Alvarez Stampley believes volunteers make the Cowart Family YMCA in Brookhaven successful – teenage volunteers, in particular.
Stampley leads the Leaders Club, a group of about 50 high school students who do everything at the Y, from refereeing soccer games to babysitting kids.
“They serve as the ‘volunteer backbone’ of our branch,” Stampley said.
Founded in 1995, the Leaders Club is the only group of its kind in Atlanta. Part service, part social and part athletic, the club is open to eighth graders through 12th grade students. Stampley said the annual open enrollment period just ended, and new members of the leaders club are beginning to attend their first meetings.
“They have a three-month trial period,” Stampley said. “At the end of that trial period, they must be voted in by current club members.”
Stampley said the selection process is based on sweat equity. Those who show up at meetings and put in their volunteer hours are invited to stay as permanent members, he said. This year, there are 55 leaders from nine area middle and high schools.
Leaders are required to perform 15 hours of community service each month, a big commitment for busy students juggling school, sports and other social activities.
But they say it’s a lot of fun, too. “It’s definitely worth it. It doesn’t feel like hard work,” said Emily Agadzhanova, a junior at Chamblee Charter High School.
Eric Llaurador, also a junior at Chamblee, said “Volunteering is actually pretty cool. I love reffing soccer and basketball.”
Stampley said because of the Leaders Club volunteers, the YMCA is able put more money into activities that would otherwise have to go toward paying staff.
“They do it strictly on a volunteer basis, so they don’t get paid anything for it,” Stampley said.
Leaders Club members serve as coaches and referees for youth sports and provide “parents night out” programs to babysit children, among other efforts.
Stampley said the Leaders Club meets once a week, in addition to other activities. He said the time commitment, taking leadership roles, and assuming responsibility is a positive thing for the Leaders.
“We’re empowering teens,” he said.
While the members of the Leaders Club support the YMCA, they also support each other.
At a recent Leaders Club meeting, the members sat around the room in a big circle. They shared what they call “pats on the back” – things like winning soccer games or getting good grades on a quiz.
At the end of the meeting, they did “spirit fingers,” asking their friends for good vibes. One member shared that he was waiting to hear about a scholarship application, and everyone waved their fingers in his direction.
“It really serves as a big mentoring tree,” Stampley said. “It really becomes one, large family unit.”
The word “family” comes up a lot at Leaders Club. Llaurador said he’s very close to his friends in Leaders Club.
“I like to think of it as my second family,” he said. “We definitely mesh very quickly as one big family.”
Agadzhanova has been a part of the Leaders Club for years.“It’s been a big part of my life. It’s helped me make friends,” she said. “It helps me give back and it gives back to me.”