After a long hiatus due to COVID-19, the Community Mental Health Authority of Clinton, Eaton and Ingham Counties is reviving its teen volunteer program.
The program, which has operated in the Lansing area for nearly a decade, aims to give area teens a variety of benefits — from job experience to new friends.
Paul Brooks, a Community Mental Health Authority senior mental health worker who heads the program, said the groups give teens a leg up as they approach adulthood.
“So when they turn 18 or 19, or they move out of mom and dad’s house, they have some sort of knowledge,” Brooks said. “Just real-life experiences. We try to give them as much as possible.”
Real-life experiences can take many forms — and the program puts an emphasis on “grunt” work like coating decks, cleaning bathrooms and stocking shelves.
Brooks said while this work may not be attractive to some, this is the experience teens need when they look for their first job.
“We try to sell them job experiences,” Brooks said. “You know, a lot of people don’t have job experience, but they really want a job.”
Outside of job experience, teens also join the group to socialize. Brooks said it’s not the bathroom cleaning that attracts a lot of new members, but instead the prospect of making new friends.
“That’s one thing that we always work on is being social with them,” Brooks said. “What happens is that these teams will grow into friendships.”
Many volunteers buy into this. Malaisa Suttles, 17, said this work experience was one of her top motivators for joining the program.
“I’m trying to get a job, so I want that to be on my resume, for sure,” Suttles said.
Zayden Kalmbach, 15, decided to spend her birthday volunteering with the group simply to help out the community.
“I am doing it because I like to help people,” Kalmbach said. “I like to work with people.”
Outside of volunteer projects, the program also hosts monthly meetings to teach participants about various adult topics, including financial management, bill payments or apartment searching.
Volunteers are referred to the program through local schools. Brooks said a waiting list has been implemented due to a combination of the volume of prospective volunteers.
Like many organizations, the program is facing a staffing shortage. The program employs two paid staff — down from the four to five pre-pandemic.
“We can’t get enough workers to provide all the services to the (kids) right now,” Brooks said.