Veteran volunteer recognizes value of a constant face

Although the Campbell Street Family, Youth and Community Association Inc. has seen abundant changes in the past several months, including a recent relocation to Trinity Episcopal Church, 844 W. Fourth St., one thing has remained a constant.

Latifah Henderson recently welcomed another addition to her own family, but for seven years she has volunteered her time to her extended family at The Center. Her youngest daughter continues to participate in The Center’s activities, which include an after-school program, Summer of Fun activities, physical activities and a full meal during the school week.

Henderson began volunteering when her oldest daughter was starting kindergarten.

“I’m not the type to let you go and do anything alone,” she said. “Once I watch and see, I get involved, too.”

Even though Henderson worked a full-time job at Hope Enterprises Inc., she still went straight to The Center each night, often staying until 6:30 or 7 p.m.

Henderson first started by managing the drill team but quickly formed a homework club, as well as assisting with the Girls on the Run program offered to young girls, helping in the kitchen and garden and teaching the kids cooking skills.

“The kids are our future,” she said. “If not for the kids, there is no us. It takes a village to raise a family. I hate to see them get lost. These kids learned quickly that my door is always open. They can come to me for everything.”

According to Heather Eisner, The Center’s operations manager, the children in the program have better etiquette and table manners and learned to habitually wash their hands without being told, thanks to Henderson. The children also are more cooperative about getting homework and other school projects completed.

“It is so important to have parents like Latifah volunteer within children’s programs,” Eisner said. “The children begin to experience normalcy by seeing the same folks at their place. They bonded with Latifah.”

One of the biggest struggles has been volunteer retention, Eisner added. The Center gets a few dedicated and hardworking volunteers that form strong bonds with the program participants – and “then life happens,” she said.

“Sickness, change of employment, even new births have affected the volunteer pool,” Eisner said. “We are always looking for extra hands to help out.”

Henderson cannot stress enough the importance of parental involvement at The Center. It is necessary for them to daily hear “make me proud” and “make good choices” from those adults who are most important in their lives, she said. Even though she knows she may come across as mean or stern, she does it all for a good reason: To create respectable members of the community.

Like most other nonprofit agencies in Lycoming County, though, The Center relies on funding from various outlets, especially Lycoming County United Way.

“United Way has supported programs at The Center like no other organization,” Eisner said. “We have been able to restructure our programs to center on the things that matter – the children that we serve. United Way dollars help us to feed over 40 children throughout every school week. That’s over 4,800 meals per year. We lost the means to provide the meals free of charge. Without United Way’s help, the children may not be eating supper.”

“We support the efforts of agencies like the Campbell Street Family, Youth, and Community Association because we see, first hand, how great the need for financial support is for non-profits who are trying to support our neighbors,” said Adrienne Wertz, Lycoming County United Way director of funds distribution and community building. “Through our annual allocation process, we take an in-depth look at the cost to continue to support those community members who utilize places like The Center each day and try to find a way to help. The difference between the needed funds for such facilities to keep their doors open and the amount raised in the 2011 campaign made it apparent that the funding we can provide is vital. The 2012 campaign is not yet over. Every penny counts.”

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