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Serving lunch with a side of life skills

Students volunteer at the SCV Senior Center and gain valuable work experience

Posted: September 21, 2008 3:14 p.m.
Updated: November 23, 2008 5:00 a.m.

Emma Waschak, 21, from Valencia, helps clear food trays at the SCV Senior Center on Wednesday afternoon. She and several other students volunteer twice a week through the Hart district's Transitional Learning Charter.

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Every Monday and Wednesday, Matt Adams receives a confidence booster. Adams, 20, and about five other volunteers pitch in at the Santa Clarita Valley Senior Center, preparing and serving lunch time meals.

"I love helping the seniors," Adams said proudly as his peers dressed in white aprons and matching navy blue volunteer shirts delivered lunch trays to the tables of mingling seniors on Wednesday.

This is the second year Adams has helped out at the senior center and so far, he's learned a fresh set of skills that involve responsibility and taking care of others.

The volunteers are from the William S. Hart Union High School District's Transitional Learning Charter School, which teaches young adults with mental, physical and social disabilities real world skills.

The program at the senior center in Newhall began last year and runs when school is in session, Christine Miffitt, instructional assistant, said.

Volunteering at the senior center gives the adults, ranging in age from 18 to 22, work experience that translates into real world skills.

It also shows them how to appreciate others.

"It teaches them to give back to society instead of just taking," she said.

The charter school addresses other life skills like how to utilize public transportation and build social skills, said Laura Ramirez, district psychologist.

Miffitt offered a laundry list of benefits to the volunteer program: learning safety skills, working as a team and even cooking.

"It gets them out working," she said.

Interacting with seniors and their peers also increases their self-esteem, the two said.

Because of the program's success, the charter school is hoping to expand the volunteer opportunities so that it can rotate among all the students who are interested in lending a few hours of their Mondays and Wednesdays.

The success of the program was already clear Wednesday when the handful of volunteers eagerly gathered at the dining room of the senior center to receive their orders.

Ian Kovalsky, 18, is happy to volunteer at the center.

"It gives me something to do," he said. "I like to help out people."

Wednesday was Kovalsky's second visit to the center and he had already made time to interact with the seniors he serves.

"They're pretty cool," he said with a smile.

But the good deeds have not gone unnoticed by the senior center.

Carlos Gallugos, who oversees maintenance at the senior center, works with the Transitional Charter School team during lunch time.

"They've been very helpful," he said. "A lot of people like them. They do a really good job."

"It's been amazing," said Robin Clough, director of recreation and volunteers at the SCV Senior Center. "They've been such a great help to us."

Clough called the volunteers "consistent and reliable" and "very friendly" with the seniors.

"We all just love them here," she said. "They've become part of our family."

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