It takes flocks of volunteers to run many summer camps, but at one program in Naperville, the campers are the volunteers.
The first Willing Hands Volunteer Camp offered this week by Naperville Park District gave junior high school-aged participants experience with the entire volunteer process as they cleaned animal cages, helped kindergarten cooking classes and picked up trash at parks.
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Volunteer coordinator Lynnette Hoole designed the camp to teach junior high students, many of whom are required to complete volunteer hours for school or religious education, about what it takes to volunteer.
"They're starting at the younger age, but they don't know what to do," Hoole said. "I really wanted to work with the younger kids to show them what they can do right here in Naperville."
Hoole said she frequently gets calls from teens who want to volunteer that same day and don't realize an application usually is required. She said the camp taught its first nine participants how to apply to help out at organizations including DuPage County Animal Control and Care, Naperville Public Library, Naper Settlement and the park district.
One lesson she said campers took to heart is volunteer work is fulfilling, but it's not all fun and games.
Some campers helped at a park district cooking program for kindergartners by sweeping floors and washing dishes after the youngsters dropped ingredients and made messes. And while the group's morning at the DuPage County Animal Control and Care in Wheaton involved "some pet time," Hoole said it also involved cleaning dog kennels and unloading deliveries.
"Sometimes being a volunteer is not about leading," Hoole said. "Sometimes it's about cleaning up after the group."
The camp, which took place each morning Monday through Friday, concluded with Hoole teaching participants about one of the park district's most important volunteer activities: "litter picking." Campers went to Wildflower Park to, among other things, pick up trash, an activity Hoole said helps keep park district properties aesthetically pleasing, environmentally friendly and safe for people and animals alike.
"They're getting a really good experience that volunteering isn't always the most glamorous," Hoole said. "But there is a great need for it."