by Yoko Kono, Hands4Hope Community Engagement Coordinator
“Coming together is a beginning, staying together is progress, and working together is success.” Henry Ford. One spring day in 2008, Hands4Hope participants hid eggs and made crafts with children from the nearby White Rock Village community. The Spring Potluck Picnic was Hands4Hope's very first Community Engagement event and the start of a partnership with White Rock Village that grew to mentoring and building positive relationships with the community's children through more than 500 outreach events.
This initial partnership was such a success that it led to Hands4Hope helping with their Summer Youth Program and started Project Birthday where the Hands4Hope youth planned, organized, and hosted a monthly party for children and teens. Each birthday child was allowed to invite a couple friends and Hands4Hope volunteers prepared games and activities, baked a cake, put together gifts, and provided a fun party. “Some of my favorite memories are of the Birthday Celebrations that Hands4Hope would do for our youth. To see the youth volunteers prepare and set up the whole production and seeing the smiles on the kids’ faces was priceless,” said Eddie. Even during Covid, the two organizations found a way to help children at White Rock Village feel special. “Hands4Hope even improvised and prepared Birthday Boxes,” said Eddie, “with everything a family would need to host their own parties during the pandemic.”
As our partnership grew, we added more opportunities for Hands4Hope participants to get involved in helping children living at White Rock Village, a part of Mercy Housing which provides apartments for low-income families. Throughout the years, Hands4Hope youth had opportunities to provide snacks and enjoy swimming with children at White Rock Village during Pool Days, foster passion for art and science through Campy Mercy, and even provided soccer clinics led by former Oak Ridge High School Hands4Hope club member, Marcos, who was also a resident in the apartments.
White Rock Village also started the “Homework Hub” for Hands4Hope participants to help young students with homework. Then, to give the children something to look forward to at the end of the school week, Eddie Zacapa, Resident Director for the apartments, started Kidzone. Led by Hands4Hope volunteers, this event provides fun games and activities for children to get their energy out and have a safe place to play. “I really appreciate the way the youth leaders are an example for our youth. It’s great for them to see youth taking on a leadership role. I hope that it translates to them taking on leadership as well. The children really look up to the youth volunteers and are so excited to see those youth that build a relationship with them,” said Eddie. “Hands4Hope youth are a real resource to our community and youth.”
White Rock Village was our first partner agency and we are eternally grateful for the support, guidance, and the numerous opportunities they have given our youth participants. Most of all, through these opportunities, our youth participants have gained confidence, leadership skills, and a passion to connect with and help others. We look forward to many more years of this close partnership we have built.
Look for upcoming summer events with White Rock Village including the return of in-person Project Birthday parties and Camp Mercy.