How Have Kids Been Doing Service Hours?

How Have Kids Been Doing Service Hours?

COVID-19 has left many Chicagoans more in need than ever before. Food insecurity has increased, and many people—especially the elderly—are isolated, scared, and lonely. And yet, at a time when service is so sorely needed, opportunities for Latin students to participate in service are unfortunately limited due to safety concerns. Fortunately, Latin is making adjustments to its requirements, and students are getting creative to meet the challenge.

In response to the increased obstacles to participating in service projects, the Latin administration extended the deadline for last year’s freshmen and sophomores to the end of this school year. There is a completely new program being developed for this year’s freshman class, the specifics of which have not yet been announced. With Chicago heading into another spike in infection rates, the Latin community is going to have to work together to figure out how to participate in service while putting safety and health first.

Director of Student Life Tim Cronister is also now serving as interim Service Learning Coordinator following Sarah Bunger’s recent resignation. Safety is Mr. Cronister’s first priority. “My conversations with Ms. Bunger were sort of around the idea of trying to freeze everything as it is right now and maybe re-evaluate whether or not we have hours for this year, because obviously, safety is the most important,” Mr. Cronister said.

Latin’s well-known partner organizations such as Bernie’s Books, the Greater Chicago Food Depository, and Cradles to Crayons are not accepting volunteers or are greatly restricting them, which limits service opportunities for students. “Right now, we’re sort of in a holding pattern. The holding pattern in talking with Mr. Greer and Ms. Horvath in the high school to see where we go with this,” said Mr. Cronsiter, “So I don’t see any decisions being made quickly.” Regardless, Mr. Cronister said he remains hopeful of the possibility of a return of service learning within the high school’s hybrid model. He is working with the Upper School deans to slowly reintroduce service projects back into the schedule, but details have yet to be finalized.

Some service-minded students at Latin have found creative ways to volunteer despite challenges posed by COVID. Sophomore Ellie Baker participates in a program through her church where she makes sandwiches every Tuesday to help combat food insecurity. This activity is COVID-friendly because she makes the sandwiches at home and drops them at church.

Other students volunteer online. Sophomore Daniel Braun tutors online, and junior Sam Gibson leads online workouts with Kids Enjoy Exercise Now (KEEN). Sophomore Alice Mihas, who also volunteers at KEEN, said, “I participated in a KEEN Zoom where we did exercise with kids over Zoom. It was very different from my previous experience with KEEN, but still fun all the same.”

Like Mihas, sophomore William Bremen continued to volunteer virtually with an organization he had been working with before the pandemic. “This year, I’m volunteering at my temple’s religious school on Sunday mornings, which is online,” Bremen explained. “I attended as a kid and have been assisting teachers in the classroom since last year.”

Latin students can also find inspiration from other Chicago schools on how to serve. Walter Payton College Prep’s Connecting Chicago program has gained traction in recent months and matches dozens of high school-age volunteers with youths in need of academic assistance. Connecting Chicago was born from the need created by the pandemic to match teenage volunteers with opportunities for service. One of the organization’s founders, Lucy Gold, a junior at Walter Payton, explained the organization’s mission: “Connecting Chicago was founded in March of 2020, and we are very proud that it has grown to be tutoring over 250 kids in over three languages and can accommodate IEPs.” The program will be running a winter session in the coming months.

There are still many students struggling to find service opportunities; please click on this link to share the ways you are finding to volunteer, and The Forum will publish them this Holiday season to encourage and motivate others.