Helen Gordon is not new to the volunteer world. She’s worked as a volunteer for many years, first at food pantries and then as an advocate for the Domestic Violence Shelter. However, Gordon’s heart has always been for helping children in need.
Some would say it was perfect timing that right around the time Gordan retired 15 years ago the Dewald Community Center of The Salvation Army also opened its doors. Gordon did not hesitate to start volunteering and has been a faithful volunteer ever since.
Located at 47 S. Main St, The Dewald Community Center is home to after school and summer programming for area kids, grades 2 through 6. The center’s programming is designed to provide academic, emotional, social and spiritual growth for participating students and their families.
According to Lisa Gleisner, director of the Dewald Community Center, the center and its programming is a hidden gem to the Mansfield community.
“There is so much opportunity for parents to put their kids in this place (the Dewald Community Center) that’s academically focused and that’s there for the kids,” said Gleisner. “We have such a strong connection with the Mansfield area schools.”
Academic engagement and growth is one of the core focuses for the center. The Dewald Community Center staff works to actively partner with the student’s parents and teachers to provide the academic support needed for each student’s growth and success.
During the school year, participating students come to the Dewald Community Center Monday through Thursday until 5:30 p.m. Students start off with a healthy snack and designated homework time. All students participate in a minimum 20 minute reading time as well before moving on to other activities.
Additional activities range from music, art, computer lab time, sign language, physical education, book club, nutrition education and more.
Gordon noted that many of the kids say that the homework help they receive through the program is one of their favorite parts of the center. For Gordon, her proudest moments are often seeing the excitement in a child’s eyes when they run into the center with their report card to show how well they are doing.
Aside from the natural good feeling she receives from helping kids grow academically throughout the year, Gordon gains more satisfaction from helping the students become honest and respectful people in the world.
“It’s so important that these kids get a good education because quite a lot of them wouldn’t have any help at home. Not only do we teach them to do their homework, we teach them good values.” Gordon continued, “My hope is that those kids will get a good education. That they’ll be good kids, stay out of trouble, stay out of drugs and be able to get a job where they won’t have to live in poverty.”
The Dewald Center’s after school program currently serves 32 students with only 5 staff members and 25 volunteers. This may sound like a lot, but it’s often not enough to provide the consistent help that the students need.
Volunteers have varying schedules where they may only be available for a few hours on various days a week. This flexibility in volunteering is one of the benefits of the Dewald Community Center; however, it does mean that there are often gaps where they may have 32 kids and only 3 people to cover the programming that day.
The lack of volunteers puts a toll on the staff because it requires everyone to “wear multiple hats,” according to Gleisner.
“We don’t have enough volunteers, so on Thursdays, I have to drive the bus,” Gleisner said. “Our staff is so small that we’ve had to divvy it up. The Captains drive the bus two days, my lead teacher drives the bus one day, and I drive the bus the other day. It’s an inconvenience because then I don’t get back until 4 o’clock.”
Despite feeling stretched thin, Gleisner wakes up every morning excited to go to work.
“Not only do the schools thank you, but the parents thank you and the kids give you those hugs and (say) thank you. You go to bed at night and just think, ‘I know I did something right in the eyes of that child,’” said Gleisner.
The Dewald Community Center has an official capacity of 50 children, but to serve that many children year-round Gleisner needs more volunteers.
Gleisner said anyone wanting to volunteer should not be intimidated by the subject matter or worried about being able to help students with their homework. Certified teachers and staff are available for the students as resources and everyone works together as a team.
There are also many other ways that people can volunteer at the Dewald Community Center that does not require knowing today’s math curriculum too! They need individuals to help with transportation, preparing snacks, playing games with the kids or simply sitting and reading to kids (or being read to so they can practice reading).
The Dewald Community Center staff works with volunteers to find the best schedule and role for them based on their availability, skills and interests.
“If somebody can offer three hours a week of their time, we will work with it!” said Gleisner. “We are kind of at the mercy of their schedule. It doesn’t have to be four hours a day, or even three hours at a time. It just depends what works for them.”
To become a volunteer at the Dewald Community Center, contact the center at 419-522-6141 or stop by their location at 47 S. Main St in Mansfield to request an application. All applicants are required to pass a background check (at no cost to the applicant).