A different kind of after-school activity
After school, 13-year-old Gavin Wendel heads over to the Shakopee Community Center and pulls his blue badge around his neck. It has his photo and name and looks much like the identification badges Community Center staff wear. But in large white letters, it reads: Volunteer.
“I wear it pretty much every day that I’m here,” Gavin says.
For the last two years, the Shakopee eighth grader has lent a hand to the staff members at the Community Center. It only seemed right for the Parks and Recreation Department to give him an official volunteer badge earlier this year.
"He’s just a neat kid,” says Program and Services Manager Sherry Dvorak. “He’s helpful, clever and all of us enjoy having him around during the afternoons.”
Gavin has experience all around the Community Center. He’s especially helpful when the building shuts down in the evening. “I’ll walk around with a building supervisor. I’ll work on closing up one part, and they’ll work on the other,” he explains. Closing duties include cleaning off exercise equipment, shutting off televisions and getting the facility prepped for the next day.
But Gavin doesn’t just do grunt work. He helps behind the counter at the Enigma Teen Center, interacts with members and even helps during special events. “I helped with the Easter Egg Hunt in April,” he said. “It was a fun event, and it’s cool to help others.”
Gavin makes volunteering part of his daily schedule. “What else would I do during the week? I get my homework done at school. During the weekdays, the other kids work on their homework or play video games. I come here.”
While it might seem like the Community Center is getting the better deal out of this partnership, Gavin is gaining some real-world experience. The teen, who dreams of becoming a dermatologist or nurse, is learning the importance of customer service from staff members who specialize in it.
“The workers here are really nice. They always help other people, and they’re always willing to offer opportunities to teach people,” he says. “If you are going to be a doctor, you need to know how to interact with other people, and I’ve definitely learned those skills here.”
This story originally appeared in the Summer 2019 Hometown Messenger.