Each year, more than 600 University students volunteer at more than 35 various community settings – dedicating four to six hours every week – combining service with learning through a program called Project Community.
This blending of hands-on volunteering with weekly student-led seminars provides students with an interdisciplinary approach to problem solving through real-life experience. One of the organizations Project Community works with is Ozone House, a nonprofit organization that provides free, confidential and voluntary help for teens in crisis and their families.
Since it opened in 1969, Ozone House has been offering services that are much different from those offered by traditional agencies.
The free counseling, shelter and support help young people who have nowhere else to turn, giving them the confidence, skills, emotional stability and network of support they need in order to develop into healthy and productive adults.
Will Osler, the volunteer coordinator for Ozone House, sais one of the things he finds amazing is to watch young people who originally came seeking help helping other young people. “Kids come seeking services, get their life moving in a positive direction, and then come back to help others in their situation.”
“People don’t realize that teens have that capacity,” Osler added.
LSA sophomore Gina Valo, coordinator for the Ozone House section of Sociology 389, emphasized another significant link between the volunteers and the teens who come seeking services.
“Every now and then you have a chance to talk to someone that you feel a personal connection with,” Valo said. “When that happens, it is one of the most rewarding experiences.”
Valo explained that when she counsels teens on the crisis line, “What’s going on in the moment has to do with past issues that are resurfacing.”
These issues range from homeless kids and pregnant teens – for whom Ozone House helps to find housing, learn life skills and obtain jobs – to young people who have had years of physical, emotional and sexual abuse.
Osler, citing one example almost as a metaphor for numerous other cases, articulated that “most kids want to finish school but need some help.”
Valo, who has been volunteering at the Ozone House for more than 9 months, explained that, “One of the biggest problems teens face is that they don’t really know themselves.”
“When they know themselves, they are less likely to make poor decisions,” Valo said.
Highlighting a central goal of Ozone House – to build deep lasting relationships with young people – Valo recognizes underlying commonalities shared between the volunteers and those that they are counseling.
“Especially as young as I am, I can identify with a lot of these people,” Valo said.
Divergent reasons draw various people to Ozone House. Osler began working as a volunteer on the crisis line and after a year started working as a volunteer coordinator. Ozone House volunteer Robyn Kimmey was attracted due to her profession as a high school teacher and her love of working with kids.
Valo’s inspiration came from a leadership camp four years ago, in which she “learned how important each of my peers are.” At camp, Valo realized her desire to become an inspirational speaker in order to share with others this difficult but important lesson.
“It’s a commitment,” said Valo, who plans to continue working at Ozone House in the future.
Encouraging everyone who has an interest in volunteering at the Ozone house to take advantage of the volunteer opportunities offered, Valo explained that even though it involves a lot of listening and patience, “being a crisis counselor is something that anyone can do.”