Martin Luther King Jr. once said, “Everybody can be great, because anybody can serve.”
And on Monday’s holiday dedicated to him, dozens of teenagers in Johnson County took his sentiment to heart by participating in community service projects sponsored by the Youth Volunteer Corps.
One of the projects was volunteering at the Great Plains SPCA animal shelter and veterinary clinic in Merriam.
Eager to get their hands dirty, about 15 kids spent Monday afternoon deconstructing cardboard, packaging dog treats, playing with lonely cats and organizing newspapers.
“Before I started volunteering, whenever I had a day off school, I would just stay home and be lazy,” said Maddie Tolsdorf, a 15-year-old from Mission Hills. “Now, I feel like I’m actually getting something accomplished during my three-day weekends. It makes me feel good to give back to the community.”
Her words were echoed by several of her peers, as they took a small break in between tasks.
Their enthusiasm and hard work couldn’t have made Chris Miller, program director for Youth Volunteer Corps, any prouder.
“Martin Luther King Jr. dedicated his life to civil rights, but his life also serves as a bigger message — we can all do something to serve our country,” Miller said.
Although the King Day volunteer activities are an annual event for the Youth Volunteer Corps, it marks the first time the organization has done so being hosted by the YMCA of Greater Kansas City, a collaboration that began Jan. 1.
Because the YMCA focuses on youth development and social responsibility, Miller feels like the partnership is a solid fit. And Monday afternoon’s success exemplified it, he pointed out.
“I feel like we’ve found a soulmate in the YMCA,” he said. “We push each other forward.”
Besides Monday’s activities, the Youth Volunteer Corps organizes volunteer projects throughout the year.
“A big part of our program is to introduce kids to different non-profit organizations and show them why these places are so important,” Miller said. “If we can get their hearts racing and instill a passion for community service in them, then that will be our real success. Right now, we can only dream where they will go with it.”
At the Great Plains SPCA, it was already working.
Mimi Rebein, a senior at Shawnee Mission East High School, enjoyed the experience so much it just confirmed a career with animals was in her future.
“I want to work for a wildlife conservation one day and this definitely gave me an idea of what to expect,” she said. “It’s a lot of hard work, but it’s definitely worthwhile.”
For other kids, it opened their eyes.
“I was pleasantly surprised when I saw the place because it’s very clean, large and bright,” said Elliott Conklin, a sophomore at Olathe North High School. “Normally when you think of animal shelters you think of someplace depressing.”
At the end of the day, the employees at Great Plains SPCA were thrilled with the help.
“Everything they have done directly or indirectly helps the pets,” said Rachel Hodgson, director of marketing and communications. “Any time we get a large group of volunteers, we are so excited. Volunteers are vital to our organization and we always need help.”