GPS students used their IMPACT period to visit with area service organizations to learn about volunteer opportunities within the community at the Services Opportunity Fair. Upper School students also explored in-school clubs, allowing them to support their school outside the classroom.
The fair has been months in the making. Trish King, PIC (Partners in Community) faculty sponsor, and senior Meg Marshall, PIC president, have been planning the event since July. New this year are opportunities for Middle School students to serve.
“We asked how we can make this meaningful for our middle schoolers,” said Ms. King, “so we created a Google form for them to fill out on their iPads to help them evaluate their skillsets and interests prior to the event.”
Ms. King and Ms. Marshall also designed a Google form that was sent to organizations attending the Services Opportunity Fair. The form allowed groups to outline tasks volunteers would be expected to perform as well as indicate any age restrictions imposed. This process helps identify groups that would align well for Middle School students. As a result, five groups were able to meet with interested sixth, seventh, and eighth grade girls.
One group able to use young volunteers is the Chattanooga Theatre Center. “We have lots of opportunities for students of all ages—starting in fourth grade—for our show,” says Julie Van Valkenberg. “We are telling GPS students there are opportunities to act, run lights and sound, paint sets, use power tools (if they’re old enough), and even usher.” As an added bonus, volunteers can earn free tickets to select shows.
On the GPS Resource Board, PIC provides a place for permission slips and waivers, links to a directory of organizations, and eventually a way for all GPS students to log hours for summer experiences and volunteer time. “When our girls begin the college application process, our goal is for all their volunteer hours to be accounted for through our PIC link,” Ms. King adds.
The majority of the service organizations set up on the DeFoor Patio to meet with Upper School students. The third year for the fair brought in more participants than ever before. Katherine Abell, with the Tennessee Aquarium, held a snuggly python that generated lots of wide-eyed interest. Others handed out stickers and swag to girls who stopped to inquire.
Some of the programs present included:
Tennessee River Gorge Trust
Chattanooga Theatre Center
Habitat for Humanity
Family Promise of Greater Chattanooga
Ronald McDonald House of Greater Chattanooga
Christian Service Program at Southern Adventist University
Mariah Prescott, business and community access manager with Tennessee River Gorge Trust, returned this year to recruit more student volunteers. “We’ve worked with GPS in the past,” she said, “and have had students come out to help at our bird observatory. We’re hoping to get them come out and help with more service projects.”
In the gym, GPS clubs such as Tech Club, Video Club, Calliope, Computer Science Club, Christian Forum, TED Talks, Kaleidoscope, Gypsies, and more set up tables to allow Upper School students to inquire about membership.
Junior Maya Bhutwala helped staff the Video Club table. “I’ve been involved since my freshman year,” she says, “working on Bruiser Tube segments, helping in Chapel, working on individual projects. We hope that all members gain a sense of collaboration, so they can share their own creative ideas. We also love the idea of students taking on individual project as well as being responsible to the group. It’s a super fun club.”
At the fair, the girls asked questions, collected brochures, and jotted their names onto rapidly filling interest sheets; later they’ll commit to a level of service that fits within their and their family’s schedules.
"Through these opportunities of volunteering and civic engagement, girls are inspired to lead a life of purpose,” said Ms. King. “When you instill this commitment to service early in life, they’re more likely to serve in their communities as adults.”