WORCESTER — Walk down the hallway toward Andy’s Attic at South High Community School and the fruits of the students who volunteer their time are evident, with bags of clothing lining the walls.
The bags, which are filled with clothes of all types and sizes, are orders fulfilled by the students and are ready to be picked up by families from throughout the city and region.
“We always say, ‘We’re changing lives,’ because that’s how it feels,” said Jasper Fritz, a senior who volunteers at Andy’s Attic. “It feels good to fill an order and know that someone is going to get clothes they need.”
What began in the home of Darrell and Lisa Reese as a way of honoring their son, Andrew, who died in 2010 as a result of a car crash, has evolved into a student-led nonprofit located within South High.
The nonprofit has been integrated into marketing classes at the high school, giving students an opportunity to not only help put clothing into the hands of people from the community but also get professional development opportunities.
Some students are involved with things like running the nonprofit’s website and social media, as well as filling out tax forms and grant writing, said Daniel Boyle, one of the teachers who helps run Andy’s Attic.
Recently, some students made a video on social media of them fulfilling orders but struggling to find some of the items because they were low. It was an effort to highlight their need for more clothes of a certain size and type — in this case they were low on kids’ clothes.
For Fritz, a senior who has been volunteering at Andy’s Attic since he was a sophomore, the nonprofit helped spark an interest in helping people, he said.
He plans to continue being involved in other volunteer opportunities once he gets to college, although he wouldn’t mind, if time allows it, devoting some time at Andy’s Attic even after graduation.
Jayden Pridgen, a senior who transferred to South High this year, said he enjoys volunteering and giving time to his community, and was excited that an opportunity like this was integrated into his education.
Pridgen, who wants to study sports management when he gets to college, said the class helps him prepare for his future education and gives him a break from the regular school day.
Solimar Rivera, another senior who is more involved with the nonprofit behind the scenes, by handling things like contacting people when orders are ready or answering emails, said it feels good to help the community and work together with other students.
“It’s a great program, honestly, and if people come here, they should definitely take part of it,” Rivera said. “Other schools in Worcester don’t have anything like this and everyone here is proud to have the option like to be a part of it. I think a lot of people should take advantage of it.”
The desire to help people is not uncommon to students in the city and Central Massachusetts region.
Whether it is a requirement for a class or graduation, a desire to help usher in change and make an impact, or spend time with friends and family, students are finding different ways to volunteer their time and energy and to contribute to their community.
Helping out in school, community
In Leicester Public Schools, students have a community service requirement. But Ted Zawada, principal of Leicester High School, said he believes that, even if it weren’t a requirement, students in the district would devote hundreds of hours of their time to volunteer efforts.
Three of those students are Benjamin Milgate, Ryan Delage and Vivian Giles. The three juniors often volunteer both outside and inside of school.
When Leicester High School moved into the former Becker College campus, students including Milgate, Delage and Giles, helped scramble to move desks and teacher materials inside and things left over from the college outside.
“I’m still a student here, so I would do anything to help make my own academic year and my experience at Leicester High School better,” Milgate said. “It also meant a lot for me to be able to get that building opened, so eventually when I graduate, people like my little brother — who’s two grades behind me — can have the high school at the best it can be.”
The experience also helped them feel closer to their teachers, Milgate said, as they were in a more relaxed state when they were moving things in and out of the building.
“It was pretty funny to see Zawada kicking his feet back, in a T-shirt and shorts on a summer vacation weekend,” he said. “You get to grow a connection and it makes working with them easier because now we’re not total strangers.”
Giles said it was also a great opportunity to get an idea of what attending the new school was going to be like, as well as an early preview of what it might feel like to eventually walk on a college campus.
But for the three students, finding time to volunteer outside of school is also important, as it helps them feel more connected to the community.
“For the older people that meet the younger people have helping build more connections with each other,” Delage said. “It makes people better.”
When Delage isn’t helping at school, he often volunteers at church food pantries in Leicester.
Giles will volunteer her time with stream and river cleanups, or helping businesses remove trash from around their facilities.
And although Milgate might not be a part of the Boy Scouts anymore, when he was he would often find himself helping at Scout reservations or thrift stores.
All three are looking forward to helping volunteer their time at the school’s annual craft fair in December.
Volunteering is also an opportunity to have fun, they said.
“You can, like, hang out with your friends too when you do it,” Delage said. “And you can help for a good cause. It’s just enjoyable, to help people and to do it with friends.”
“The students in the public schools have ownership of their community and their school,” Zawada said. “They can walk by things and they can say, ‘I built that. I organized that. I created that.’ Our campus is filled with student-driven, student-assisted projects and it will pay in dividends for years to come.”
Volunteering is a way to learn more about people
For Maryjane Bittar, a junior at Worcester Tech who is part of the paint and design trade, volunteering is “the best way to get to know people to get to know people and learn about our community.
“We can all help each other. We can do things for each other,” Bittar said.
Through her trade, Bittar and other students will go out into the community to help with things like repainting and restoring buildings and structures.
She also volunteers through the City Manager’s Youth Council, where she has helped paint the Elm Park bridge, as well as volunteering at her old elementary school to help students with homework or preparing for the MCAS test.
As a member of the student council, she said, she was able to help set up volunteer opportunities for other Worcester Tech students at her former school, May Street Elementary.
The experiences have helped her learn more about people in general, which she said will be helpful in a law career. After graduating from Worcester Tech, Bittar wants to study criminal justice in college and then go on to law school to become a criminal prosecutor.
“I like to volunteer a lot because I like to learn how different people’s minds work and their skills and what they think,” she said. “Because I know in law I’m going to run into crazy amounts of people and some people who have been through a lot and I’ll want to know why they’re doing what they’re doing.”
And while she isn’t sure where she’ll go for college just yet — although she said it will most likely be in Boston — she knows that she will dive right back into finding volunteer opportunities.
And with the holidays providing ample volunteer opportunities, Bittar wants other people to seek them out and get involved as well.
“There’s volunteering opportunities in every corner,” Bittar said. “It’s so worth it, helping out people around you, even if it’s in your school, even if it’s for your teachers for like five minutes, it’s so important.”
Volunteering helps build leadership skills
For Kendra Anim, a senior at Worcester Technical High School studying the allied health trade, volunteering is also a way of connecting with people who are like her or come from a similar background.
Anim volunteers at African Community Education, a nonprofit in Worcester that provides programming to students from countries in Africa, where she helps mentor students and provides assistance with homework, tutoring and filling out college applications.
The program has been a rewarding experience, she said, and also allowed her to work with people experiencing something that is familiar to her and her family.
“My older brother was not born in the U.S. and my parents are not from the U.S.,” Anim said. “I was the first one born here and I saw how hard and difficult it is to transition to the U.S.”
Through her parents and brother, Anim saw the hoops immigrants have to jump through when moving to the United States and the challenges of being a noncitizen.
“There was a time where my parents were not documented and that was a lot on me because there were certain places I couldn’t go. There were certain things I couldn’t say,” she said. “By the age of 10, I already knew the risks of what I could or couldn’t do or say. And while my friends were outside playing in the playground, I was tutoring my parents on how to pass the U.S. citizen test.”
Amin is studying allied health at Worcester Tech, but says she now wants to study policy in college and work in advocacy.
“I was always deeply conflicted with like immigration policy being harsh or things like gender inequality,” Anim said. “In class, I was always that guy that was like, ‘You know what? If no one else is gonna say it, I will say it.’“
Since then, Anim has helped with policy writing through the Massachusetts Association of Student Representatives, served as the Worcester Tech ex-officio member of student representatives on the School Committee last year and founded Worcester Tech’s first Black student union.
It has been important, she said, not just for the students she works with and her community but also her own personal growth and helping her feel like she’s making an impact.
“Growing up, there wasn’t girls my age, my description, standing in front of like podiums or, for example, on School Committee, speaking to these people who literally have the ability to change everything for me,” Anim said. “I had never seen anyone who looked like me, a Black teenage girl or Black child, going out and doing these things.”
It’s proof, she said, that anyone can make an impact.
A poster with a quote from Mahatma Gandhi, “Be the change that you wish to see in the world,” hangs in Anim’s room. They’re words she tries to live by, she said.
“I really do feel like I’m a living example that you can truly be the change you want to be,” she said. “Everybody has potential. Sometimes we just need a person to shine light on that potential for us. So that’s what it really means for me.”