Student Volunteerism Program Teaching Empathy, Making Lives Better

Local students earn community service hours for school at the Joe LeBlanc Food Pantry. Minden High teacher John Dillon believes volunteerism is one of the most important acts society can introduce to young people.

By Josh Beavers

A Minden teacher believes volunteerism is one of the most important acts society can introduce to young people.

John Dillon, who has taught English at Minden High School since 2006, maintains empathy (the ability to understand and share the feelings of another) is one of the most important skills a person can possess. “And I don’t think you can be a very good citizen without it, either,” he told The Journal during an interview last week. “If schools are supposed to teach kids from adolescence to adulthood, I say teaching empathy, especially through direct volunteerism, is a good place to start.”

As such, Dillon requires public service hours from every student who enrolls in his English honors classes. Combined with the same requirement from Karen Greer, MHS English I honors teacher, Minden honors English students will have a total of at least 50 volunteer hours upon earning their diploma.

Jessica Lewis, director of the Joe LeBlanc Food Pantry, says organizations such as the one she represents benefit from school initiatives that place an emphasis on student community service.

“Our two greatest needs are getting the bags packed and then distribution day,” she told The Journal as she prepared for last week’s “Students’ Day.”

“We were receiving so many phone calls from area students that have been required to obtain volunteer hours over their Summer Break that it only made sense to let them all come in at one time and knock them out,” she continued. “We’ve had kids from Glenbrook, Minden High, Lakeside and even Calvary in Shreveport come serve with us.”

She said it was exciting to see teachers making volunteerism a priority. “We hope that when kids come and have fun while serving that they continue to want to do it even when it isn’t being required of them,” she told us. “In my opinion, there is such a great opportunity in teaching these kids about how they can connect and give back to their communities. Hopefully it sparks something inside of them that continues on into adulthood.”

“We’ve had quite a few kids working already this summer, and in every single one of them I have seen an eagerness to help and great attitudes,” she added.

And it is a positive attitude that she hopes continues as kids become adults. The need to help the less fortunate is unending.

“There are so many ways you can get plugged in and help out at the pantry all the way from coming and serving in person to connecting your Amazon Smile account to the pantry where a portion of every purchase you make gets donated to us,” she said. “Our greatest needs are finances and volunteers.”

Joe LeBlanc distribution day is always the third Saturday of each month and volunteers are needed “so badly to make sure every little part goes off without a hitch.”

To volunteer, all you need to do is show up at about 8:45 a.m. at 814 Constable Street. The next distribution is this Saturday, July 17th. “To find out about all of the other ways you can get involved just follow us on Facebook,” Lewis said. “When there is a need we post it there.”

Dillon’s program is tied to a traditional summer reading assignment; however, he said he wanted to make a greater impact on students than just reading and writing over the break.

“I want students to learn that there are a lot of gaps in Minden and Webster Parish,” he told us. “I have honors students from every socioeconomic segment. If volunteering makes the more privileged kids even better young people (because they end up with a broader understanding of helping their fellows) and consequently having a more mature view of how lucky they are to have what they have, then that’s what we’ll do.”

And as for the honors kids who aren’t as privileged? “I think [they] appreciate the fact that their teacher places as much emphasis on the Golden Rule as he does on essays and Shakespeare,” Dillon said.

To parents, Dillon admits of traditional summer reading assignments: “who cares if those kids read a couple extra books over the summer?”

“But if they volunteer at a soup kitchen, a pregnancy crisis center, vacation Bible school, a camp for physically disabled children, etc. That matters,” he wants parents to know. “So the next time you want to brag on your kid, make sure it’s something that really has enough human value to make the bragging worth it. We have a bad habit of rewarding any kid who can hit a baseball or catch a football, but we tend to ignore kids who play checkers with the old folks at the nursing home. Teach that to the kids. Then brag all you want when they do something to help others. They’ll deserve it.”

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