Secret (Community) Service: Embracing the Community Service Pillar

Originally published in the spring edition of The Pillar, Athenian’s student newspaper

by Madeleine Kardek ’17

Whether it’s volunteering at an animal shelter, working at a local church, or putting on a wheel chair basketball game at Athenian sponsoring The Wheelchair Foundation, students at The Athenian School choose countless ways to give back to communities outside of the school. While there are many known community service programs associated with Athenian, several students’ service projects fly under the radar at Athenian. Community service is a unique way for students to explore and pursue their individual passions, while also making a positive impact on surrounding communities.

Charlotte Atkins ’17 learned about her community service project through a field trip that her Native American literature class took to the Intertribal Friendship House in Oakland.

“It is really a great community with really nice people,” Atkins said. “I was drawn to it originally on a field trip.”

The volunteers help prepare food for elders who are often very poor and need basic necessities in order to survive. The work they do not only benefits the elders, but also children, by taking care of them and teaching them how to read.

“I hope I have helped others to have a break from struggles they face in their lives outside of the Intertribal Friendship House,” Atkins said, reflecting upon her experiences and contributions to her service project.

Nia Warren ’16 also shared a personal connection to her community service project. She volunteers for A Better Chance, a nonprofit organization that helps students of color get into independent schools across the country. Warren helps by running the events, speaking to the students, recruiting others and ultimately being the head of the scholar outreach for the student leadership council called Cornerstone.

Warren has had a very close connection with the program for years as she has been involved in not only volunteering for the program, but also being personally affected by the resources it has to offer. She feels a profound sense of gratitude and attachment to the program, because of the positive influence the program has had in her life.

“[A Better Chance] is definitely special to me, because I was helped by the organization to get into Athenian, so it’s my way of giving back,” Warren said of her involvement.

Similarly to Warren and Atkins, Will McCurdy ’17 has a community service project that is close to his heart. He fosters dogs through the organization Animal Rescue Recon, which saves dogs from the shelter before they are put down in hopes of saving their lives and finding new and better homes.

He has been working consistently with this organization fostering dogs for the past year after his own dog’s passing. His love for dogs is evident through his active involvement with the program by opening up his house to stray and abandoned dogs and by refusing to give up on finding a perfect family to adopt his new companion.

“I foster dogs because I lost my dog a year ago and have always loved dogs,” McCurdy said. “This was an easy way to have a dog again, but not make the long term commitment, all while doing a great service for these dogs.”

Sofia Kavanaugh ’17 combines her passion for horseback riding with helping children with disabilities. She volunteers at a therapeutic riding center in Orinda called Xenophon.

Kavanaugh and her fellow volunteers help achieve the children’s individual goals, whether they are physical, communicative, social, or a combination of all three, through horseback riding therapy.

TR-Pic2-310x206@2x

Photo credit: Xenophon Website

“We’ve had kids come who were unable to speak, kids with severe Cerebral Palsy which limited them from walking or even sitting straight, victims of stroke, students anywhere on the Autism spectrum, Down Syndrome, and many other physical, social, and or mental diseases,” Kavanaugh said. “Each of [the children] got to ride horses and work on their goals.”

These goals are made possible through equine-assisted activities in a safe environment where they are aided by volunteers, such as Kavanaugh, and their licensed therapist and occupational therapist on staff. Thanks to this program, children are achieving goals that many imagined impossible.

All these students share their own personal connections and relations to their service projects that are most likely unknown to Athenian. Warren, McCurdy, Kavanaugh and Atkins all express the essentiality of finding a community service project that ignites passion and acts as inspiration for others in the Athenian community to find a project that will do the same.