to get involved?

What: Children's Home Society Youth Leadership Program
Who: All Alachua County high school students are welcome
Contact: Jackie Esposito at 334-0955

The Children's Home Society's Youth Leadership Program is part of the Children's Home Society of Florida, which is a nonprofit organization committed to helping protect children from abuse and neglect and to helping these children find new homes.

The program, called Joining to Inspire, Volunteer and Educate (JIVE) by its members, was started in October to provide more leadership and volunteer opportunities for local high school students. The program includes seven students so far who have donated or raised about $12,000 toward the cause.

"There are just not a lot of opportunities for leadership for students here in Gainesville as far as outside of the school system," said Truitt Oliver, a mid-Florida board member of the CHS of Florida. "And Gainesville has so many potential leaders."

Oliver, who came up with the idea for the program, said she wanted to create an organization that would expose students to the nonprofit world and giving back to the community.

Students in the program are required to volunteer a minimum of 10 hours per month at Tot Spot, a thrift shop located at 710 N. Main St. that belongs to the CHS of Florida.

Besides benefiting the neglected children through its proceeds, the store also helps local families by offering low-priced clothing.

The program's participants also brainstorm ideas for fundraising events.

One of the program's current members, Peter Kraft, 18, an Oak Hall School senior, decided to place collection boxes outside his high school once the students were back from winter break. People were encouraged to donate food and gently used clothing.

"I thought that with the holidays coming around, everybody would get new clothes, and they could clean out their closets," he said.

After about a week, Kraft could fill more than three SUV loads of donations worth about $8,000.

Kraft and other students in the program said they are considering turning Kraft's idea into an annual event and getting other schools involved.

Cassidy O'Connell, 15, also an Oak Hall student, cleaned out her and her dad's closets, donating about $4,000 worth in clothes, electronics and food to the thrift shop.

"It was something I wanted to do for a long time," she said, adding that two other students in the program also donated some of their clothes.

Cassidy, an avid volunteer who has previously helped out at Shands UF, the American Cancer Society Winn-Dixie Hope Lodge and Santa Fe College, said that she signed up for the program in the fall after she learned about it through a Children's Home Society representative who visited her school.

She said her favorite part about being in the program is volunteering at the thrift shop.

Even though the students do not get to meet the children who are helped by the store's proceeds, she said it's satisfying to see the local families come into the store and be able to afford clothing at a low price.

"It doesn't matter whatever kind of day you're having, you leave [the shop] with an overall good feeling," she said. "It's just awesome, knowing that you're helping someone."

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