Last week, the Communities In Schools network recognized National Volunteer Week, a time to celebrate people doing extraordinary things through service. As an organization that believes strongly in providing the students we serve with an opportunity to give back to their peers and their community, affiliates across the nation honored the week through a variety of volunteer projects. Beyond the Classroom caught up with Marlin Payne and LaToya Harris, two Communities In Schools Alumni Network members, who volunteered at the Al Ma’IDAH Organic Community Garden in Newark, N.J.
BTC: There are so many different volunteer opportunities – what made you choose a community garden project?
Marlin Payne: We learned a lot about the garden and its effect on the community from Hajja Latifah Abdul-Hamid [a resident of the community who oversees the garden]. Newark is a real food desert, which means people don’t have easy access to fresh fruits, vegetables and other nutritious foods. There are lots of convenience stores but not many grocery stores. Even though I don’t live in Newark anymore, my heart is still here, and when I see that someone in the community is trying to combat a real crisis, it makes me want to get involved.
BTC: What does volunteering mean to you?
LaToya Harris: For me, it’s a chance to bless someone else the way I have been blessed. My experiences with Communities In Schools of New Jersey made me who I am today, and gave me the confidence to start my own business.
BTC: How does Communities In Schools motivate you to give back to your community?
Payne: Just like Communities In Schools Founder Bill Milliken says, it’s relationships that matter. It’s the community, with its various stakeholders, that helped me get where I am. If it wasn’t for folks like that, I wouldn’t be here. I feel like it’s my place to give that kind of relationship, care and interest back in the development of other young people.