POMPANO BEACH – Donning fresh white t-shirts with “Making a Difference Together” written across the front, young children, teenagers, parents and others recently came together for a day of service to launch a season of volunteerism.
They trickled into the cafeteria at Cresthaven Elementary School, grabbed a Hi-C juice box and muffin – the bananas, oranges and apples weren’t quite as popular – and found a seat for the official kick-off, eager and ready to work. “If everyone can help at least one person, then almost everyone can get help,” said Kymani Clarke, 14, of Sunrise.
For 22 years, Family Volunteer Day has been observed across the country on the Saturday before Thanksgiving. Started by the national nonprofit Points of Light and administered locally by HandsOn Broward, the event aims to strengthen family ties while also addressing community social problems.
About 100 volunteers worked on projects in the cafeteria and throughout Cresthaven Elementary, 801 NE 25th St., a Title 1 school that’s earned an “A” Florida Comprehensive Assessment Test school grade since at least 2004.
Outside, they refurbished flowerbeds, assisted with landscaping and touched up a mural. Inside, they decorated holiday cards, packed food items, painted garden signs and more. “There’s something for everyone,” said Patty Howard of Plantation. “You don’t have an excuse.”
During the welcome, Dale Hirsch, president and CEO of HandsOn Broward, recognized Howard and her family for their exceptional community service and named them recipients of the Daily Points of Light Award. “The Howards embody what it means to lead by example,” Hirsch said.
Jonathan Howard, 16, has logged 1,000 community service hours, while his sister Sydney, 13, trails him with 600. How many hours does she intend to collect? “More than my brother,” Sydney answered.
Margaret Konan of North Lauderdale said she and her children, between the ages of 12 and 16, take part in volunteer activities about twice a month.
Seated together at the end of a table, the family decorated Christmas cards for people transitioning to independent living, clients of the Susan B. Anthony Recovery Center, House of Hope & Stepping Stones and others. Brown fingerprints became reindeer heads with felt triangular noses, wiggly eyes and antlers in brown marker.
“It’s good [for the children] to know that life is not always monetary benefits,” Konan said. “When you have that spirit of service, it gives you joy and happiness to serve.” But it’s not always easy to get teenagers to care about the world beyond themselves.
“It’s not about you,” said Dwight Balfour, a counselor in the Civil Citation Program with the Broward Sheriff’s Office. “It’s about you helping out the community.” And it’s not about working alone. “Look how many people are out here,” Balfour said.
Balfour brought five young men, aged 14 to 17, to complete community service hours after getting into trouble at school. “It exposes them to something different,” Balfour said. “I don’t like to stay in one neighborhood.”
Rohan Lawrence of Lauderdale Lakes decorated boxes with “Happy Thanksgiving” and the date with purple-and-green marker. Then he packed his box with goods for the food pantry at First Baptist Church of Pompano Beach.
“Some people, they don’t have the money to feed their families, so this is a good thing to do to help people out,” said Rohan, 16. If the event’s timing is intended to open a season of giving, organizers hope a spirit of service will extend beyond the holidays. “It’s important to do this anytime of the year,” Hirsch said.