Stop by the community homes in La Grange and Forest Park on almost any Saturday and you will likely see a group of enthusiastic teenagers baking cookies, playing cards and games or doing seasonal crafts with the equally enthusiastic residents.
High school sophomores, juniors and seniors from Nazareth Academy have been visiting with the adults who live in the two Aspire homes. The teens are all involved in the student-led Friends in Service and Hospitality (F.I.S.H.) program at Nazareth.
A student from the La Grange Park high school who had a passion for working with people with developmental disabilities started F.I.S.H. ten years ago. When the Nazareth students currently involved in F.I.S.H. were looking for a new place to bring their program in September 2010, they chose Aspire.
Jennifer Smigielski, one of two senior leaders for F.I.S.H., describes the Saturday visits as “relaxing and chill for both the visitors and the residents.” She believes the program is good for the students because it increases their understanding of people with disabilities.
“The residents are always so warm, welcoming and receptive,” says Jennifer. “Our volunteers love to see the residents smile. Having a part in making people happy is very fulfilling.”
Gina Conti, the other senior leader of the F.I.S.H. program agrees. “The students have to go out of their comfort zone and learn creative ways to communicate and interact,” she explains. One of Gina’s duties is to evaluate the underclassman after they participate in the Saturday visits. “They are patient and understanding. They make real connections with the residents.”
Gina can’t imagine her high school career without her volunteer work at Aspire. “I feel comfortable around all different types of people now. I learned there is a way to connect with everyone.”
To learn more about our exciting volunteer opportunities, visit our Do Something page