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It started as a way to spend time with her grandmother. When she was in sixth grade, Sarah Willard began volunteering at the Weinberg Campus, a retirement community in Getzville. Now a sophomore at Sacred Heart Academy, Sarah and her grandmother, Cora Willard, are still volunteering today.

Every Thursday, Sarah goes to help the residents at Weinberg play bingo.

“I really do enjoy it,” said Sarah, “and I love getting to know the residents personally.”

Along with assisting the residents at the bingo games, Sarah also helps get them there.

“Actually, I have connected with many of the people I meet,” Sarah said. “I love getting to talk to them and hear about their stories and about their lives.”

Sarah’s love of volunteer work is evident to those around her, said her mother, Karen.

“Volunteering at Weinberg has taught Sarah to have a deep appreciation and respect for senior citizens,” Karen Willard said.

Sarah said she can’t imagine not volunteering at Weinberg.

“Everyone appreciates the volunteers, and I really do get so much out of the experience,” she added.

For more information on volunteering at Weinberg Campus, call 639-3311 or visit www.weinbergcampus.org.

Hannah Zakrzewski, sophomore, Nardin Academy

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With Thanksgiving comes the theme of helping other people out and giving thanks. Many teens might ask themselves, “How can I help somebody out this Thanksgiving?” One way teens can help others is the Family Promise program. Many families have found themselves without a warm place to stay in these tough economic times, and Family Promise helps them out by allowing families to stay at a network of churches across Western New York for a period of time while they get back on their feet. On the program’s website, it states, “Family Promise of WNY is a cost-efficient, effective and replicable community response to homelessness. We bring together existing community resources, especially faith congregations to assist us with our mission.”

Natalie Blatz is a Family Promise volunteer. She has been volunteering for two years to help out less fortunate people.

“My favorite part is hanging out with the kids,” says Natalie, a sophomore at Amherst High School. “I love playing games with them and running around.”

Natalie believes she also has reaped some benefits from Family Promise.

“I gain experience with kids and other people,” she says. “I gained more social skills. I got the feeling that I was really helping people out. It’s also a good time for me to be with my parents and family, because I think we get to know each other better as a family when we’re helping others.

“It’s really good for the families staying there, because they can be with other people in the same situation, and they can relate to each other. It’s a really good support tool for these families.”

Another teen that helps out is Emily Hawes, 15, who’s been volunteering at Family Promise for six months.

“My favorite part is playing with the kids, and helping in general,” says Emily, who is from Hamburg. “We’re there for the visitors to talk to if they need any assistance. You can really learn how to relate to someone else’s situation, and be in their shoes.

“The program is all about helping others. It’s very helpful to the families that visit, because a warm place to stay is very important,” Emily says. “And especially with the winter season coming up, it’s important that we help find these nice people a place to stay, as it could be the difference between life and death.”

“I would absolutely suggest it,” said Natalie about volunteering for Family Promise. “It’s so much fun, and I think everyone has fun, especially the people staying there. The feeling you get from helping others is so great, and everybody gets involved when we’re helping out. It’s extremely rewarding.”

To find out more about volunteering at Family Promise, visit www.fpwny.org.

Sean Wright, sophomore, Clarence High School

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A nice steamy turkey comes out of the oven with buttery mashed potatoes, sensational stuffing, fresh corn, cranberry sauce and mouth-watering pumpkin pie. The family gathers for a celebration of joy and feasting.

This may sound like the best way to indulge in Thanksgiving, but some area teens believe that there is a stronger meaning in their Thanksgiving.

“We don’t have it that bad, and the best thing we can do is make a person’s less-Thanksgiving more thankful,” said Matt Braun, a senior at St. Joseph’s Collegiate Institute.

Matt is highly involved in service. He has volunteered with Journey’s End, an organization that helps refugees; St. John’s Vacation Bible School; Loaves and Fishes soup kitchen; service retreats; and he can even be found in Kenmore doing yard work for people.

“I work with Journey’s End because I’ve been thankful for what I have and it’s nice to give others what I have,” Matt said.

With Journey’s End, Matt helps refugees move in and set up their homes. He said he enjoys making them feel that they are in a comfortable place as they begin a new life. Matt said he loves being part of Journey’s End.

Joshua Deveso, a sophomore at St. Joseph’s Collegiate Institute, was involved in a program that would take him on a service trip to North Carolina. He became ill and couldn’t go on the trip, but that didn’t stop him from helping others.

“Service is important because if you look at the world around, there are issues like poverty and not everyone can be saved, but every bit of difference helps,” said Joshua.

At a young age, Joshua possesses great enthusiasm for service to others.

He and his dad have spent weeks going to various homes of senior citizens to do yard work.

Josh also has been involved in various services at his church, First Trinity.

He hopes to become involved with a mission trip to Haiti.

“I [also] would love to get involved in a soup kitchen and provide happiness to those without families,” Josh said.

“Service is powerful. It not only helps [make] the person who does the service feel good, but [it] can make an impact on another. If you can make a difference in a certain day, it can mean the whole world to another person,” he said.

For information on volunteering at Journey’s End, call 882-4963 or visit www.jersbuffalo.org.

Evan Hayes, senior, St. Joseph’s Collegiate Institute