Club teaches lessons outside the classroom
Yanni Kaldis, treasurer of the Class of 2015 at Ridgewood High School, balances three chinchillas to entertain residents at Central Baptist Village in Norridge. The chinchillas are part of a traveling petting zoo.
Updated: June 4, 2012 10:50AM
Besides the academics, high school is about developing students into responsible young adults by providing opportunities for inspiration.
Samantha Brzeczek has become a regular volunteer at the Central Baptist Village in Norridge thanks to the experience she had there last month with other members of the freshman class at Ridgewood High School.
On March 29, Brzeczek, along with activity group Class 2015 members Marzena Mistarz, Alexis Roth, Dylan Tabang, Aaron Linker, and Yanni Kaldis, assisted the staff at the retirement village with keeping residents company and helping residents in wheelchairs and walkers get from place to place as part of the student group’s community service project.
This was also the day a petting zoo visited Central Baptist Village, when the residents had the opportunity to observe and handle an anteater, chicks, chinchillas, a parrot, a baby pig and a sloth. With the students’ help, an even greater number of residents were able to participate in the petting zoo.
When the animals came out, Brzeczek immediately asked if she could help bring the animals to the residents.
“She stepped up and said, ‘Hey, can I help?’ It just came naturally to her,” said Andrew Anastasiades, English teacher and faculty sponsor. “Then all the students started getting involved passing animals around because a lot of the residents are immobile and this was an opportunity for [the students] to step and get involved too.”
“It was an instinct, kind of,” said Brzeczek.
She was already enjoying talking with the residents and helping them with small tasks.
“To see the look on their faces when they would have someone help them and when you would talk to them, it was just the smallest things they get so happy about it,” she said. “It just meant so much to them, so it meant a lot to me.”
One of the moments that stands out in Brzeczek’s memory was the man who enjoyed petting a chinchilla so much that he wanted to hold more and have some placed on him.
Another moment was when Brzeczek encouraged a woman who was hesitant to pet a chick.
The woman summoned up the courage and did it. Pleased with herself, she thanked Brzeczek several times for the encouragement.
“That felt really good,” the student said.
The experience was so rewarding, she’s been returning to Central Baptist Village to volunteer. She met people celebrating April birthdays — a 104-year-old, a 103-year-old and a 99-year-old — who also inspired her to return some more.
“I keep wanting to go back,” she said.
It’s been an eye-opening and rewarding experience for Anastasiades, too.
“I have her in class, and just seeing her from a different point of view than just my student, to see her step up and take charge and talk to them — that was pretty heart-warming,” he said. “It just seemed so natural to her.”
But, Anastasiades is proud of all the kids.
He said Class 2015 could have just held a bake sale and donated the money to a cause or conducted a canned food drive, but they wanted to do something hands-on.
“We wanted to do something in the community and something convenient — we’re a community high school, so we want to give back to the community — and someone threw out the idea of Central Baptist,” he said. “I sent them an e-mail and they said yeah, they could actually use some volunteer work and they told us about this opportunity where they’d need help transporting residents and just talking to them and helping out. And, everyone seemed to like that idea.”