I first volunteered at the Waverly Community House back in 2005. I was recruited by fellow preschool mom, Nancy Sarno de los Rios, to flip pancakes for the annual Breakfast with Santa.
My children grew up at the Comm. (My daughter who was that preschool child is now a junior in high school.) They first attended all the children’s events there with eyes full of wonder. Later, they couldn’t wait until they were old enough to help out. Their experience volunteering at the Comm helped them land their first part time jobs.
Volunteerism at the Comm ebbs and flows. When I came along, there had been a shortage of volunteers for the children’s events, but Nancy had been asked by Comm director Maria Wilson to change that. Nancy enlisted the help of many of her good friends to join her. We were designated as the Family Fun Committee, or the FFC. We planned and orchestrated annual events such as the Family Halloween Party, Breakfast with Santa, Valentines Workshop and the Easter Bunny Breakfast.
In recent years, members of the FFC decided there needed to be a charitable aspect to each of our events. Many of us in the Abingtons have plenty and look to share with those who don’t. Members of the FFC pride themselves on the fact that two of our four annual events are free and open to the public, a small donation being optional. At these events, along with local families, others come in droves from outside of our area. While most people drop something in the bucket, it is wonderful to see that those who cannot are welcome, and their children are privy to all the fun and games we have to offer.
For the past year, we have chosen to offer donations from our events to the United Neighborhood Centers in Scranton. The UNC is such a gift to the community. Their Community Services Building is open five days a week and offers help to families in need. There is assistance to maintain and find housing and to keep utilities from being cut off. Their Angels Attic offers food and clothing. Typically, each family is allowed to shop for free once a month but, thanks to the generosity of donors of late, families are currently able to utilize it as often as they need.
The UNC has so much to offer. There are low-cost child care centers, adult and family literacy programs, English-as-a-Second-Language courses, Citizenship Training for immigrants, and Job Placement services. They run the South Side Farmers Market, which makes access to fresh, locally-grown food a reality for many. They operate centers for active older people, with transportation and lunch provided. They have a Community Health Department aimed at increasing access to healthcare including transportation to appointments, health screenings and assistance in managing chronic problems.
There are After-School Teen Centers where kids get tutoring, health education, sports and social opportunities, as well as an Adventure Learning Course, where youth learn teamwork, leadership and good decision-making skills. The UNC’s Camp Kelly has overnight camps and also hosts Project Hope, a day camp for kids from low-income families which runs buses from downtown Scranton all summer long.
Kaylee Cummings, Special Activities Coordinator for Children’s Events at the Comm, had an idea for the Halloween Party. She suggested to the committee that we put out bins for a few weeks leading up to Halloween and, at the party, collect gently used Halloween costumes that local families no longer needed. The response from the community was so large that two deliveries were made to the UNC, one several weeks before Halloween and another just days before the holiday.
Gus Fahey, Director of Community Services at the UNC, had the Halloween costumes laid out on shelves near the Angels Attic room. Thanks to the kindness and consideration of Abington families, the costumes were neatly bagged along with all their accessories and were in very good condition. Gus later relayed the fact that, on each of those two occasions, all the Halloween costumes were taken home by families within a day. The individuals who took these costumes home are parents who struggle but try to give their kids a normal holiday.
Families who come to the UNC for help include mothers from the woman’s shelter. They are new refugee families looking for Western-style clothing, especially important to their children who are trying to fit in at school. Families that have faced eviction often lose most of their possessions in the turmoil. Gus said that, for these parents, just being able to provide their children with a nice Halloween costume is one of those little milestones that gives a family the confidence to carry on.
As the FFC plans its Breakfast with Santa for Dec. 9 (tickets go on sale soon in the Comm office and will likely sell out), they reached out to the UNC once again to ask what would be most useful for its families. Gus said unwrapped toys would be best for this time of year. The UNC will distribute them to the families they work with so they can have as normal a holiday as possible. As the FFC moves forward to Valentine’s Workshop and the Easter Bunny Breakfast, they will take the opportunity with each event to ask the UNC what is most needed at that particular time.
The Comm was the first place I met people when I first moved to the area. It’s where I formed my most lasting friendships. Volunteering has always been a great way to be a part of the community, but adding this giving component to our events has made them so much more meaningful to us all.
If you are interested in joining the Family Fun Committee, volunteering for other types of events at the Comm, or for information about attending an event, call the Comm office at 570-586-8191. If you want to help out at the United Neighborhood Centers, stop in at 410 Olive St., Scranton or call Gus Fahey at 570-343-8835.