Zachary Mossbarger started volunteering with the Forest Grove School District’s summer meal program when he was just six years old. Now a senior in high school, Zachary remains committed to the program and serving his community.
He recently helped Forest Grove School District secure a Summer Meal Support Fund grant for new activity supplies and recruiting long-term volunteers to lead youth activities. Forest Grove is just one of the 21 Support Fund grantees for 2017, check back as we announce a full list of grantees later this month!
What follows is an interview with Zachary about his experience and why he believes more young people should get involved.
Describe your experience with the summer meal program. How did you first get involved?
The Summer Meal Program affected and shaped my life far more than I could have imagined. In the beginning, my volunteer work for the program was something that my parents had me do. My church and many others in Forest Grove headed up the volunteer process so in the beginning, I volunteered once a week. Soon I was volunteering every weekday, and after 8 years under my belt, I created amazing connections with the families and children who came each day.
What is your most memorable experience from your time volunteering with the summer meal program?
Leading activities after meal time was definitely the most memorable experience. Leading all the children in various sports and games, playing with water balloons and arts and crafts, allowed me to form meaningful bonds with members of my community.
How did the summer meal program benefit you, your family, and/or your community?
This experience taught me the importance of going out of your way to help and impact someone's life. The summer meal program served as a place for the community to congregate, connect, and relate to one another. We created a support system that extended beyond the program, families saw the people around them had similar needs, and formed valuable friendships to help each other along the way.
Why do you think it is important for other kids and teens to volunteer at summer meal sites?
In a program designed for youth, it's important to have youth volunteers. For the kids and teens that came to the site each day, it wasn't just a meal that they looked forward to, but the experience. It was the youth volunteers that connected to participants in a way that only peers can. After volunteering for eight years, I knew every kid’s name, and a little about their life. The connections that youth are able to make are amazingly powerful, and it’s essential to the program to have youth involved.
What advice would you give to your peers who want to get involved in summer meal sites in their community?
When it comes to volunteering, it is vital that you come without barriers and with an open mind. The kids that come to the meal site are going to feed off your energy, so when volunteering, you need to show them that you are vulnerable and open, so the kids will be willing to open up and connect with you. When a kid comes up for a meal, greet them with a smile and ask about their day, and show that you care. Secondly, when all of the kids are through the line, grab a lunch for yourself, sit down and have a conversation. This will go miles in helping to connect with the kids, making them want to spread the word and come back. Finally, remember that you are being part of the change to create a better, safer, and more nourished community.