For hours 14-year-old Ethan Pinder stood, diligently arranging grocery items in a seemingly unending line of brown paper bags.
He wasn’t tipped a dollar as a bag boy would in a supermarket. Instead he received a greater reward – thinking of the world outside of himself, something experts say lays the foundation for compassion and engagement.
“I decided to volunteer Saturday because I realized not everyone is as fortunate as me and can do the things I can do, like go the store and pick up what I want,” said the C.I. Gibson tenth grader.
“Some people are more dependent on others to help them out. I figured if God blessed me to be able to go to the store, I should be able to go out and bless others.”
The Governor General’s Youth Award (GGYA) arranged for 24 of its participants from five schools and two youth organizations to lend a hand at the Bahamas Feeding Network and the Red Cross, over the weekend in commemoration of International Volunteers Day, observed in 80 countries on December 5, for the past six years.
Tweeting about the day’s importance the United Nations’ Twitter handle read, “Volunteering provides opportunities for people to play a constructive role in their communities [and] to feel connected with others through a shared sense of purpose.”
For Pinder, who is also a member of the Boys Brigade 23rd Company, this wasn’t his first time helping someone else. On November 28, his Boys Brigade Unit helped create a garden at St Barnabas Anglican Church.
Kimeko Greene was by his side both weekends.
“It feels good helping out. It feels good to see faces my age instead of just laying down in my room doing school all day,” said the 16-year-old, R.M. Bailey student. “You can’t take for granted what you have since many persons don’t have enough.”
When so much is out of their control, the act of volunteering puts some power back in the hands of young people.
“This year hasn’t been what I hoped. It’s been really stressful in some ways but I’m making the best of it. Homeschooling is not the same as in person instructions. When I’m in school, I learn more. I’m engaged more. At home I feel as if I’m slacking off a bit. Even when I try not to it still feels that way sometimes,” said twelfth grader, Gabrielle Fox.
“Being out here today at the Red Cross, even though I am still wearing a mask, it almost feels like I can finally take a breath of fresh air. Even though we have these restrictions it feels good to be around people, helping others.”
The bulk of GGYA’s participants were deployed to the Bahamas Red Cross headquarters on John F Kennedy Drive to assist with the organization’s Volunteers’ Appreciation Day, thanking individuals who work tirelessly throughout the year.
GGYA participants directed traffic, helped with registration and assisted with the set-up and post clean-up for the event. They also distributed plates of food and assisted with pinning and presenting gift bags to Red Cross volunteers. Later, they helped pack food supplies for those in need.
With the normal rhythm of their life very much disrupted, the community service presented the perfect opportunity to occupy and engage young people who might otherwise feel stuck.
“This is a new environment for me. I haven’t been out of the house since March, so this is fun and engaging,” said 15-year-old Kiara Christie, as she directed cars into the Red Cross parking lot. “I’m getting a lot of fresh air and I’m having a good time.”
Temple Christian student, Shante Sifford agreed: “It just feels more productive. Being at home for long periods of time gets boring, so coming out here and doing something productive is fun. It feels like we’re returning to normal.”
For others, adjusting to the new norm still took some getting used to.
“You can’t hug your friends. You can’t stand too close to them or interact too closely. You don’t get the same intimacy you did before COVID-19. Despite all that, I still feel blessed to see my friends and be able to look them in their eyes and see that they really are good, when they say they’re okay,” said Queen’s College twelfth grader, Megan Glasgow.
“I know there are lots of people who don’t have. As someone who is blessed and privileged to have simple things like food, water, a home, and clothes on my back, I’m happy to really give back.”
Fifteen-year-old Nathan Hart, from the Royal Bahamas Defence Force Rangers programme, assumed volunteering would have left little time for peer connections and demanded more physical exertion as it has done in the past when he helped to clean up road verges.
“I thought we would have been more restricted and not be allowed to socialize,” said the C.V. Bethel High eleventh grader. “I was happy to see that wasn’t the case that we were able to have fun while observing social distancing protocols.”
A world-renown mark of achievement, GGYA is the local arm of the Duke of Edinburgh’s Award.
Participants gain a wealth of skills and attributes through the non-competitive programme which promotes the involvement in extracurricular activities focused on community service, physical recreation, skills and outdoor explorations.
Kimeko Greene and Ethan Pinder were among 24 participants of the Governor General’s Youth Award programme who volunteered on Saturday , December 5, at the Bahamas Feeding Network and at the Bahamas Red Cros s in observance of International Volunteers Day.