Visiting teens give back to Lawrenceville nonprofit

LAWRENCEVILLE -- Logan Ratick of Trumbull, Conn. never imagined he would spend his afternoon hammering door hinges to birdhouses as a community service project.

"I learned how to hammer," the 16-year-old said with laugh.

On Friday afternoon, 44 teenagers from around the country volunteered at Hi-Hope Center while in town. They are all visiting Atlanta for the BBYO's International Convention, a pluralistic Jewish youth movement.

"It was an opportunity to help out in the community and it's something like other projects I've done in the past," Ratick said. "It's a great opportunity to extend that into a new community. I really enjoy helping others out. (The adults at Hi-Hope) have fun doing stuff that I normally wouldn't think is fun and they have more creativity than me, which I think is really cool."

Throughout the day, the volunteers learned about Hi-Hope and the needs and challenges that adults with developmental disabilities present. Then, they separated into groups to work on small craft projects, play the Nintendo Wii and enjoy music appreciation with the day program participants.

Each of the teens chose to help out at the nonprofit, which added to the positive vibes in the air because all of the participants felt comfortable working with the adults.

"Our teens for the convention were given a list of different service places they could go to with a description of what each was and knew what was going on, and they got to choose what they wanted to do. These guys were super excited when we told them what they were doing (at Hi-Hope)," said Jessie Grenspan, Program Associate of Lake Ontario Region in Canada. "There were no issues with people not waiting to go. A lot of the kids have previous experience working with (developmental disabled) family members or are totally comfortable in this situation."

The main reason the teens volunteered around metro Atlanta was it is part of their religious beliefs to give back.

"One of the biggest Jewish values is acts of community service and acts of love and kindness -- that's what we stand for at BBYO," Grenspan said. "As much as we can promote that with the teens, the better it is. Being a part of the community ... not only helps your community, it also helps you."

And not only did the day make the teens feel good, those at Hi-Hope enjoyed the experience as well.

"I feel like the kids are interacting really well. We didn't want anyone to feel uncomfortable," Yvonne Whitaker, director of development at Hi-Hope said. "I'm excited because it gives good, positive exposure for Hi-Hope in general, but also for adults with developmental disabilities."

For more information about BBYO, visit www.bbyo.org.