By Alicia Dziak
As part of SGI’s seventh grade curriculum, students are assigned the “Kids Can Make a Difference” project, in which students must choose an organization to work with over the course of the school year. There are very loose project guidelines, making it possible for the kids to design the assignment to fit their interests. While the project is a lesson in community service, it’s also so much more than that.
Seventh grader Kaitlyn Wolf, 13, is working with the Buffalo Sabres Thunder Special Hockey team. “This organization allows children with physical and mental disabilities to play the sport of ice hockey,” she explained. Her involvement includes helping at practices and games, as well as being a mentor coach. “The best thing about the project is when I go and help the disabled children and adults at games and practices. It’s great to see the smiles on their faces while they are playing, and to see how much fun they’re having.”
But Kaitlyn didn’t stop there. “I also held an exhibition hockey game,” she added, noting that the game was between the Buffalo Sabres Thunder team and the Hamburg Hawks 14U travel hockey team, which Kaitlyn is a part of.
During that game, “I also held a 50/50 and basket raffle and was able to raise $750,” Kaitlyn said. While rewarding, Kaitlyn noted that this was the most challenging part of her project. “I had to contact businesses to donate baskets and contact pizza places to donate pizza for the players to have after the game,” she explained. “I also had to contact so many different people about a date and time for the game and ask to have two hours of ice time donated.”
Kaitlyn said that this project has helped with her organizational skills and the “ability to talk to large groups of people.”
The Kids Can Make a Difference Project technically ends in late May, but Kaitlyn, like many other students, plans to continue working with her chosen organization. “I plan to continue to go and help at their practices, and to hold an exhibition game every year,” she said.
Giving back runs in the family. Kaitlyn’s older brother, Jarrett, 15 and a freshman at SGI, got involved with another sports-minded organization as part of his seventh grade Kids Can Make a Difference project two years ago. “I held a Challenger’s baseball practice, and held a raffle (for a four-pack of Buffalo Bison’s tickets) to raise money for Springville’s Challenger Program,” Jarrett explained. “I’ve worked with numerous players and coaches.”
While the graded portion of Jarrett’s project was over almost two years ago, he has kept his volunteer efforts going strong. “I’ve decided to keep doing this by holding a practice each year until I graduate from high school,” he said.
“My favorite memory of running the practices in just seeing all of the smiles as (the kids) enjoy one of my favorite sports to play,” Jarrett said. He noted that the project helped him become more organized and “I have built better communication skills with people. I’ve also become more of a leader by running the practices and encouraging the kids to do their best.”
When asked what advice Jarrett has for other youth and teens looking to get involved, he said, “I would advise them to become involved in something they are interested in and something where they can give others their knowledge or skills.”
“Jarrett and Kaitlyn decided to work with the organizations they chose based on their high level of interest in a particular sport,” explained their mother Tammy Wolf. “They have had many opportunities through playing ball and hockey and wanted to give back to those who had not had such experiences. They also chose to work with special needs children and adults,” adding that,“My kids have developed empathy towards those that are different than them, but have learned that even if they’re different they can still play the games they love with just a bit of guidance and support.”
Tammy noted the several ways her kids have benefitted from the projects from a parent’s perspective. “They have become more responsible, their communication skills have improved and they have taken leadership roles in their projects,” she said. “They have been able to experience first-hand what it’s like to give back to others while doing something that they truly enjoy. Both Jarrett and Kaitlyn have developed new friendships from their experiences as well.”
For good reason, Tammy and her husband, Jeff, are very proud of their children. “It’s heartwarming to see them interact with and respect those who are different than them,” they agreed. “The Kids Can Make a Difference Project has had a positive impact on both of them and the organizations they work with.”