Youth volunteers lend a hand

Filling a need in the community
2009-12-28T03:00:00Z Youth volunteers lend a handBy Rachel Beck, Gazette-Times reporter Corvallis Gazette Times
December 28, 2009 3:00 am  • 

It was 5:34 p.m. Sunday, and a line of people snaked around a room in First Christian Church. Everyone was waiting for dinner, most unaware that whether they got any partly depended on four teenage girls.

At 5:35 p.m., the kitchen opened and volunteers began dishing out spaghetti, garlic bread and salad. Though the food was a few minutes later than usual, the patrons were nothing but grateful.

"Thank you so much for your service," one man said.

"Thank you, thank you, thank you, thank you," said another. "God bless you ladies."

The servers, who had also had a hand in the cooking, were members of the Youth Volunteer Corps operated by Corvallis Parks and Recreation.

Chrysthanthemum Mattison, an AmeriCorps member, works for Parks and Recreation and organizes the Volunteer Youth Corps during school months. A big part of Mattison's job is finding volunteer opportunities for the kids and she thought working at Stone Soup would be a fun, hands-on activity.

"I had heard some people saying they had come to Stone Soup before and really liked it," she said.

"It also exposes the kids to a reality they don't normally see."

Due to space constraints, only a few volunteers could accompany Mattison to the kitchen.

Alejandra Gonzalez, Charlotte Fisher, Ana Berst and Morgan Engle helped make the food; dished it out to patrons; and eventually cleaned up.

Stone Soup meal coordinator Sue Schulz, known as "Stone Soup" Sue, had the girls busy chopping apples for a homemade cake as soon as they walked into the kitchen.

It was fine for Charlotte, 17.

"I like to bake," she said.

Mattison said the group has done 35 events in the past three months, totalling more than 800 volunteer hours.

That equates to about five people working full-time jobs, she said.

"So, you're adding five more people to the economy," she said.

It's her job to help utilize the "slightly tapped" resource of youth volunteers, a task that one person can't fully complete.

To illustrate her point, she notes that many more kids wanted to volunteer at the kitchen, there just wasn't enough room.

Mattison has about 260 people on her e-mail list; nearly 150 kids have participated in Youth Volunteer Corps activities in the past three months.

Gonzalez is especially dedicated.

The 16-year-old has worked at least 13 events so far this year. In the fall, she told Mattison that she wanted to volunteer at every opportunity.

"I like to help," she said.

Schulz said she thinks volunteering is a good way for young adults to learn about the world.

The kitchen often has volunteers who are Oregon State University students, she said, many of whom start out volunteering to fulfill course requirements. But they find that they like it, and come back to help - even after they've graduated. Plus, the kitchen can use the help.

More people come in for meals when it's cold out, Schulz said. A daytime drop-in center also is located at First Christian Church, and in cold weather people seem to stick close by the building, returning for meals more often than in warm months.

"The holidays don't affect things as much as the weather," she said. "In Corvallis, we have our chronically homeless group that doesn't have anywhere else to be."

None of the teen helpers Sunday were among that group, but they were happy to be at the kitchen that night.

"It's something to do, and it's fun and it's rewarding," said Berst. "I like being involved in my community and knowing what's up in Corvallis."

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