It’s fun to volunteer at the Metuchen Y-M-C-A

Student volunteers log 1,500 collective hours over this summer

BY ENID WEISS Correspondent

METUCHEN — Instead of typical stories of swimming or family vacations, 52 teen volunteers at Metuchen’s YMCA will entertain their teachers with amusing stories of their time helping out with the Y’s children’s programs.

They’re not alone. According to the Corporation for National and Community Service, 55 percent of teens nationally participated in volunteering in 2004. That’s nearly double the rate of adults.

Some volunteers helped with preschoolers who were afraid of the water when learning how to swim. Other teens assisted in preschool camp classrooms, helping with everything from dancing to singing silly songs to changing an active 3-year-old into clean clothes after a potty-training accident. Still more went on day trips to a movie or an amusement park with the older children.

An example of the volunteers’ involvement was evident on a recent Monday about 10:30 a.m., when one teenage girl was learning about détente as she tried to stop two 3-year-olds who were fighting.

“Guys, we’re not tackling each other,” said Brianna Myrick, 17, a senior at Metuchen High School, as she physically pulled them apart.

Myrick is an only child who learned about young children from her mom, a first-grade teacher. Myrick is at the YMCA from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. three or four days a week, depending on her schedule at her job at a Menlo Park Mall clothing store.

“The little kids, they’re so intelligent for their age,” Myrick said. “Ms. Pat [volunteer coordinator Pat Kilandra] said there would be a lot of down time, but they keep me busy. There’s never a dull moment. I love being here with the kids. They’re so funny.”

And then 3-year-old Christian, who is African American, looked at her and in an excellent imitation of the Joey character from the television show “Friends,” said, “How you doin’?” in a perfect Italian American accent.

In all, the YMCA’s volunteers ages 13-17 logged more than 1,500 hours among 58 youths, according to Kilandra. They work anywhere from two hours twice a week to eight hours five days a week. Kilandra said that every volunteer has to provide references, most from teachers. The Y gets the free labor, and the kids acquire real-world experience. Teens are from several schools from as far as New York and North Brunswick, but most are from Edison and Metuchen high schools. They even had an exchange student from Paris for a few weeks.

“A lot of colleges require volunteerism,” Kilandra said about the tough entrance process. “They can get jobs, but in today’s market it’s tough. This also gives them experience. It’s a commitment, and they treat it like a job.”

Kilandra, who has her own teenage and adult children, added, “I don’t have daughters, so I’ve really bonded with these kids. I call them my volunteers. They’ve formed friendships [with each other]. They’re all different ages and backgrounds.”

There also are several boys involved in the program. Several help out in the pool during swimming lessons.

“During class, the first time, they kicked us, pinched us — they were scared,” said 14-year-old Shazaan Keshwani, a freshman at Edison High School. “It’s good experience; we’re learning people skills. If I wasn’t here, I’d just be sleeping or playing video games.”

And in the words of 15-year-old Ruchi Sherikar, a junior at J.P. Stevens High School in Edison, “It’s better than just sitting at home; it’s a change from our normal lives — the drama of being a teenager.”