by Timothy Chipp
Niagara Gazette — The Community Mission of Niagara on Buffalo Avenue is a little brighter this Thanksgiving, thanks in part to a group of Niagara Falls High School students and their friends at Harry F. Abate school.
Once again, HOLA – Helping Other Learners to Achieve – brought decorated place mats to the tables of the homeless shelter just in time for its Thanksgiving meals.
They did it because they want to make a difference in the community and to brighten the faces of those around them.
"I like seeing the smiles on people's faces," Craisuanda Paige.
"It makes me notice what we have and take for granted," Mike Bartlett said. "And just my time can make a difference in someone's life, a complete stranger."
Both Paige and Bartlett, seniors at the high school, have been anxious to help with the place mats and were beaming with pride dropping the items off.
The group of high school students work with the district's elementary schools throughout the district – in the case of the place mats, they worked with Harry F. Abate students – helping them learn Spanish. They basically become student teachers in the elementary schools, according to Jill Wagner, the group's advisor/teacher.
"It's kind of like a college class and that's how I run it," Wagner said. "For the first 10 weeks, I teach them how to teach elementary children. Then we do some mock teaching in the classroom, where the students have to make lessons and work them out. And once a week, we take them into the classrooms to work with the younger students."
Wagner said the program offers participants the opportunity to figure out if teaching is really something they wish to pursue once they get into the college setting.
"If they find out they don't want to do it early enough, they don't have to spend all that money and time doing something just to find out they don't like it," she said.
Back at the Community Mission, the 11 students finished distributing the place mats and began cleaning up in the dining area. Bartlett helped take out some of the trash from Wednesday's meal and a few of the others were putting up chairs for the afternoon.
It's common activities like this mission volunteers offer to ensure the homeless shelter survives even night-to-night.
"The reality of the situation is there's need here in Niagara Falls," Mission Public Relations Manager Katie Trombley said. "But giving just an hour is extremely important to these people. You don't know if it's your neighbor who's going to the mission for food. These students might have classmates who are eating meals here. So to see young adults care, when they could be worried about any other thing, is great."
The enthusiasm of the students at the mission was noticeable. Many of them said they chose to do this, since the grades for their class came from attendance.
So this volunteering stuff is exactly what they want to do and, to many of them, exactly where they want to do it.
"I think this needs to happen more throughout the community," Paige said. "I think people should come out here and volunteer more. If they saw what it's like here, it might change their views."