By Myra Cruz, Volunteer Alexandria
This summer a couple dozen Alexandria public and private middle and high school students took time out of their summer to spend three full days volunteering with the new Volunteer Alexandria “Breaks with Impact – Doing Good in the Neighborhood” (BWI) program.
BWI is a three-day service learning program in which students learn more about issues facing their community and ways they can improve Alexandria, both today and in the future. “The program gave my daughter a sense of the larger issues facing people in her community. She enjoyed meeting people and participating. Not only did she enjoy going every day, and participating in the work, but she talked about what she did during her day when she got home. That sparked a lot of good conversations in our house and got us thinking together as a family,” wrote one parent.
Kids Discover Alexandria’s Hungry and Impoverished
Each day of the program focused on different issues. One day was spent examining hunger in Alexandria, ways to advocate for those in need and how food is distributed to those who need it most. In addition, they collected over 650 pounds of food for ALIVE! at a local Safeway asking customers to donate cans. After the food drive, the youth readied the donations for distribution. From this experience, students gained speaking and advocacy skills, learned more about a fully volunteer run program, and how a few people can affect the lives of hundreds of people each month.
Another day focused on how nonprofits create healthy communities. They visited Neighborhood Health’s headquarters and heard from a nurse and other staff members about the work of a community clinic. Students gained insight into how they can volunteer today and different career paths, from accounting to human resources to dentistry, all contribute to Alexandria’s health. Later that day, the students painted residential rooms at Alexandria Community Shelter and heard from a current resident about homelessness. They helped to create a welcoming space for their neighbors who are experiencing homelessness.
Middle school students had the opportunity to visit and tour Christ House and Guest House. At both locations the students learned more about how each organization help individuals in need in different ways and heard from several courageous residents who shared their life stories.
Becoming Environmentally Aware
On the final day the students learned how they can be environmental stewards and cleaned up five parks in Del Ray. They learned how trash and waste affect their neighborhoods in many ways, not only making the parks look bad and potentially unsafe places for children to play, but also how trash can be eaten by local wildlife, go into the sewer system and affect rivers and the bay and finally how certain waste can degrade and enter soil and water. Later in the day learned how the Alexandria Renew manages storm runoff and sewage, waste and sanitary sewage for the City of Alexandria and parts of Fairfax County, and how they can help with clean water efforts and to keep utility costs low and ensure that the treated water is good for the river and bay.
“It’s always a big deal when the kids come back from something they think will be boring, and instead can’t stop talking about everything they learned and did,”stated a parent who had two children participate. “Keeping kids engaged for a 10-hour day is HARD WORK, and I am astounded at how successful you were. The size of the program and mix of ages was really appealing to me, as well as the diversity of locations visited. The boys also liked taking the bus everywhere. They have asked to do it again next year.”
Breaks with Impact enabled the students to get involved and engaged in community, learn more about real issues, hear from clients served by our nonprofit partners, and what they can do to help.
This program was made possible by grants from the City of Alexandria’s Fund for Human Services and the Gannett Foundation and through generous support from the LizLuke Team and the Kiwanis Club of Alexandria.