Students lend helping hands

GW AmeriCorps volunteers lived up to the organization’s motto, “Getting things done,” as they delivered free groceries to elderly residents of the Shaw community Saturday.

The volunteer project is a bimonthly service run through the GW chapter of AmeriCorps, a hands-on community service organization started by President Clinton in 1993.

Kris Petumenos, AmeriCorps member and site coordinator for Emmaus Services for the Aging, said the two most important tasks she faces as a member is getting volunteers to assist with GW’s Neighbors Project and getting members to recognize the importance of their efforts.

This sort of discussion is unique to the Emmaus program, Petumenos said.

“It’s not just a hands-on service,” Petumenos said. “We have reflections afterward. As stated in the Neighbors Project guidelines, this sort of recognition reiterates the need for volunteers to be educated on the Shaw community, inside and out.”

One volunteer, freshman James Flynn, recently helped a woman move from her apartment through the Emmaus program and decided to return this month to continue his volunteering.

“It’s tiring, but very rewarding at the same time,” Flynn said. “I lived in a rural area, so I’ve never had the opportunity to do this sort of thing before.”

Petumenos said most seniors at the James Building on N Street, where the project took place, live on or below the poverty line and benefit greatly from grocery delivery.

Students broke up into pairs and delivered groceries to certain rooms on each floor of the building, but not without taking certain precautions.

“You need to use your own intuition when entering a room,” Petumenos told the volunteers before Saturday’s event, reminding the volunteers that they might encounter difficult situations.

Volunteers take on an added responsibility when they deliver groceries – looking around and taking notice of a tenant’s living environment and making sure they are living safely.

“One lady’s room was really hot,” volunteer Bridget Grage said after delivering groceries to three floors. “She has a tendency of leaving her oven on for heat, but we checked it out and everything was OK.”

She said she regularly visits a woman who will not let anyone into her room unless they first offer her a four-piece serving of spicy fried chicken.

“She has changing moods,” Petumenos said. “It’s sort of an insurance policy to get through the door.”

Even without a fried chicken meal, volunteers said they noticed tenants proved to be appreciative and kind.

“Lots of people seem thankful and were interested in asking how we were,” Grage said.

In the future, Petumenos said she hopes to continue the Emmaus project while also creating inter-generational programs that link GW volunteers, elementary students, and Shaw senior citizens.

“If the community can give back to itself, by people in the community helping, then there will be something great happening here,” Petumenos said. “We’ve changed a lot over the years, and we’re still changing. With every new volunteer there are new, wonderful ideas.”

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