The volunteers at the Jackson Hole Children’s Museum who oversee the kids in the after-school program are kids themselves. Or rather, some of them are.
As part of a partnership with Journeys School, three middle-school-age boys assist the adults at the Children’s Museum with the after-school program, and it’s been nothing short of a success.
“We encourage them to model appropriate play and model the play rules we have,” Education Director Hatilie Anderson Lemke said. “Little kids love older kids, so it’s nice to have this model.”
The three boys aren’t the only peer volunteers at the museum. Kids do internships — like a high schooler who enjoys working at the front desk — and help at various events, like the annual Touch-A-Truck event.
Volunteering at the museum is just one option for kids and teens in Jackson Hole. It’s often adults leading the volunteer charge, handing out water during Old Bill’s Fun Run, leading blood drives or cooking at the Elks’ Thanksgiving dinner. But youth volunteering opportunities abound, and lending a hand from an early age can have lasting benefits for the both the kid and the community.
Mark Pommer, faculty adviser of the Key Club at Jackson Hole High School, has witnessed the impact of young volunteers. Pommer also serves as the school psychologist — the two roles are more connected than one might assume.
“I feel like there’s a very logical connection between the goals of a school psychologist in a high school and what activities of service can provide,” Pommer said.
“I believe very, very strongly that service creates or at least facilitates the development of empathy and sympathy and perspective to see there’s a much larger world than the one immediately revolving around you,” he said. “You could immediately do something that impacts someone else’s world.”
The club, which at its height saw 100 student members, pairs teenagers with volunteer opportunities that fit their skills and availability. Like the Children’s Museum, Pommer said a “big hit” is always any child-centric event.
“I’ve found high schoolers really like doing things with younger kids,” he said. “It’s easier for them to be a mentor or lead games and paint faces.”
The group participates in the annual PTO pumpkin sale, the Wilson School Halloween carnival, blood drives, Old Bill’s Fun Run, Salvation Army bell ringing, food drives, coat drives and countless other service events and projects.
Starting service early can lead to a lifetime of participation, Key Club Vice President Juliet Menolascino said. Once someone starts helping out, they tend to stick with it.
“It’s really hard to volunteer and go, ‘I never want to do that again,’” she said.
David Watson takes the family approach with his three children. The family of five volunteers regularly, seeing the time spent giving back as an opportunity to bond. The experience also lends to teaching the kids values and life lessons.
“It’s a great opportunity to be involved in the community and to become more responsible,” Watson said, “and for them to become better people and more caring about the community they live in.”
Both of Watson’s sons are involved in Boy Scouts, so a lot of the family’s volunteer work comes by way of the scouts. From winter bell ringing for the Salvation Army to the town’s spring trash pickup to serving dinner during the Winter Special Olympics, the list of Watson volunteer contributions is long.
Volunteers of all ages are always welcome at the Animal Adoption Center, and it’s a popular choice for the younger set.
“It’s really great for our cats and the communal cat room,” Volunteer Coordinator Virginia Faulkner-Monks said. “[The kids] hang out with cats and socialize with the cats and brush them — it makes for an awesome living environment for the cats.”
With little hands on deck on a regular basis, the cats are more friendly and adjusted to kids, which makes them better adoption candidates, Faulkner-Monks said.
Young volunteer time can be limited by logistics — busy schedule, lack of a drivers’ license, limited skills — but they’re still a valuable contribution to nonprofits. Volunteers at the Adoption Center fold laundry, stuff dog toys with peanut butter (a common treat for pups) and walk the adoptable canines.
“Sometimes it is hard managing kids, but at the same time we’ve been working hard on picking tasks for them that are within their capabilities,” Faulkner-Monks said.