Breeze Arb, 16, held the funnel as Simrun Mirchandani, 15, dumped sand into it that, in turn, began to fill up an attached balloon.
“The sand is stuck,” Breeze giggled as she shook the funnel. “How are we going to make our people stress balls?”
Nearby, Bradenton teenager Amber Levita created birthday cards using multicolored construction paper and stickers.
“Do we know anyone who has a birthday on Halloween?” Amber asked.
The teens gathered last week to make a few goodies that will go to a slew of local seniors in need of friendship and love.
It’s just one aspect of the Teen Volunteer Program at Tidewell Hospice, a nonprofit organization that offers a home-based, support system for patients and families living with advanced illness.
Tidewell, which serves thousands of patients each day, has teen programs in Bradenton, North Port and Venice and has been in existence for eight years.
With 10 volunteers, the Bradenton office on 26th Street West has the biggest bunch of kids, said Tidewell spokeswoman Carlene Cobb. However, there are some teens who are single volunteers in Sarasota, Englewood, Arcadia and Port Charlotte, she said.
The teens participate in projects including “Birthday Brigade” during which they take handmade cards and balloons to patients in nursing homes.
“They just make a fuss over them on their birthday because they don’t often get a lot of visitors,” Cobb said. “A lot of times these folks don’t have family so they appreciate these bright young faces coming in. And for some young people who don’t have grandparent nearby, they get to react with these people and sometimes become friends with them. It’s a win-win for everybody.”
Another popular project for the volunteers is the Tree of Remembrance. It’s made up of handmade origami cranes to memorialize loved ones during the holidays.
Amber said she and the other teens make the cranes and people stop by the tree, write a message to a loved one and put it on the tree. They also get a crane to take home and use as an ornament. This winter it will be on display at Desoto Square mall.
The teen’s latest endeavour: creating picture books for dementia patients to evoke memories.
Breeze said one bonus to volunteering is it counts as community service work needed to graduate.
“We like helping people, and get credit for it, too,” she said.
Proceeds from groups’ fundraising projects allow teens to provide food baskets to needy patients, backpacks full of school supplies for Tidewell’s Children’s Services Program and a donation to a local school.
Recently, Amber won the Association of Fundraising Professionals Youth in Philanthropy Award. The Manatee High School senior was nominated by Hospice volunteer coordinator Linda Anderson for donating more than 150 hours in service to Tidewell’s patients and families.
“We are especially proud of our Teen Volunteer Program and the work these fine young people do with our patients and families,” Anderson said. “Amber stood out as a young person of unusual maturity and commitment.”
Since its inception, she said, the teens have raised more than $5,000 to make the program self sufficient. In addition to her volunteer work at Tidewell, Amber is a member of Manatee High School’s Medical Academy, Health Occupations Students of America, TV Club and Cane News.
Amber said she was shocked when she learned she won the award.
“Being a Tidewell volunteer is an honor to me,” she said. “Doing everything I can to make someone’s last days as comfortable as possible is an amazing feeling. Winning this award is a great honor, and it shows me that people do pay attention to the little things that can make a big difference in a person’s day.”
After graduation, Amber plans to attend State College of Florida and the University of South Florida to earn a nursing degree.
“Then I want to eventually work here,” she said as she sat inside Tidewell’s Bradenton office.