In a world where most teenagers prefer to spend their summer breaks on a beach or hanging out with friends, a few Ascension Parish teens are choosing to give back to the community.
For the past 13 years, Volunteer Ascension has used the ConnecTeens program to foster community service opportunities for parish teens with projects ranging from helping with pet adoption days to bringing supplies to local schools.
“It feels a lot better than just staying at home and sleeping in until 2 p.m., which is probably what I’d be doing if I weren’t here,” said Harry Riel, a Dutchtown High School senior who volunteers at the River Region Art Association summer art camp. “It makes me feel productive at least, and it’s also helping out the teachers and the kids, which is great.”
Riel and fellow art camp volunteer Casey McLean have spent the past two summers foregoing their usual school break to spend time with the various ConnecTeen programs — Riel in his second year with the RRAA art camp while McLean was with a pet care program last year.
Haiden Warner, 13, is spending her Saturdays helping with a local pet adoption program.
McLean came across the volunteer program when she was looking for a job with the local library, but what she found was an organization that contributed nearly 1,200 hours of community service in the Ascension Parish area last summer.
McLean, a 16-year-old Dutchtown High junior, said it didn’t take long for her to realize how much good could come from a program like this.
“When you’re a teen, you’re always thinking about your future and stuff, but you have to start thinking about the next generation coming up,” McLean said. “If everyone starts doing things for the generations coming up, maybe we won’t be so lazy and not have anything to do. Maybe we’ll be able to do more things during the summer.
RRAA education chairwoman JoAnn Eiswirth said the ConnecTeen program has been a major help in the support of the summer camp through the past several years with one to two volunteers choosing to spend weeks out of the summer helping small children with various arts projects.
Eiswirth said she feels the program can give more than just a good feeling of doing community service, but also teaches valuable life skills — a sentiment Riel echoed in his appreciation for Volunteer Ascension offering free CPR training classes.
“I think what it does for the teens is it gives them some insight into the programs going on around the community and sort of gives them hands on experience with activities and shows them how to support a program,” Eiswirth said. “It also gives them opportunities to be punctual where they can help and gives them great job building skills in these kinds of programs.”
Volunteer Ascension Grants and Development coordinator Anna Roberts, who organizes the teen program, said more than 50 teens are taking part in the summer program.
The program partners with several nonprofit agencies and programs to provide volunteer opportunities to teens throughout the summer, she said.
Haiden’s love of pets made it easy for her to pick her summer assignment. Last year, she volunteered at Special Tuesday, a program for special-needs residents.
“I enjoy being able to help the community ... and being around all these pets makes it great,” Haiden said.