Phoenix O’Keefe doesn’t really like yardwork.
But there she was on Wednesday, with a rake, weeding at one of the Seeds of Life nurseries while some of her Summer Serve co-campers were trying to pull a tree stump out of the ground.
“It’s hard work,” said Ari Edwards, one of the camp counselors, “but ... you can physically see how you’re helping out.”
Phoenix was taking part in Summer Serve, a program created by the United Way of Frederick County for middle and high school students to “awaken their inner leader, build their teamwork skills, and meet like-minded peers while creating positive change in their community,” according to the United Way website.
Each day in the two-week session, the kids go to a different project site, Summer Serve Director Alyssa Siebers said.
Friday will round off the second session, according to the website, after which will be a third session and then a “leadership week.”
So, while Wednesday was weeding and pulling tree stumps, another day could be spent at the Frederick Rescue Mission, which Phoenix said has been one of her favorite projects.
The Rescue Mission was one of Jaden Burke’s favorite volunteering projects, too.
“I like being able to serve food to the homeless,” the rising sophomore at St. John’s Catholic Prep said. “It’s important to give back to the community.”
United Way intern Sam Boison, a Frederick High School junior, said volunteering at a warehouse operated by Goodwill Industries of Monocacy Valley has given him a better understanding of the work the organization does, “especially in our community, where Goodwill is so needed.”
“Knowing how much an impact it had — it was eye-opening for me,” Boison said.
Volunteering has also had an impact on Boison, who started as a camper a few years ago.
“It’s interesting to see the same learning experience I had and help them through it,” Boison said.
And he’s not the only one who has returned to Summer Serve when they got older.
Save for one year that she took off because she was going to college, Edwards has been participating in Summer Serve since the eighth grade as a camper, an intern and now, a counselor.
Summer Serve was smaller when she started, but it has since “blown up in the past two-three years,” Edwards said.
With the increase of kids, the counselors work together to watch the “25 to 30” kids each session, Boisson said.
“Just how the youth volunteers learn how to trust [each other] and get things done,” he added.
They also work together to motivate the kids.
Before the kids go out to their project sites for the day, Edwards said that the counselors explain what their task will be and why the task is important.
“Because teenagers can be like ‘Why are we doing this?” she said.
Even Edwards said that her first few days as a camper were tough.
But “by the second day, I was like ‘I want to come back, I want to spend my whole summer here,’” Edwards said.
Though the program is supposed to provide an opportunity for kids to give back to the community, Summer Serve has also given back to Edwards.
“I owe a lot to United Way,” Edwards said. “They really shaped my values and helped me understand ... how to make a difference in the world.”