Since August, students at Webb Middle School participated in Volunteer Project Leader (VPL) training to learn how to better their community by leading volunteer projects. The group recently finished their first project: raising money for, making and donating warm fleece blankets for kids who need them.
The program, which was adapted from UWCA’s Hands On Central Texas program specifically for Webb’s middle school students, aims to transform casual volunteers into active community leaders by equipping participants with the leadership skills and tools they need to make meaningful and lasting change in their communities. It focuses on providing volunteers with the basics of how to lead projects; how to manage and recruit volunteers; ways to identify needs in the community; adopt existing or create new volunteer projects; and ways to locate and utilize resources.
During their time in the VPL training program, Webb’s seventh grade students performed an exercise that required them to reach out to their teachers, peers and community leaders to identify what the need was in the St. Johns neighborhood. Once this was completed, the exercise turned into much larger projects that focused on addressing those identified needs.
One of the student leaders, Noel Mondragon, worked with his teacher, Mrs. Eckhart, to develop the idea of putting together warm fleece blankets for underprivileged children at orphanages or early childhood centers in the surrounding area.
“Noel was the leader of the project but the whole school really got invested,” said Nikki Krueger, who runs HOCT and the Volunteer Project Leader Training program and is Director of Volunteer Engagement at UWCA. “It’s amazing that these kids, who are disadvantaged, sought out a project that would benefit people who were even less fortunate than themselves.”
To fund the project, students were tasked with raising enough money to buy the fleece for the blankets. Initially, the assistant principal, Valerie Torres-Solis, offered the incentive that the grade that raised the most money would get an out-of-uniform day. In the end, the students raised over $1,000, which was far more than they expected to raise, so she gave everyone a day out of uniform and the eighth graders, who raised the most money, received an additional day.
Students learned that by cutting the edges of two pieces of fleece and tying them together they were able to make all the blankets themselves without needing a teacher to do the sewing. When all the blankets were complete, the students donated them to the Texas Baptist Children’s Home, a haven for children and families in crisis.
“Many of the children in our care, especially those in our emergency shelter, come with nothing but the clothes they are wearing,” said Don Cramer, Vice President of Texas Baptist Children’s Home. “These children have been abused, neglected and in some cases homeless, and they naturally feel that no one cares. The bright-colored, warm blankets communicate that indeed someone does care.”