The Leasure Elementary BEARS (Building Empowerment Awareness and Responsibility through Service) Club started four years ago under the leadership of Tim Werbrich, an Advanced Academics Teacher, as a way to get students (mostly fourth and fifth graders) more involved in community service projects and volunteerism.
“It all started because I was looking for something more for the kids outside academics. Something that showed them volunteerism and giving back,” he explained. “I brainstormed and worked through and was able to get some kids to sign up. We started small.”
“There is not a lot of community service groups for elementary school. It was really hard to find resources for kids this age,” he added. “I have hooked up with generationOn, a national group that shows where grants can be found.”
Each year 75-100 students sign up and about 30 students are active and consistent.
The BEARS Club plans many different service activities each school year. Once a month they come to the Food Bank of Delaware for a volunteer night.
“I like to get the kids out and volunteering,” Werbrich said. “It’s hard that they are so young. The great thing about the Food Bank is that you allow my kids to come out and help. This is the only organization that I found that allows kids.”
The kids look forward to coming to the Food Bank. Last month 45-50 kids and their families came out for their volunteer shift.
“They love it,” added Werbrich. “They can’t wait to volunteer. When you are with friends and doing good work, then I think they enjoy that a lot.”
Some of the students favorite activities at the Food Bank include assembling senior meal boxes and bags for the Backpack Program. They also like sorting and weighing food into specific categories.
“A couple kids really like going around with the grocery cart… oh no, that’s 33 pounds… go find something lighter. It’s like a game,” said Werbrich.
J’nine Hargrove is nine and said the Food Bank is her favorite activity.
“I like being here with all my friends and helping out,” she said. One of her favorite activities was vacuum sealing a bulk donation of beans in the Food Bank kitchen.
Ten-year-old Yanai Vargas volunteers with her mom and older brother.
“I like helping out other people that need it and having fun at the same time,” she said. She, too, likes bagging items.
In addition to volunteering at the Food Bank, the BEARS Club also had the opportunity to attend the 2015 Coming Together conference. A few years ago they attended a screening of the documentary, A Place at the Table, sponsored by the Coalition to End Hunger.
“We had a conversation around the movie afterwards. They came up with great ideas and great solutions,” he said.
Earlier this fall the BEARS hosted a skating party – admission was two bags/boxes of mashed potatoes for the Thanksgiving For All food drive.
The students also participate in river and coastal clean ups, collect personal care items for the YWCA, contribute to Pennies for Puppies, assist with efforts for Renee’s Rescues, collect candy for the Governor Bacon nursing home and make cards for Thanksgiving. Most recently, the BEARS received 100 toys from a Hasboro grant. The students will wrap the gifts after school and give to area organizations that provide gifts for kids at Christmastime.
Others are recognizing the impact the BEARS are having on the local community. They won the 2016 Governor’s Youth Volunteer Awards just this past April.
“There’s a lot of math and reading challenges, but there is that extra component about empathy. What are you giving back to the community? If I can teach them at this level that there are opportunities that you can make a difference… like food insecurity, I see it, I hear about it, I am involved with it,” Werbrich pointed out.
Want to make a difference like the Leasure Elementary BEARS Club? Visit www.fbd.volunteerhub.com for more volunteer opportunities at the Food Bank or www.fbd.org to learn more about our other hunger-relief efforts in the community.