Sunday, December 9, 2018 || By Igor Studenkov || @maywoodnews
Featured image: Constance Riales, who has created a program that will allow 8th graders at a school in Bellwood to earn community service hours by helping area senior citizens. | Facebook
After last month’s winter storm blanketed the Chicago area in snow, Constance Riales thought about Bellwood seniors who were trapped in their houses, because they weren’t in any shape to shovel.
“They were stranded,” said Riales, who is secretary of the Bellwood Library Board of Trustees. “They couldn’t get out, they didn’t have anyone [to shovel snow] and, of course, they can’t pay for it.”
She wished that the community service project she’d been trying to put together for the past four months was already up and running. The idea, which Riales proposed during a Bellwood Board of Trustees meeting in August, is simple.
Roosevelt Junior High School 8th-graders need 30 community service hours in order to graduate and there are plenty of Bellwood seniors who could use some help in their day-to-day lives, Riales said.
Why not set up a program where 8th graders can complete their community service hours by helping seniors?
Since introducing the concept, Riales has garnered the support of the village and the Bellwood District 88 school board. In addition, senior homes in the area have been receptive to letting the 8th graders help their residents.
Riales said that officials with the homes just need to make sure all of the paperwork is in order. Once that’s out of the way, Riales said, the 8th graders can start their service.
Riales, who is also a member of the Maywood Senior Advisory Board, said seniors always need help with household chores, such as shoveling snow and yard work — whether they’re living on their own or at senior facilities.
In addition, there are other services that aren’t as labor intensive that the students can offer the seniors, including reading to them. The point of the program, Riales said, is less about the work than about the companionship.
“Seniors shouldn’t have to be alone,” said Riales, who is a senior herself. “They’ve worked hard all their lives and they shouldn’t worry about being snowed in and [not being able to] pay someone to get them out.”
She added that the program will help students become better, more empathetic human beings.
‘We just want our youth to have more empathy for seniors,” she said. “They need to be around more seniors to learn more, to get the feel for community service beyond business.”
Riales said that she’s anxiously waiting for area facilities like the Senior Suites of Bellwood to finalize the approval process that will allow the young people to start helping the seniors. She said she’d like to have the program up and running as soon as possible, so that next time it snows, “we’ll be ready.”
For more information on the program or how to get your youth involved, contact Riales: (708) 466-5419, Ms. Maxwell, dean of students at Roosevelt Middle School: (708) 410-3913, or the program’s parent coordinator, Patricia Crawford: (708) 410-345. VFP