Since February of 2016, Green Acres Middle School students who participate in The PULSE Afterschool Program have been volunteering their time once a week to feed the homeless at the Visalia Rescue Mission. This community service has been part of a leadership project initiated by their participation in the 5th Annual Tulare County Step Up Youth Challenge. The Youth Challenge, which is sponsored by the Tulare County Board of Supervisors, is a community initiative that calls for middle and high school students to create and implement projects that have a positive impact on their local school and community. The Green Acres PULSE Leadership students, led by their after school coach, Monica Alvarez, helped cook, clean, and serve meals to the patrons. While this was an activity for the students to give of their time helping those in need, students also experienced the opportunity to learn more about the stories of those who are homeless in our community.
“I always thought that homeless people were bad or weird, but I learned that many of them are regular people who lost a job or just had something bad happen in their life that caused them to be homeless,” shared one of the PULSE Leadership students of her experience at the Visalia Rescue Mission. “I now feel really different about them and want to continue to help.” Another student spoke of his experience by sharing, “The saddest thing was seeing other kids there that were homeless too. It makes me appreciate what I have.”
In addition to their time at the Visalia Rescue Mission, the PULSE Leadership students also volunteered at the Visalia Emergency Aid Council (VEAC) and FoodLink, who package and donate items to the Rescue Mission.
“This program is taking the initiative to provide our middle school students with real-world experiences that allow them to foster compassion and empathy for those less fortunate in our community. For these students, who spend much of their time on their smartphones texting friends, listening to music, or playing video games, to be brave and selfless enough to give of their free time and help those in need says a lot of what their potential is,” states Frank Escobar, Program Manager of After School Programs at Visalia Unified School District.
As a result of the Green Acres PULSE Leadership Team’s efforts, they were awarded first place in the Community Collaboration category at the Tulare County Step Up Youth Challenge Awards that was held at the LJ Williams Theatre this past Monday, May 2, 2016. The students received medals, a trophy, and a check for $2,500 to support continued projects in the following school year. Additionally, these students will be recognized at the upcoming Visalia Unified School District Board meeting on Tuesday, May 10, at 7:00 p.m.
The PULSE Leadership Club still has two more visits scheduled to the Visalia Rescue Mission this school year. Several of the students have expressed interest in continuing to volunteer their time at the mission after school is out this summer as well.