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For the first time in Volunteer Spotlight history we will be featuring two wonderful volunteers who have shown commitment and passion towards their roles as homework mentors and role models to the children enrolled in the After School Academy section of SFBFS’ Youth Education program. But each of these volunteers has contributed in more ways than just time. Both of the volunteers featured this month have gone above and beyond their roles by helping to develop and expand the Youth Education program’s capacity, proving just how vital the dedication of volunteers are to SFBFS.
Kris Morris (Oak Park)
For two years, Kris Morris has become a popular fixture at the Oak Park’s After School Academy, where volunteers mentor students (ages 6-18) with homework and enrichment activities. Kris works with small groups of three to four students. “Inevitably, kids from other tables gravitate towards Kris’ group,” Youth Education Program Manager, Aurelia Garcia, said.
A physical therapist for twelve years and a full time mom, Kris found her way to volunteering at SFBFS through her church where SFBFS founder, Father Dan Madigan, is the priest. “I feel like this is exactly where I’m supposed to be,” Kris said, “I love homework. I’m one of those weirdoes. But the beautiful thing is that the children want to learn.”
Kris says engaging with the students comes easily and trust with the children is established when they find a special volunteer who comes consistently and is attentive towards their needs. “The children are eager, friendly, open and it makes me want to be that way towards them,” Kris said.
Kris has expanded her reach as a volunteer and has initiated a group of younger participants, in second and third grades, to improve their reading skills by working with them through Hooked on Phonics. Additionally, Kris has led several enrichment activities that included supervising Youth Education students to volunteer in SFBFS’ Clothing program.
Outside the Youth Education classroom, Kris has become a valuable resource to SFBFS staff by offering feedback and suggestions through the Education Focus Group, a group of volunteers, professionals and community members who help guide programs and services offered in SFBFS new Education & Technology Center. “Kris is amazing! Loving, kind and dedicated to the families that we serve,” said SFBFS Programs Director, Genevieve Deignan, who has worked with Kris through the Education Focus Group.
This spring, Kris will be leading a STAR testing study group for students interested in improving their Language Arts and Math scores. “Every child needs to be given an opportunity to want the right things. We just need to guide them,” Kris said, “And I’m here to stay.”
Ryan Alvey (Saca Community Learning Center)
Pastor Ryan Alvey of Peace Lutheran Church first learned about the multiple programs at SFBFS through a food distribution which occurs once per month at his church. Wanting to lead by example, Ryan took it upon himself to ask what else was needed within SFBFS’ programs. When Ryan learned from Heather Kohlmeister, Youth Education Program Manager, that there was a need for more volunteers to work with kids, he signed up as a volunteer within Youth Education’s After School Academy.
For two years, Ryan has served as a dedicated volunteer who has established trust with many of the students within the program at SFBFS’ Saca Community Learning Center. “It’s awesome to have somebody who is dependable and makes time in their schedule to volunteer with us,” Kohlmeister said. “Ryan has also shared many of his ideas for improving the program which we are able to incorporate into our youth activities.”
One of Ryan’s ideas included breaking up the large block of homework time with physical activity through simple outdoor games including tag and left brain/right brain challenges. On one particular afternoon, Ryan is playing the shark in a game of Sharks and Minnows with a group of students in the After School Academy. “I enjoy this time volunteering and the kids are really fun,” said Ryan, “They help me to learn on a daily basis.” After the game begins to wind down, Ryan helps to lead the children back inside to complete the rest of their homework, where he works with a small group of students in math and reading.
“Most of us can honestly say that we received help or support from others, whether from family, teacher, others,” said Ryan, “It’s like that phrase, ‘pay it forward.’ Help others. I guess it’s not a real stretch from what I do.”