By Hannah Davis
Throughout the years, I’ve envisioned a life dedicated to foreign service in some remote African village. My plans were to foster a community and empower those people by building relationships to further improve the local society. Somehow that dream was sidelined by responsibilities of adult life as I settled in Pottstown, married, and surrendered to the status quo. Until recently my calling remained unfulfilled. I decided my dream did not need to be entirely abandoned, just slightly readjusted to reflect my present reality. Assuming this outlook, I investigated volunteer alternatives in “my own backyard”.
Immediately, The Ricketts Center, a mainstay in Pottstown history, entered my mind. The Center has serviced the region as a recreation center, community hub, and recently as an extension of the Olivet Boys & Girls Club. Interested in working with at-risk youth, this prospect would certainly provide me insights into the wider community and offer me a chance to help children.
Balancing my passion for volunteering and need for financially lucrative employment, I dedicate two, partial days at the Ricketts Center. One of which, I plan an organized crafting project using basic materials from the sparse reserve of art supplies. The kids enthusiastically anticipate the chance to express their own, unique creativity as we undertake a fun-filled “crafternoon”. Some of the projects completed by the kids included tissue-paper ocean scenes, paper bowl sea turtles decorated with dried lentils and beans, construction paper Panamanian molas, simple fondue-style smores, and folded paper animals. The Unit Director, Ms. Jan Burgess, is receptive to all forms of creative expression, individuals who wish to share their artistic ability with a group of kids, and/or supply donations for use in future art and craft programming.
The second day, I fill in wherever needed. Through humble service, I attempt to connect with each child on their level, whether on the basketball court (where I, tirelessly, struggle to keep up with the kids skill and speed) or just enjoying one another’s company over a game of ping-pong. Of course, during the school year, these activities are only partaken of after the completion of “Power Hour”. “Power Hour” refers to the hour-long segment of time in which students take advantage of homework assistance, play educational group games, or read a book. Ms. Hettie Webb orchestrates this block of time, in addition to administering an after school snack.
The staff, along with myself, continuously, attempt to provide fresh opportunities for the children. Ms Jan seeks an atmosphere where a full gamut of talents and gifts can be recognized and cultivated thus. Historically, the Ricketts Center has been a nucleus for athletic endeavors. Mr. Rob Fields and Mr. Paul Winterbottom are mentors in the gymnasium and weight room arenas hence, continuing the Center’s longstanding legacy of physical fitness.
Hoping to expand the children’s experiences, we planted sunflower seeds as a homage to Earth Day this past April. We then watched them grow on the windowsill. Quickly they morphed into spindly seedlings which the after-school group planted on the west- side of the building. If you drive by the building, today, you can catch a glimpse of our thriving, sunflower garden. Like the children served by the Ricketts Center, these small seedlings, when given the proper nurturing and growing medium, have flourished into strong, healthy plants that exhibit impending signs of blossoming.
Our most recent activity, albeit late in the season, has been the construction of a wooden, raised-garden bed. Barry Strogus, the owner of Strogus Flower Shop, generously provided tomato, pepper, and basil plants which a small group of children planted in mid- July. The small garden will hopefully yield fruits of their labor from which the children can sample. If not, the experience provides an applied science lesson.
My experiences at the Ricketts Center have developed positive relationships with the children. Each day expands my understanding and allows me to better my mentoring so that our community’s future generation can become productive and functional citizens. I am encouraging these kids to see their own talents and abilities, thus creating a supportive atmosphere for self- actualization. I believe each individual has a purpose and inherent worth, regardless of socioeconomic status, ethnicity, age, or academic standing, In fact, those who face multiple challenges, often possess unique insights from the rest of us.
Indeed, this has been the case. In just a few months, I have begun to assess my own dreams, as I seek to promote the hopes of these children. Already, I have become a more engaged citizen, meeting a plethora of community members who actively strive towards a brighter future for Pottstown and its populace. All I had to do was take that initial step and put myself out there. And, in turn my efforts have been rewarded threefold.
If you have been thinking about volunteering or just becoming a more civic-minded individual, why not take yourself to task? You may find something that you were not anticipating or challenge yourself to grow, just as I have done. Volunteering does not necessarily have to be a regimented agenda. Individuals can donate their talents and time when most convenient and there are so many organizations to choose from. If you always seem to be short of time, consider donating an idea, an evening, money, or needed materials to an organization such as the Ricketts Center or one of many other local Pottstown non-profits who unrelentingly dedicate themselves to restoring our town—one life at a time.