Source: Simply Buckhead magazine
In the lazy days of summers past, sleep-away camps and beach vacations constituted a satisfying break for most kids.
But no more. Today’s students are motivated, charity-minded and just as likely to spend a break working to better their world as they are working on their tans. Whether your student is a locavore-minded gardening fiend or a college-bound junior anxious to try out an area of interest, Atlanta charities and organizations offer countless ways for them to share their gifts and make a difference.
Emily Isenstein, a senior at Woodward Academy, has been volunteering with the therapeutic riding program at Buckhead’s Chastain Horse Park since she was 14, though she has been riding at Chastain since she was 7. “I always told myself that once I was old enough, I would go back and volunteer because I feel so grateful to own my own horse,” she says. “I want to give back as much as I can.”
Driven by her love of horses and her desire to help others, Isenstein works with children ages 4 to 10 who have autism, cerebral palsy, muscular dystrophy, Down Syndrome and other developmental disabilities, helping them experience the pleasure and connection of horseback riding. As a volunteer, Isenstein helps exercise, groom and tack up the horses. During the children’s lessons, she assists the head instructor in leading the horse or walking alongside the riders.
Isenstein has been especially delighted by the change she can see in the children when they mount a horse. “Most of them absolutely love it,” she says. “Even kids who are nonverbal; you can see the smiles on their faces, especially trotting.”
But the benefits haven’t been just for the children she has assisted. Isenstein has also discovered an interest in neuroscience, which she hopes to study in college. “In part because of all of the work that I’ve done at Chastain with the kids with developmental disabilities,” Isenstein says. “It’s gotten me really interested in it.”
As Isenstein explains, “A lot of it has to do with the progress that I’ve seen these kids make. I’ve seen them get stronger, more responsive. Something as simple as sitting on a horse—it just really intrigued me on how that could affect the brain, the inner workings of a human, and how it could really affect them. I’d love to find out.”
There are a host of opportunities for kids to volunteer at local charities and organizations, according to Atlanta’s volunteer resource Hands On Atlanta, which can provide additional information about all opportunities. Some of our favorites:
• Atlanta Community Food Bank Food for Thought
The Atlanta Community Food Bank fights hunger by engaging, educating and empowering the community. Volunteers ages 8 and up are needed to sort, inspect and pack donated food, beverages and health products in the Food Bank’s Product Rescue Center.
• Books for Africa
Books For Africa in Smyrna is dedicated to collecting and shipping quality new and used books for use in areas of Africa in need of books. Volunteers ages 12 and up are needed to organize and sort books.
• Chastain Horse Park
The horse park’s therapeutic riding program offers a great opportunity for kids, even those who don’t consider themselves horse people, to do something positive to help developmentally challenged riders. Volunteers must be at least 14 years old; they’ll help with leading horses and assisting riders during activities, therapies and riding.
• Chastain Memorial Park
Conservancy Kids ages 8 to 15 with adult supervision (and kids 16 and older without) can help the Chastain Memorial Park Conservancy restore, maintain and enhance sections of Atlanta’s largest park, which spans more than 260 acres. Volunteers clear overgrowth, spread mulch, plant trees and perform general park cleanup.
• Dunwoody Nature Center
Dunwoody Nature Center is working to return its 22-acre nature preserve to its original state with native plantings so that it can be used as a natural classroom for environmental education. Volunteers ages 8 and up are invited to help remove non-native and invasive plants, thus allowing the reintroduction of native plants to the wetlands and forest trails. Volunteers help with grounds maintenance: pruning limbs, hauling debris, picking up litter and spreading woodchip mulch along the nature trails.
• Global Soap Project Warehouse Team
The Global Soap Project in Norcross recovers and recycles soap from American hotels and facilitates a process by which the soap is sanitized and remolded into new bars, then distributed to vulnerable populations worldwide. Volunteers ages 12 and up are needed to perform tasks such as sort the soap donations from hotels, take inventory, put soap in boxes and move boxes to a storage area of the warehouse.
• Nursecare of Buckhead
Nursecare of Buckhead in Northwest Atlanta is in need of volunteers who can spend one evening a month helping lead Bingo. Volunteers ages 14 and older play alongside the residents from June 26 to September 25.
• Piedmont Park Conservancy Clean & Green Makeover
This great opportunity for younger children ages 5 and up allows kids to enhance and preserve Piedmont Park as a vital urban green space by working on weekly maintenance and operational projects with Piedmont Park Conservancy. Daily projects may vary from watering trees and shrubs to seasonal planting to mulching.
• Reece Center for Handicapped Horsemanship
The Reece Center for Handicapped Horsemanship in Palmetto provides people with disabilities the opportunity to enhance their lives through equine-oriented activities. Volunteers help with horses, clean up the barn and walk alongside the children/adults during their riding classes. Training is provided for volunteers ages 16 and up.
• Sunrise Senior Living at Buckhead
Sunrise volunteers, who must be at least 16 years old with adult supervision, help in providing both small and large group activities as well as engaging in one-on-one time with residents. Volunteer opportunities are available weekdays and weekends.