Cook: If it takes a village, this is the website

Cook: If it takes a village, this is the website

February 24th, 2015 by David Cook in Opinion Columns

Local artist and teacher Robin Howe often works with area students, especially during the summer, when she runs a workshop-camp on getting into college.

One day, the kids were looking around, scratching their heads, in a lost kind of way. We need to do some community service, they said. But where?

So they asked Howe: could we mow your lawn?

No, she said. But my neighbor is a widow. Mow hers.

The kids pounced. At least three different teenagers started mowing this one yard. That summer, Howe's widow-neighbor had the shortest grass on the block.

But was it really service?

There was nothing transformative about it. No front porch discussions on life, death and loving between widows and teenagers while sipping sweet tea. (They didn't even meet the widow.) That summer, the only thing the kids encountered was the lawnmower.

"How absurd," Howe said, looking back.

So she did something about it.

After winning a grant from Causeway, Howe created a website that connects teenagers with volunteer opportunities. Not in flighty or fluffy ways, but real-world opportunities that create real encounters and real change.

It's called communitymatchchatt.com.

If you're a guidance counselor, youth group leader, parent, or teenager -- especially teenagers -- this is the website for you.

Howe created the webpage as a storehouse of community service opportunities geared specifically for teenagers after realizing such a repository didn't exist.

"That's what made me want to do this," Howe said. "When I was working with students, watching them try to find community service opportunities, I'd spend two hours with two kids looking for two opportunities."

On her website, you can find 50 jobs in five minutes.

Kids on the Block needs teenage volunteers to help as marshals during the St. Chatty's Day parade on March 14.

Outdoor Chattanooga needs teens to help other kids learn how to ride bicycles.

Life Care Center of Hixson needs teens to help run the ice cream parlor or to play bingo with residents.

(It's more than just vanilla ice cream and bingo, you know. There is a real, felt transaction that can occur when kids sit with elders. Stories are told. Perspectives gained. Generational gaps are glued back together.)

"Bridging age groups is so key," said Howe.

Amani Chattanooga needs teens to model fair trade clothing for photo shoots, and help tag and shelf inventory.

Fast Break Athletics needs teens to help run aid stations during trail races.

Family Promise needs teens to help tutor and play games with kids staying in their shelter.

Younger and Wiser needs older teens to help mentor younger teens.

The Humane Society of Greater Chattanooga needs cat-cuddlers and dog-walkers.

"There is something for everyone," Howe said.

It's the Golden Rule meets Facebook. You can search by theme -- from social awareness to animals to cooking -- and by age and date.

Howe has emailed the link to every guidance counselor in the county. On the landing page, Howe included the Anne Frank quote: How wonderful it is that nobody need wait a single moment before starting to improve the world.

I see the website as a form of spiritual and social investment.

"Studies have shown that students who get involved in community service for a decent amount of time continue to serve when they are adults," Howe said.

Service is also healing. Done with intention and humility, service is a two-way street, blessing both giver and receiver.

"Anytime people give, I think they grow," said Howe. "They develop a greater appreciation. They gain respect. There is a sense of awe."

Visit communitymatchchatt.com for more information.

Or better yet, encourage your teenager to visit.

Contact David Cook at dcook@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6329. Follow him on Facebook and Twitter at DavidCookTFP.