LAFAYETTE, CA – While the coronavirus pandemic has forced the shutdown of many daily activities for teens in the Bay Area, two local high school students have found a way to continue helping those in need by creating virtual volunteer opportunities.
When Carolyn Considine, a sophomore at Campolindo High School in Lafayette, and her childhood friend Isabella Capelli, a San Ramon Valley High School student from Diablo, were forced to stop visiting the senior citizens to whom they taught bilingual education classes due to the coronavirus this spring, they decided to take things into their own hands.
Instead of going to teach their class in person, the high school students ran one of their weekly bilingual education classes for seniors living in a low-income housing facility through one of the affordable housing Zoom accounts so that they could still connect with their adult students. With the success of the first virtual class, an idea was born.
Shortly thereafter, Considine and Capelli co-founded Meaningful Teens, a youth organization designed to connect nonprofits in need of bilingual tutors with a growing number of high school students eager to volunteer their time and skills.
The teens reached out to local nonprofits in the Bay Area they identified as having such a need, and connected with them with student volunteers ages 14 and older. Two months after launching Meaningful Teens, the organization is actively participating with seven nonprofit organizations and have connected more than 250 teens from over 30 high schools with more than 170 emerging bilingual students of all ages.
“We originally found our students by partnering with volunteer organizations and legal firms that were helping immigrants and didn’t mind having volunteers that under 18 years old,” Capelli said. “Our volunteers are well trained and can help in a lot of ways.”
Taught entirely online, Meaningful Teens utilizes Zoom breakout rooms to teach one-to-one lessons with retired, credentialed teachers moving from breakout room to breakout room supervising the lessons. This innovative approach has led to widespread success, but it’s not without its challenges.
“The primary challenge teaching all students is technology,” Considine said. “We sometimes teach more than one family member and so there is a bit of feedback from the sound and so many of our student have to go to other rooms or go outside to learn.”
Meaningful Teens has recently partnered with Mercy Housing, one of the nation’s largest affordable housing organizations, to teach children how to read and improve reading comprehension over the coming school year.
“This will be a big project for us, requiring lots of volunteers,” Considine said. “We are hoping to spread the word and encourage volunteers to come to our website to register, since there is a lot of down time during COVID-19.”
There are currently 20 volunteers from Lafayette, with many more from the Bay Area. Volunteers for Meaningful Teens can also be found in Georgia, Texas, Nevada, the United Kingdom and Ukraine. In Lafayette, volunteers are working on Meaningful Teens’ Project Diversidad, which teaches reading to Oakland’s Fruitvale neighborhood children on Tuesdays and Thursdays.
Considine and Capelli recognized that their peers were looking for volunteer opportunities during the coronavirus pandemic and with little opportunities to safely interact in person, they tapped into what they have coined “virtual volunteering.” With the success of Meaningful Teens in the Bay Area, there is already interest from students interested in helping their communities to create chapters of the organization in other areas of the country.
“The demand for help in low-income areas with distance learning is huge and we are opening our volunteer opportunities too anyone 14 years and older, including college students and adults,” Capelli said. “We would love to help people with their projects.”
Anyone interested in volunteering should contact firstname.lastname@example.org
This article originally appeared on the Lamorinda Patch