by Jennifer Bassett, Hands4Hope Founder & Executive Director
Hands4Hope has a gift for recognizing the leadership potential in youth who are often overlooked. Many of these youth are shy, quiet, or insecure, or may not have the same financial or educational advantages as others. They do, however, have something special that shines through, like passion and drive.
We met one such young man, who has become a standout in our program, when our teens were running Project Birthday and a Summer Lunch Program at his housing development six years ago. Marco would come to the activities and he bonded with some of the Hands4Hope youth who were part of the program. One day he stepped up and asked if he could help…and that started our wonderfully beneficial relationship with Marco. He became the liaison between Hands4Hope and the residents in his community, making sure everyone was aware of the programs we were running there. He loved Project Birthday, and would identify the children whose birthdays were due to be celebrated so that they had an opportunity to invite friends to their party.
Marco continued his proactive volunteerism and joined the Hands4Hope Club at his school, working on other outreaches and joining project committees. He would often walk or ride his bike to meetings, and called me to arrange rides when the location was too far. His limited transportation resources and intermittent internet access forced some limitations on his participation, but he often persevered and was a frequent presence in a variety of activities.
Admiring his work ethic and enthusiasm, I asked him if he would like to attend a Hands4Hope leadership camp. We are able to offer scholarships through generous donations, and he eagerly filled out an application. Little did we know that his biggest hurdle to overcome was that he had never before been away from home. I brought along my teenage son Andrew to help me convince the family, and our stories of the opportunities and growth available to him quickly dampened their fears.
Marco thrived at the leadership camp, and came back inspired and wanting to do more. He continued to participate in Hands4Hope outreaches and got involved in helping with the Haunted House, which he loves. Marco continued to attend leadership camp for another two years. Inspired by his continued work as the liaison and as a teen mentor for Hands4Hope events at his housing development, Marco set out to start a program of his own. Combining his love of soccer and his passion for working with the kids in the community, he rallied the residence coordinator for Mercy Housing and our Hands4Hope outreach coordinator to organize a Soccer Clinic for elementary age children. It was a rousing success, and he plans to offer it to youth in his community again in the fall.
Marco’s efforts have not gone unnoticed, earning him coverage in local press. One day I mentioned to him how proud I was of his accomplishments, and he replied, “you and the people in Hands4Hope have helped fuel me and made me who I am…sending me to leadership camp made me a strong leader, so thanks to you.”
Really, it’s thanks to all of us for helping Marco and youth within our own communities become confident leaders who have the ability to impact those around us. Following Marco’s story – to where he is now at American River College and still a frequent Hands4Hope volunteer – helps us visualize how opportunities and thoughtful donations can help change the future.