Op/Ed: Volunteerism is the greatest gift

By Kathleen Meehan DoExecutive Director, After-The-Bell

AfterTheBellOpEdThe holidays are almost here. The shopping days are dwindling down while, for many of us, the stress is ramping up. We want so much to “get in the spirit” of the season. But that spirit can be elusive. We know we’re not going to find it in the shopping malls, and it’s a good bet we won’t find it online either.

The search for just the right gift, the one that really shows how much we care, can seem daunting. But it doesn’t have to be.

There is a gift that almost every one of us is capable of giving; a gift with a value that is inestimable; a gift that can sometimes last a lifetime.  It is the gift of volunteerism.

At After-The-Bell we are blessed with volunteers from all walks of life. We have retired teachers and college students studying to become teachers. We have musicians and scientists, law enforcement officers and published authors. We also have volunteers who love to sew, to cook, and to create artwork from nature. We have a black belt, a tournament-level fisherman, and interns from the Chester County Food Bank. And we have quite a few volunteers who know their way around a sports field. Our volunteers include high school students, moms and dads, and grandparents.  And many of our volunteers are bi-lingual.

The one thing that all of our volunteers have in common is a desire to make a difference in the lives of children.  Sixteen years ago, our founders—John and Denise Wood and Marshall Newton—put together an after-school program based on the premise that people in the Kennett Square area would be willing to volunteer to make sure that our middle-school children have a safe and vibrant after-school experience. And so they created After-The-Bell as a program that would rely solely on the generosity of individuals and organizations in our community, people who would be willing to donate their time and their financial support year after year to keep their vision alive.

Kennett Square is a special and eclectic community, filled with families who have lived here for generations and families who have only recently arrived from Latin American countries.  Watching these children join together to have fun, make new friends, and possibly learn a new skill is a joy to behold.

So many of our volunteers have told us that they are the ones who reap the benefits. They are doing what they love, and sharing their passions with a new generation of children. The volunteers themselves make new friends with people who have a similar commitment to making a difference.

And so, if you are seeking a cure for the holiday blues and want to remember the true spirit of the season, we urge you to consider volunteering. As After-the-Bell has grown in popularity with the children at Kennett Middle School, we are seeking new volunteers who can help us to maintain and enhance a robust schedule of activities. Our cycles run on Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday afternoons for six weeks. Our winter cycle begins January 27 and our spring cycle begins April 21.  As our program director likes to say, for as little as one hour a week for six weeks, you can make a lasting difference in the life of a child.

However, we ask you to also remember the other organizations in Kennett Square that need volunteers as well. These include The Garage, La Comunidad Hispana, the Maternal and Child Health Consortium, Young Moms, Kennett Area Community Service, Camp Dreamcatcher, the Kennett Senior Center, and the Adult Literacy Program, to name just a few.

Volunteerism is not a gift you can purchase with a credit card. You cannot wrap it and put it under the tree.

It is the gift of your time; occasionally the gift of your patience; and most certainly the gift of your love. It is the greatest gift.

Kathleen Meehan Do is a resident of Pennsbury. In addition to being the Executive Director of After The Bell, she is a member of the Unionville-Chadds Ford Board of Education and an active member of the community, having volunteered with various organizations. She can be reached at executivedirector@afterthebell.org


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