Ethan with student volunteer Amalia Tobias
Many teenagers play sports or hang out with friends when they’re not in school. Amalia Tobias of Summit, New Jersey, spends her free time helping others.
A few years ago, the 18-year-old high school senior started the “Family Promise Club.” The group is affiliated with Family Promise, a national organization that mobilizes volunteers to offer hospitality to families who are homeless because of circumstances beyond their control.
After volunteering for several years, Amalia observed that Family Promise guests are not much different than her own family.
“Anyone can become homeless at any time,” Amalia said. She offered the example of a family who lost almost everything they had in 2012 because of Hurricane Sandy.
ENJOYING TIME TOGETHER
Amalia decided that other young people could make a positive difference, too, and that the benefits would even flow both ways. She brought a few of her friends to volunteer with her at a local organization that was serving Family Promise guests.
There, the teens played with the guests’ young children and read books with them. The teens also helped serve the families meals that had been donated. One friend of Amalia's described it as “the most incredible experience I’ve ever had.”
Rachel Isralowitz, another student member of the club, remembered her first time volunteering. She entertained the kids and filmed short music videos with them, which they watched later.
“We let the parents relax and have some time off,” Rachel said. “The kids seemed to be enjoying themselves a lot. I was also very happy afterwards because it was so much fun.”
TAKING A RISK
This motivated Amalia to go a step further and start the Family Promise Club. Amalia saw that her friends were happy after they volunteered because it gave them a sense of community.
Still, Amalia knew that starting the new club was a risk. “What if no one else comes besides me and my friends?” she wondered.
At the first meeting, Amalia told the other students, “A Family Promise guest may be in an unfortunate position, but that doesn’t mean that he or she is any less of a person than we are.”
To Amalia’s delight, the club is a huge success, and students in all grades enthusiastically participate.
“The families identify for us what their goals are,” said Claas Ehlers, president of the national Family Promise organization. “We don’t tell them how to accomplish them. [Instead, we] empower them to achieve those goals themselves.”
Photo courtesy of the author