Operation School Bell is in session

Operation School Bell is in session

Elizabeth Wirtz

Whittier College students were presented with a volunteer opportunity via Student-L on Sept. 20 from the Center for Engaging with Communities.The email  informed students of a volunteer opportunity to help children in the local area. 

The volunteer projects were with Operation School Bell (OSB), an organization which Whittier has been partnered with since 2017. The email listed three dates of possible volunteer opportunities — from 5:30 p.m. to 8:00 p.m. on Sept. 26, Oct. 3, and Oct. 24. This opportunity allows for Whittier College students to engage in creating a meaningful impact on the local community by taking local children of elementary and middle school age shopping at Target.

 Associate Director at Whittier College Center for Engagement with Communities Gina DiPierro  said community engagement is important because, “even if you do not pursue a career in non-profits, it is everyone’s duty to add value to the community. The CEC seeks to promote lifelong learning and civic engagement with the belief that individual well-being is tied to the strength of communities.”

Department chair of Psychology Dr. Lori Camparo was also excited about this volunteer opportunity. “They’re going to be talking. There’s going to be language development going on. There is an opportunity to meet someone who is different from them from both sides, the child and the Whittier College student. Developmentally this is a fantastic opportunity.”

During the volunteer event, students meet the families and go with the students to help them shop. It is the volunteers’ ponsibility to ensure the children are picking out the most economically sound pieces with well-fitting sizes. At checkout, students ensure families are using vouchers appropriately. 

The elementary students receive vouchers of $60, while middle school students receive vouchers of $80. Still, they walk away with a lot more than just new clothes. DiPierro said, “The students walk away knowing that their community loves, cares and supports them. The goals of OSB are to enhance each participating child’s self esteem, to promote learning; and to encourage regular school attendance.” The four school districts that receive services from OSB are Whittier City School District, South Whittier School District, Los Nietos School District, and East Whittier School District. 

To determine the amount of vouchers each school receives, the School Accountability Report Card (SARC) is looked at.  “The Assistance League provides a certain number of vouchers per school based on the club’s budget and the percentage of disadvantaged students at the school site based on the SARC. The funds from the Assistance League are mostly funded through the club’s thrift shop, ‘The Bargain Bin,’ located in Uptown. The school staff at each site identifies the children. All children who are selected are on the free and reduced lunch program,” said DiPierro. The higher percentage of low socioeconomic status students are at a school, the more aid a school qualifies for from the Assistance League.

While the monetary assistance is an incredible opportunity to show investment within the child from the community, Dr. Camparo explains why it is more than just the money. “What makes us feel most valued is not material things, but somebody’s time. The fact that somebody was willing to give up their time out of their busy day and spend it with me; that’s a very big deal. It makes the child feel very worthy,” Investing that time into the elementary student or middle school student can have an enormous impact on their self-concept. 

The voucher is also important in the social development of both the volunteer and the child. Camparo said, “The dollar amount is great because it’s sort of like a stimulus. If you want to see people interact, sometimes you give them something to interact around and that’s the stimulus […] in this case you give them an X amount of dollars and you get to go and spend it. You get to have fun with it and they don’t have to worry about it. But they will have to think in terms of, you have to stay within a certain limit, that’s the real world. We have to set priorities.” Allowing the volunteer and the child to work together will have developmental, psychological and social benefits for both parties.  

Currently, there are 22 students who have decided to volunteer with OSB. Opportunities like this are critical because,as DiPierro says, it provides “Opportunities to engage and serve [which] are also opportunities for the students to take what they are learning in the classroom and to apply it in the ‘real world.’ Today, we need understand and know how to work in a world that has so many components of diversity: political, gender, social, cultural, socioeconomic,” said DiPierro.