Kids Helping Kids Create Meaningful Experiences

Students from differing backgrounds share mutually beneficial interactions.

When Fred Abramyan and Trent Benson, seniors at Loyola High School in Los Angeles, signed up to volunteer at Five Acres school in Altadena, both students experienced a new world. Abramyan and Benson selected Five Acres as part of their 85-hour, intensive senior community service project because they wanted to work with kids. After a few days of volunteer work, Abramyan and Benson’s eyes were opened, as they discovered some of the kids were not just attending school, but living in Five Acres’ careto help them recover from painful past experiences.

“I’ve heard about children who have had challenging pasts, but I’ve never had the opportunity to connect with them on a personal level” said Abramyan, 17, of Glendale. “Despite our differing backgrounds, we were able to interact in meaningful ways.”

The special partnership between Loyola High School and Five Acres dates back more than 20 years. This year, 296 seniors from Loyola High School are participating in a three-week, 85-hour community service program at a Southern California agency that services the poor or marginalized.

“I liked being a source of motivation for the kids inside the classroom” said Benson, 18, of Sierra Madre. “The kids wanted to complete their work so that they can interact with us. It’s all a part of our Jesuit philosophy at Loyola, to be men for and with others.”

Grace Kane, a 3rd year teacher at Five Acres’ school teaches the assessment class where Abramyan and Benson volunteered as classroom assistants. In this class, Kane assesses the student’s ability and functioning level, which can range from the 2nd to 8th grade levels.

“This experience is mutually beneficial” said Kane. “Both parties enjoy each other’s company. And to see the kids smile – it’s great for everyone.”

The work that student volunteers do provides a meaningful experience for everyone involved. As classroom assistants, Abramyan and Benson were able to interact in positive ways with children from very different backgrounds and challenging pasts. The children look up to the student volunteers as role models who could provide them with support and encouragement to complete their work. An added benefit is that the children and teens at Five Acres overcome shyness and improve their behavior.

“We enjoy having new faces around for the kids” said Kane. The kids get very involved and ask them for help because they don’t see them as a threat.”

“I liked having them (students from Loyola) here because we shared similar interests, like swimming and video games”said Kevin*, 11, who attends Five Acres’ therapeutic school and lives in one of the cottages. “And I’m glad they’re going to visit again in the summer. It means a lot.”

Up to 80 students K-10 with behavioral, emotional and learning challenges attend Five Acres’ therapeutic, WASC-accredited school. About half are residents living in Five Acres’ cottages.

About Five Acres:
Five Acres is a child and family services agency that strengthens families and prevents child abuse through treatment and education in community-based and residential programs. Originally established as an orphanage in 1888, today Five Acres offers an array of services including a residential treatment center, a non-public WASC-accredited school, mental health services, foster care, adoption services and domestic violence prevention. For more information on ways to help, contact Kristina Sarenas at ksarenas@5acres.org or (626) 798-6793 ext. 2279.

About Loyola High School:
Loyola High School of Los Angeles is the region’s oldest educational institution, pre-dating the University of California system and the Los Angeles public schools. Since the 1970s, Loyola students have performed over one million hours of service to the community. As part of its commitment to educating men for and with others, Loyola students participate in four major service oriented projects during their high school careers. Each January since 1981, all Loyola seniors have engaged in a required three-week, 85-hour service immersion experience at an agency serving the poor and marginalized. For more information, visit www.loyolahs.edu.

February 9, 2012

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