I’ve always thought that empowerment is one of the most essential human needs: important for adults and especially crucial for kids as they are growing up. Empowerment boosts youths’ self-confidence, strengthens their self-worth and helps them realize and develop skills they may not have thought they had; all great contributors to a successful adulthood! Unfortunately, the reality is that many children don’t always grow up in an empowering environment that they deserve.
That’s why I was extremely excited to learn about the HSSV Compassion in Action (CIA) program, which is doing exactly that: empowering kids who need it most. HSSV education staff and San Jose’s Academy school worked together to provided middle-school students with an opportunity to be leaders. The kids bravely put on their volunteer hats to work directly with HSSV’s adoptable animals and then teach their second grade buddies to be Kind Kids through compassionate and responsible pet ownership.
|Here, Kenny notices the camera while he's teaching his buddies|
The CIA program challenged the students to be leaders, to set (and achieve) their own goals, and motivated them to evaluate and adjust their behaviors, now that they had their little buddies depending and looking up to them. As the older students proudly took on roles of leaders and trusted experts, they felt empowered.
|Juan asks the second grade buddies about animal communication|
The program also taught teens how to recognize, understand and correct negative animal behavior, with compassion and without using force. And as students learned the importance of respecting animals’ feelings and let their compassion shine, they started to see kindness as a strength, not a weakness.
|DeLondre spends some quality time in the Sunshine Community Room|
The student’s school teacher, Sara Piazzola said the program “helped them internalize the messages that they send out to people. It also helped them step out of the realm of ‘my own needs’ and into a realm where they needed to think about what someone else was ‘saying’ and how they needed to respond”.
|Miguel and senior dachshund, "Lefty," who has since been adopted!|
Many of the teens saw a transformation in themselves and their friends. One student “learned how to be patient and kind to little kids”. Several students observed that “their classmates are more careful with others and they help each other more”. And another shared, “I saw in my mood and behavior that I became a lot more nice to my peers, and I actually go and play with my animal now.”
The animals added a unique twist because sometimes just being loved unconditionally is extremely empowering. And fortunately unconditional love is a skill that animals excel at! One student commented on the positive emotions that she felt about HSSV and being around animals “When it came to being Tuesday, I got real pumped…It can really take you somewhere else. The HSSV is a great, exciting, touching place. Not anyone was in a bad mood.”
This program couldn’t have happened without the support of Youth Community Service, the California Department of Education’s S.T.E.M Initiative, transportation provided by the City of San Jose's Safe School Campus Initiative, and the partnership between the Oak Grove School District’s Academy School and HSSV to give these children a chance to show all of us what it means to be Kind Kid.
-Natasha Dolginsky, HSSV volunteer blogger