Building Self-Confidence Through Community Service at PEP
When she first started as a student at PEP Hopewell, Erica wouldn’t speak to anyone. Sometimes she would get so overwhelmed in the classroom she would just get up and walk out. She seemed afraid of being noticed. “Probably her biggest challenge when she started was her self-confidence,” explained Pam Walker, Erica’s teacher.
Walker and her colleague Dennis Weber thought one way to help Erica build confidence might be to give her the opportunity to help other people. For several years the pair has worked together to provide volunteer opportunities for students during school because they have seen the therapeutic benefit of community service at PEP.
“The kids love participating in community service. It allows them to practice working in a group and it makes them feel good to give back,” explained Weber. “I’ll have students tell me, ‘I wasn’t going to come in today, but we are volunteering, so I did.’”
With support from her teachers, Erica started volunteering with her peers at PEP Hopewell a few years ago. Then, she started doing volunteer work outside of school. Over time, she started to come out of her shell. She liked helping others and she was good at it. Volunteering built up her confidence, not just for volunteering, but in all areas of her life. In fact, she recently agreed to be interviewed about her volunteer experience for PEP – by an individual she had never met!
“My favorite was when we went to the nursing home,” she said. “I liked being able to get to know the people and their lives. It feels like building a connection to someone who is lonely.”
Variety of Options for Community Service at PEP Hopewell
Students at PEP Hopewell like Erica have a variety of community-oriented activities that are open to them. Every week Walker and Weber take a group of about 10 students to Trials of Hope, a local nonprofit that provides food and personal items to people in need throughout Cleveland. The students help sort and organize packages to get them ready for delivery.
Walker and Weber also think volunteering helps kids understand that they aren’t alone in their challenges. Erica concurs. She says she likes helping at Trials of Hope because she comes from a family that struggles financially. “I can relate to their hardship,” she says. “I like knowing I am helping them.”
In their own school neighborhood PEP Hopewell has launched the Trash Talkers, a group of students who clean up litter around the school. The students wear uniforms with reflective vests and gloves and use pickers to pick up trash. “They take pride in it,” said Walker. “They say, ‘Look how clean it is!’”
The students also assist with PEP Hopewell’s Market Day, a monthly event in which bags of free produce are available to anyone in the community who stops by the school. The program is made possible by the Greater Cleveland Food Bank and is part of the school’s social-emotional learning program for all grades. Student volunteers learn about following rules, regulating their emotions and acceptable behavior in community settings as part of their volunteer experience.
After years of giving back, Erica has come a long way from the days when she would leave the classroom, overwhelmed by the prospect of speaking. Walker says she is a hard worker and organizes the other kids when they go to Trials of Hope. She is more comfortable speaking up now and, with encouragement from her teachers, even got a job that requires speaking to customers. “Her confidence has really grown,” said Walker. “Her community service work has made a huge difference.”
To learn more about PEP Hopewell or other PEP programs, visit our website. Contact Nicole Molnar, clinical coordinator, at 216-361-7760 ext. 110 or via email to see if a student in your district may be a good fit.
Please note, referrals to PEP’s Day Treatment Centers are made through school districts. Interested parents or caregivers should contact their school administrator.