116 3rd St SE
Cedar Rapids, Iowa 52401
CEDAR RAPIDS — Montreal Cunningham, 12, spent the hot noon hour last Friday handing out care packages in Greene Square to people experiencing homelessness.
About a dozen students from the Boys & Girls Club of the Corridor went on a “shopping spree” to fill the care packages — even putting their own money toward the items — as a part of their goal to reach 100 hours each of community service this summer.
“It might help someone get through a rough time to get to a better time,” Montreal said.
The care packages included food like granola bars, cereal and chips, as well as water bottles, toothpaste and a toothbrush, soap, deodorant, socks and first aid items.
JaeCis Wright, 15, a student at Washington High School, said she wanted to give the care packages to people to “show them they matter.”
“There’s not an age limit” on leadership, she said.
About 15 students between the ages of 12 and 15 in the junior career and life academy at the Boys & Girls Club are working toward a volunteer goal by tutoring younger students in the club, organizing a football camp or volunteering at church.
Lori Ampley, lead unit director for the east side for the Boys & Girls Club, said she’s watched how volunteering can increase a student’s confidence.
“Mentoring younger people empowers them — it’s no longer about them but about being a good role model,” Ampley said.
Additionally, the students are learning about valuing themselves, self-esteem and nutrition. Last week, students went to Tanager Place to learn about the importance of self care and mental wellness, and wrote about what self-worth means to them, Ampley said.
Deronte Strong, 12, a student at Regis Middle School, is volunteering because an older student mentored him when he was younger. It helped him feel welcomed and comforted, Deronte said.
At Tanager Place, Deronte said they talked about what it meant to take care of your body, mind and soul. For Deronte, taking care of himself means listening to music, playing basketball and sitting and being quiet.
The students also have talked about how to apply for a job, explored what they want and need in an employer and not taking less than what they’re worth, Ampley said.
“It’s to find a workplace that fits their morals and values,” Ampley said. “What if they work for a place that doesn’t have LGBTQ (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer) rights, and they don’t want to work there anymore? It’s important for them to ask those questions.”
Many of the students who committed to volunteering this summer also organized a March on Washington in Cedar Rapids in February. The march was inspired by the famous Aug. 28, 1963, March on Washington, D.C., led by Martin Luther King Jr., and in 2020 by Black Lives Matter protests.
That original march was a protest of some 250,000 people gathered in front of the Lincoln Memorial for civil rights, jobs and freedom. Here, students walked for equity.
Aleena Mosley, 12, a student at Taft Middle School, said she loves spending time with other kids at Boys & Girls Club every week, mentoring them and helping them read and write.
Aleena has been a part of the Boys & Girls Club since she was in kindergarten, and she’s happy to give back to the program that she feels has given her so much.
“I’m really fortunate to have what I need,” Aleena said, adding that knowing some people don’t have access to necessities like soap and water is “heartbreaking.”
Inspired by his older peers, Zari Robert, 9, a student at Garfield Elementary School, decided to start volunteering as a part of the program last week. He set a goal of 30 hours of volunteer service before the end of the summer.
“I see how they help people and I want to, too,” he said.
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