The inaugural Teen Ambassador Program (TAP) launched this summer as Meals on Wheels of Central Maryland (MOWCM) began to experience a need for additional packing volunteers to keep up with the increased COVID-19 demand. Many local teenagers had additional time on their hands and were looking for something fun, safe, and impactful to do as camps, vacations, and school programs were canceled. TAP proved to be the perfect way to meaningfully engage teens. 

The Volunteer Services Department created a teen leadership program that weaved educational components with volunteer experience, giving the participants a deeper understanding of the importance and value of MOWCM and the impact of their contributions. The teens engaged in two virtual learning sessions each day of the two-week program before coming into the Haven Street office to pack meals for a three-hour shift. The virtual learning sessions, taught by MOWCM staff and guest speakers, included topics such as nonprofits 101, interviewing skills, food security, and fundraising, just to name a few. These sessions allowed the students to not only learn about MOWCM but also hone their interpersonal and communication skills.

When volunteering in person, the safety of the teens was of utmost importance. Every day they filled out health screening questionnaires, wore masks, and always maintained distance. Julie Hollander, Senior Director of Volunteer Services was incredibly impressed with the participants stating, “the teens were really hardworking and have been able to experience all aspects of what we do in the building from kitchen operations to meal packing.”

At the conclusion of the program, the teens completed a project (individually or in groups) integrating what they learned over the two weeks. Ideas such as volunteer recruitment, selling homemade candles, writing letters to local politicians, and creating school clubs all show the creative brainstorming and energy that the participants brought to the program. The summer sessions were so successful that a 10-week fall program is currently in progress.

The following testimonials show just how profound TAP 2020 was to the teens and their families:

Leslie J., Parent: Leslie knew her twins, Alex and Emma, were disappointed that many of their summer plans were canceled due to COVID-19 and wanted them to be engaged in a safe activity this summer that would teach them something about the world. After learning about the TAP program from her neighborhood HOA, Leslie was immediately interested and decided to sign up for a meal packing shift with her two children to give it a test run. She felt like it was a great experience and her children decided to sign up for TAP! Both Alex and Emma really enjoyed the program and had unique take-aways. As a parent, Leslie comments, “I believe TAP is a fantastic program that allows teenagers to learn life lessons about food insecurity, inequity, and nonprofit management. It showed my kids the importance of being in this together, especially in a time like COVID-19.”

Naomi C., Senior at Centennial High School: As a Client Wellness Call (CWC) volunteer, Naomi was already familiar with MOWCM, but jumped at the opportunity to volunteer in person and engage with peers who shared similar interests. She loved how the virtual sessions were set up in that the facilitators and guest speakers were able to make each lesson interactive. Some of her favorite topics included nonprofit management

Hannah N., Junior at St. Andrew’s Episcopal School: For a few years now, Hannah has had a deep interest and passion for older adults, often spending time volunteering at a retirement home. When Hannah learned about the TAP program, she signed up right away, knowing she could help support a population she cared about. During the virtual sessions, Hannah really loved learning about what had to come together in order for the organization to run. She says, “after the virtual sessions, going to volunteer at Haven Street really put everything together as I was able to see the production in action.”

This story was originally published in the Fall 2020 issue of our MealTimes newsletter.

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