5 Triangle Teens Share Talents, Time Helping Others


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Some teens may look forward to the end of the school year so they can sleep in and spend time with their friends. But many community-minded students take advantage of any spare time to roll up their sleeves and dive into volunteer opportunities around the area. They learn valuable skills that will help them in college and beyond — and having a great time while doing it.

Meet five Triangle teens who have found their volunteering niche and discover why the enjoy spending hours helping others.

Helping when and where it's needed

Green Hope High School senior Kristen Chung (pictured above) has been a member of the Cary Teen Council for more than five years, since she read a brochure about the program in seventh grade.

"We're at a lot of events," Kristen explains. "Organizers will come to us and say they need teens who can help out. You might see us at elementary carnivals, PTA events, the Easter egg hunt, Breakfast with the Bunny — that kind of thing."

The Cary Teen Council hosts its own events, too, such as a pediatric cancer research fundraiser during which they filled the Herbert C. Young Community Center gym with inflatables and charged families $4 per person to play. "We have a lot of teens come forward and start their own projects, like adopting a grandparent to do things with, or hot dog fundraisers, or anything they're interested in," Kristen says.

The Council is made up of 700-plus Cary area teens who meet monthly to talk about how they can fill community needs. Kristen spends about 15 hours a year attending meetings and an additional 150 hours a year helping out with program activities, which take place nearly every weekend.

Her advice for someone hoping to follow in her footsteps: "Find an organization you feel a part of," she says. "You should really feel excited about doing it. For a lot of people, community service has a negative connotation, but I've found it's a great way to help out your community and make friends, too."

Thomas Benson, Kramden Institute, DurhamPutting technical skills to work for others

The Kramden Institute in Durham provides refurbished computers and peripherals to economically disadvantaged students in the area. Durham teen Thomas Benson began working at Kramden Institute two years ago to fulfill a community citizenship goal in Boy Scouts.

"I had to do eight hours of community service for that," he says. Thomas, now 14, volunteers there one evening a week for four hours.

Initially, Thomas was trained to dismantle donated PCs, removing the RAM, processors and mother-board. The Institute would resell these parts to generate income.

"I'm a hands-on kind of guy, so that was fun work for me," he says.

Later, Thomas moved to the warehouse, helping organize incoming and outgoing shipments and filling orders for current projects. He also participates in monthly events. "That's when we give computers to local kids," he says. "Sometimes they have big, all-day events. I did one in Fort Bragg recently, giving away computers to soldiers' families in need."

Thomas says anyone who is thinking about volunteering shouldn't hesitate. "Anybody can do it," he says. "The staff is great, and you learn how to do things very quickly."

Brie Charles, Durham Family Theatre, DurhamOffering show-stopping service to young actors

For Brie Charles, a 16-year-old with a passion for acting, volunteering at the Durham Family Theatre was a natural fit. This actress has 20 productions under her belt. She loves being around the theater and helping others discover it, too.

Last summer, Brie helped kids ages 4-10 learn to perform live. "I helped them memorize their lines and work on their blocking, which is your movement across the stage," she says. "I ended up being in the production, too, filling a small character role that was needed."

Brie volunteers long hours over the summer — usually 8 a.m. to 3 p.m. — but she loves and recommends this type of volunteer work to anyone interested in theater.

"If you approach the director of a local theater, you might think they're going to say no, but usually they really need the help, especially if they're working with young kids," she says. "Just tell them you're interested in acting and see where it goes. It's definitely worth the try."

Brie sees long-term benefits to her volunteer work. "College is coming up so fast, and this has helped me see I really want a career that has to do with acting," she says. "I've really realized how much I like directing, and also working with young children."

Loving and helping homeless animalsAnnie Bocko, Orange County Animal Shelter, Chapel Hill

When 14-year-old Annie Bocko's mom suggested volunteer work, Annie knew exactly what she wanted: something with animals. Together, she and her mom, Jane Anderson, have volunteered at the Orange County Animal Shelter for a year-and-a-half.

"I do most of the stuff, and she supervises and helps me out," Annie says. After an initial training period, the mother-daughter team began volunteering once a week, usually on Fridays or Saturdays, for two or more hours.

"I'll walk the dogs and play with the cats," Annie says. "We're also trained to do meet-and-greets, and I like doing those."

A meet-and-greet is when prospective adopters select a dog or cat they'd like to meet. Annie shows visitors to a special room, then bring in an animal to see whether the visitors would like to adopt it.

When asked if she's tempted to bring animals home, Annie says, "Sometimes I do get attached. But the animals usually get adopted pretty fast. Besides, we have enough pets at home already!"

Annie says this type of volunteering is work, so potential volunteers should be prepared. "You're always doing something," she says. "And some of the huge dogs are hard to control on walks."

But Annie is up for the task. She hopes to be a veterinarian in the future, so she knows she's getting valuable hands-on experience. "Plus," she adds wisely, "it'll look good on my college application."

Zaiesha Faison, North Carolina Museum of Natural Sciences, Raleigh  Photo by Chichi ZhuMaking new discoveries through volunteer work

When the North Carolina Museum of Natural Sciences opened its new wing last spring, they needed "Junior Volunteers" to help visitors explore the exhibits. Zaiesha Faison, a sophomore at Athens Drive High School in Raleigh, stepped up. (Photo of Faison at the North Carolina Museum of Natural Sciences by Chichi Zhu.)

"When they built the new wing I went in and they had flyers talking about the volunteer program," she says. "I thought it was perfect for me since I love science."

As a Junior Volunteer, Zaiesha talks with visitors who come through the new wing. "We have to find information about the exhibits," she explains. "If I'm going to be on the second floor, I'll look at the

exhibits there, get the information about them there, then go on the computer when we get home and find out even more stuff so I'm very prepared."

For Zaiesha, the extra effort is well worth it. "The other day, I went up to a floor I hadn't been on yet, and every time I go somewhere new I find out something different to learn about," she says.

Zaiesha spends about two hours twice a month volunteering at the museum and extra time at home researching.

Her advice to anyone hoping to volunteer at the museum: "Definitely come down and try it," she says. "If you want to know more about science, you can learn things while you're volunteering."

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