Agencies find Helping Hands are priceless in community

Sydney Grenier, 14, loves 2-year-olds. She goes for two hours each day, four days a week, to help out with the toddlers at Immanuel Lutheran Children's Center.

Sydney Grenier, 14, loves 2-year-olds. She goes for two hours each day, four days a week, to help out with the toddlers at Immanuel Lutheran Children's Center.

She doesn't get paid. She likes the idea of being a Helping Hand. She thinks the toddlers are "cute and cuddly."

Alex Stroh, 13, is another of the 171 young teenagers involved in the Grand Forks Schools program this summer. He goes to Valley Eldercare and helps the activities director with whatever is going on. Sometimes, it's games. Sometimes, it's helping to load us for a bus trip. Other days, he takes people for walks.

He said, "They like to go out and look at the ducks in the courtyard."

Alex goes Tuesday and Friday afternoons to Valley Eldercare. He's also in SPA Summer Performing Arts in mornings this June. Besides that, he helps around his own home -- whatever his mother wants him to do. He does his own laundry and does dishes.


It's hard to shake your head and join in that chorus of, "Kids these days. All they do is text and stare into computers. "

These kids are enjoying summer by helping other people instead of idly watching TV. Although Alex is quick to say, "Oh, I like to watch TV, too."

Cindy Jensen, a South Middle School teacher, is one of three guiding the Helping Hands this summer along with Kelly Adams of South and Diane Ness, a teacher at Schroeder Middle School. It was started in 2002 with a grant administered by Mary Lien. The program begins each year with a camp focusing on ways for young people to explore career opportunities and learn desirable skills for future jobs. The youth have a chance to choose places where they might volunteer. They are too old to need baby sitters and too young for regular employment. Still, they like to be productive.

They made field trips to centers such as St. Vincent de Paul and Dakota Boys and Girls Ranch thrift stores. They saw places where they could work with children in nonprofit day care situations. And they were introduced to senior living facilities such as Valley Eldercare, Parkwood, Tufte Manor and St. Anne's Guest Home.

That's why you sometimes see young people polishing fingernails for elderly residents at Parkwood or helping with bingo at Valley 4000. They have visited and helped out at Northlands Rescue Mission. Sixteen of them had a work day Tuesday at Turtle River State Park, where they painted picnic tables and then helped pick up debris that had fallen in the recent storms. A day at Turtle River always ends with a swim in the river.

Dylan Jenkins, 13, who has some limitation because of cerebral palsy, is finding he enjoys very much working and playing with preschoolers who have disabilities at Little Miracles Day Care. He goes there three times a week and helps with a lot of understanding for about three hours each time.

Helping Hands, unique to Grand Forks Public Schools, has racked up 30,000 volunteer hours over the years at thrift stores, nonprofit daycares, senior living facilities. The youth involved are from all middle and high schools of Grand Forks. They started their training in June with Cindy Jensen. Some of the young volunteers put in a couple of hours a week, and others work many more hours. They keep track of their hours, knowing their volunteer work will be a recommendation as they move along through high school and approach college.

When the work's all done this fall -- in September, they will hold a celebration and get certificates for hours worked.


There is no way you could shake your head and fret about "kids these days. Not when you hear of the work they do. They're priceless," said Tawnia Hoidahl-Larson, who is assistant director and a social worker for St. Paul's de Vincent. "They do a little of everything," she said. "They sort clothes; they help with placing merchandise in the thrift store. They just help."

"We have quite a few this year -- 15 or more who come here at all different hours for two or three hours at a time. Their help is scattered throughout the day. Just whenever they are available."

Hoidahl-Larsen sees firsthand the value of the young people in the store. "They are a great deal of help here since we are an agency with not a lot of dollars for salaries."

Reach Hagerty at or at (701) 772-1055.

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