Our volunteers have always been a diverse convergence of backgrounds and abilities. Over the past year, one group has grown in its representation: Youth.
GRACE’s high school aged volunteers are among our most enthusiastic and insightful. They know how to connect with their peers and elders. School gives a unique vantage point to observe and understand people’s experiences in our community. Summit High School freshman Samantha Sacks said, “I had no idea that there were this many people living in Summit in need! Volunteering at GRACE really opened my eyes and I feel fortunate to be able to help them out. Volunteering at GRACE means so much to me. Coming each week to bag and distribute food to our Summit citizens has been so rewarding, and I love getting to know members in our community.”
Driven by a desire to deepen their impact in our community, Samantha and 21 other high school student GRACE volunteers gathered to form our Youth Advisory Council.
At the last meeting of the GRACE Youth Advisory Council, the members all expressed concern for their peers and neighbors’ mental health. They talked about how they noticed the toll of stress of COVID, the rising cost of living, and the pressures of daily life on the GRACE families. We discussed the lack of available, trustworthy resources. Cameron Xu, Union County Magnet High School senior stresses, “maintaining mental health during these times is important, it is just as important as physical health. We decided to set aside a day at GRACE specifically designed to raise mental health awareness, by creating a free space where anyone could talk about troubles that concerned them.”
From this conversation the students envisioned what they believe could do to help. They planned Mental Health Day for Thursday, October 21. In partnership with Summit Health Cares, health professionals will teach walking meditation, jin shin jyutsu, and to take blood pressure readings. A licensed social worker be on hand to give referrals to affordable mental health support.
Chatham High School senior Amelia Willmann has been a volunteer for more than a year. She explains the importance of Mental Health Day, “Providing a space to address mental health is important now more than ever before. Mental health can often be a source of shame, so people can be afraid to seek out help. By dedicating a day to mental health, a safe environment is created to acknowledge the struggles surrounding mental health. People can come to Mental Health Day and connect with others facing similar experiences, ultimately bringing a community together. Sometimes, it’s more reassuring to know you’re not alone.”
Next the Council was concerned with student accessibility to colleges. Cameron adds, “Applying to college is a difficult process, and we discussed providing college counseling for students in Summit High School.” From this, GRACE will now offer tutoring, college search and application help, and English conversion partnerships.
Amelia shares, “Every week I come to GRACE excited to be there and satisfied to be helping my community. I can’t wait to see how the ideas brainstormed by the Youth Advisory Council can be implemented to further assist our community.”
About the Grantee
GRACE stands for Giving and Receiving Assistance for our Community’s Essentials. While essentials can mean nutrient-dense food, we also aspire to enable the security, stabilization and success for all our community’s households.