“When I went by to donate the money to the Animal Shelter, I found out that I could volunteer,
so I started helping.” -Joseph Begovich, 12
In a community rich with abundance and privilege, our greatest wealth might just be found in our youth. The young people of the Wood River Valley are showing a remarkable commitment to freely giving their time and talent to the needs of others. And through their good works, they are contributing to the Valley’s vitality.
“I try to find service wherever I can. I think it’s a great way to connect with people in the community,” said Dakota Barnes, a junior at Wood River High School. Once a week, Barnes helps The Hunger Coalition sort food. She also volunteers regularly to pick up food from The Hunger Coalition’s yellow food barrels in Hailey. “So many teens complain that there’s nothing to do. I think you should go out and help people in need,” she said.
During the 2009 Special Olympics World Winter Games in Idaho, Barnes volunteered to assemble welcome baskets, organized a dinner at the American Legion Hall in Ketchum, spoke at the torchbearers’ event and supported and cheered the athletes throughout the games. Barnes also pitched in during the Wagon Days celebration held over Labor Day weekend in Ketchum; she camped out overnight by the city’s iconic red barn to help set up the parade lines by dawn, before roughly 15,000 visitors would descend on the town. Barnes is a lifelong Girl Scout and is pursuing the prestigious gold Congressional Medal, which requires a minimum of 400 hours of volunteer community service along with other high achievements.
Last year, the Sun Valley/Ketchum Chamber & Visitors Bureau and the Hailey Chamber of Commerce jointly selected Barnes as the Youth Citizen of the Year during the 2009 Wood River Valley Community Awards. The annual award is given for being “an outstanding example of youth leadership, achievement and volunteer contribution.”
“Economically, they may not be able to give money, but youths can give their time. Giving time is as—or more—valuable,” said Lisa Horton, Environmental Resource Center (ERC) office director. Kids give their time to help the ERC hang fliers, assemble mailings and pick up recycling. “We can use all the help we can get. I really think it’s valuable for teenagers to volunteer, and it helps us accomplish a lot.”
Volunteering enables kids to see how they can impact the community they live in.
Even younger kids can make a big difference. Joseph Begovich is 12 years old and an avid volunteer at the Animal Shelter of the Wood River Valley in Hailey.
“It started when I had a lemonade stand and made some money. When I went by to donate the money to the Animal Shelter, I found out that I could volunteer, so I started helping,” Begovich said. With the confidence of someone twice his age, Begovich explained that he was inspired to lend a hand because of the shelter’s “no-kill policy.” During the summer, he volunteers for the shelter most days of the week—walking dogs, washing dog bowls and selling fundraising event tickets.
The Animal Shelter welcomes kids of all ages to spend time with the abandoned animals. “Because we are a no-kill shelter, pets can be here for some time until they find a home. Having daily contact and socializing the animals is very important,” said Robin Potts, shelter manager. “Volunteers help show the animals what life is like out of the shelter, and they help the pets become more adoptable.”
Begovich’s largest contribution may be his work to update the shelter’s Pet Finder website, which facilitates frequent pet adoptions via the Internet. Year-round, he uses his computer prowess to post pictures and biographies of shelter animals on the Web. Begovich’s mother, Mariann Byerwalter, said, “It’s an experience that will last a lifetime. It has been very rewarding for him and for us as a family. He really feels like he is part of the community.”
Encouraging teens to become active participants in the community is the foundation of St. Luke’s Wood River’s Youth Adult Konnections, or YAK! program. YAK! is the umbrella organization for the high school youth group known as Blaine County Teen Advisory Council (BCTAC) and a middle school group dubbed Blaine County Teen Advisory Council II (BCTAC II).
“YAK! is helping students feel included and appreciated in the community, letting students know that they have adults that care about them, so that they are confident and secure,” said Kelly Nicholson, St. Luke’s YAK! coordinator. Nicholson helps engage a core group of 45 high school students from who collectively volunteer roughly 5,000 hours each year throughout Blaine County.
In addition to volunteering for numerous non-profits throughout the valley, YAK! has ownership over its own volunteer initiatives. The group is leading an effort to encourage local restaurants to save water. Another key project is Be the Change, a venue for students to perform everyday scenarios that involve diversity at after-school clubs and summer camps. The students are trained to portray scenes involving issues of race, age, style of dress and socioeconomic status to prompt discussion about controversial topics.
Arts-oriented service opportunities encourage kids’ creativity. At the nexStage Theatre in Ketchum, Patsy Wygle said she tries to involve youngsters in a variety of theater business, including backstage help, ushering, sound and speaker work and set-building.
The Hunger Coalition has found that kids can bring fresh, creative ideas to their food drives. “There are so many creative ways kids can gather food,” said Naomi Spence, food program manager for The Hunger Coalition. Experiences like collecting food for people in need expands privileged children’s understanding of the human condition.
“I think the huge reason I am so interested in volunteering is that, coming from a small community, we have very few opportunities to see diversity,” said Hailey Zanes, a senior at The Community School. “I am a person who loves to be around different kinds of people and people with different beliefs. I seek out these opportunities. It gives me a chance to do something different and to meet people I wouldn’t otherwise meet.”
During the 2009 Special Olympics World Winter Games, Zanes helped host athletes in her home, skied with Team Ireland, escorted athletes to competitions, and attended the opening and closing ceremonies. For her service, Zanes received The Community School’s 2009 Bob Doyle Memorial Award, an award for outstanding community service.
“As much as you are giving to someone, they will offer you something back—more than you can imagine. And, it will open your mind. I think an open mind is one of the most important traits you can have,” Zanes said.