To volunteer or not to volunteer? ACS Athens Summer Youth Camp

Annie Constantinides, Director of Athletics, Summer Camp & Recreational Programs, ACS Athens
Ethos Magazine, Winter 2013, Vol 8, Issue 1

Students getting involved
At ACS Athens, civic responsibility in an integral part of the holistic education provided to our students; it is a firm belief that by “serving” others and the community, one develops values and beliefs that are far beyond the self-centered world of today.
Our students have many opportunities to get involved in community service projects; from the Elementary school, to the Middle School and through the High school years, students can reach out and “give a helping hand”.
If one searches dictionaries for definitions of “volunteer”, a few words clearly stand out: “gives”, “own time”, “for free”, “to help”.  It is these concepts that we, at ACS Athens, try to instill in our students so that they become a part of their lives.
Over the past years, the ACS Athens Summer Youth Camp is an endeavor that has grown to be a significant and large operation.  For four weeks, after the academic year is over, our school grounds are full of life once again.  Young children aged 4-14 join us to experience fun and a variety of learning activities.  The majority of these youngsters come to us from the greater Athens community area and are new to the ACS Athens culture. We believe that this forum is an excellent opportunity for our High School students to get involved in a meaningful way.
The ACS Athens Summer Youth Camp is quick in duration; this is one of the main reasons why the volunteers are very important!  The needs of the camp are many and our High School students have the maturity, “know-how” and the “culture” to cater to the needs of the young children attending!
The duties of the volunteers vary and some are even “tailor-made” to the desires of the volunteers themselves; this is why the volunteer positions are available by application and the applicants are given choices in regards to where they want to “serve”.   For almost every activity offered to the young participants in the daily summer camp program, a volunteer position exists; and more.  Volunteers are chosen not only by their preference, but based on their strengths as well; for example, students may be placed in our sports activities (varsity soccer players, swimmers , tennis, basketball players), or our computer classes (students who are computer literate and want to help in technology projects), or our art classes (students involved in our school art programs), or our English classes (students wanting to help young kids learn the language) or even as administrative assistants in the office since they want to be involved in different facets of the daily operations!
One of the “unique” and most difficult volunteer jobs of the camp is that of a “group leader”; a group leader is in charge of 15 youngsters (6-8 years of age) and they are responsible in directing those kids through the day.  They escort them to their activities, they assist the teachers as needed, they have lunch with their group members and in simple terms, they are their “big brother” or “big sister”.  They are the first ones that the children turn to for any reason! These volunteers, after a short training session, have the opportunity to interact with these youngsters and have an active role in their daily activities.
For some of our volunteers, this experience is demanding, exhausting and, simply, an “eye opener”.  The fact, however, is that for most of the group leaders, this experience was REWARDING.  Here’s what some of the leaders have said, after reflecting on their experiences.

Irene Ignatiadi (Grade 12th):
As a full IB student, I chose to volunteer in the Summer Camp of ACS Athens in order to collect my CAS hours. In the beginning, I thought I would soon be tired, but then it became a wonderful experience which helped me realize my abilities and explore myself even more. I had to take care of fourteen beautiful six-year-old girls, who sometimes drove me crazy, but after a while I loved them and they gave me beautiful memories to remember. They showed me how patient and how responsible I can be since I had to escort them in each activity, to help them get dressed after swimming, and be with them while they were eating their lunch. The way they were enjoying each moment and the enthusiasm that they had made me feel really lucky to be with them. They were so spontaneous and full of energy that they made me feel the same way! I felt like I was a part of their team since after a while we became very close to each other.

The most interesting part was when all of us felt comfortable to communicate with each other. Then, it was the time that they started asking questions about everything, even for things that I would have taken for granted. One of the girls asked me if I am married and if I have kids! They used to call me “Miss” but they would talk to me as I was one of them. Some of them did not speak English and I had to do the translation for them. They were looking at the teacher who was talking and they were wondering what his words meant. It was so funny! They were full of life and energy and that is what I loved the most. I was with them for two weeks and that time was enough for all of us to learn from each other. At the end, I gave them some bracelets that I made with the name of our team on them. I just wanted to make sure that they would remember these days as I will!  It was a wonderful experience that I will never forget!

Dionisis Arvanitis (Grade 12):
This year’s summer youth camp at ACS was a new experience for me. The reason I decided to volunteer in this camp was not for CAS hours like some of the IB students did; I decided to volunteer because it was a great opportunity for me to work and cooperate with my classmates on a non-academic level through leading the younger kids and trying to add a step to their education. Moreover, it was an opportunity to give something back to my school community.
From the first day of the summer camp I had a really great time with many lifetime experiences. The connection between my team and me was astonishing. My 5-6 year old little girls were joyful, ready to spend each day as best as they could.  We spent four weeks together playing and laughing all together during the activities or during the snack and lunch time. However, we  had some small disagreements as well, especially when I was trying to convince my lovely girls to swim. Beyond these facts, I could say that there was great effort from both my team and myself.
After some reflection over the last few months, I would like to say that this experience for me was more than a few pleasant moments. I explored my limits; I explored my strengths and my weaknesses on leading and controlling a team. Throughout these four weeks I explored my leadership skills and I also learned a lot. I had the responsibility to show those little girls the good traits and characteristics that will make them good human beings in the future. I had to get their attention and earn their respect in order to have good results at the end. It was not easy for anyone!
To sum up, volunteering in the summer camp gave me the opportunity to make new friendships, collaborate with people in a different setting, and develop my leadership skills. I consider this experience as one of the best in my life. I enjoyed the girls’ small happy faces and I really miss them. I think the girls enjoyed those four weeks as much as I did and I hope to see them again next year!