PALMETTO -- Major League Baseball's Action Team Volunteers of America program hit a home run in the mind of Gabrielle Jarmoszko, a senior at Manatee School for the Arts in Palmetto.
About three years ago, Jarmoszko had already developed an action plan of her own in how to get involved and give back to the community, and with a few conversations with school administration, she soon found herself partnered with MLB's premier youth initiative.
The Manatee Action Team was born. Asked to point the students in the right direction was language-arts teacher Kevin Gush.
"When I first got into this, I was thinking it was something we could do once or twice a year to help some kids close to graduation get their required community-
service hours," Gush said. "From pretty much the first day, I knew it would be completely different."
That's because Gush had not yet realized that Jarmoszko had been planning a volunteer group for quite some time. Gush said he wasn't sure where to begin with the group, "until Gabby handed me a full notebook with all of her ideas in it."
Jarmoszko said she wanted to start an organization that benefitted the community, was strictly volunteer-oriented and to stand out within a school that emphasizes volunteerism and community service.
"There are a lot of volunteer groups at this school," said Jarmoszko. "But I wanted to focus on something that we could do to help out where we would see the results."
So the group of teenagers often rises before the sun on some Saturdays and spends many of their weekends cleaning up roads, parks and other community focal points to give back, volunteer and see immediate results of their hard work. And people have taken notice.
The city of Palmetto recognized the group at a recent council meeting. And before Mayor Shirley Groover Bryant thanked them for their commitment to community, a letter from New York Yankees pitcher David Robertson, a Tampa resident and Action Team advocate for MLB, was read thanking the students for their devotion to the program. Robertson commended the students for their participation and offered his congratulations for being recognized by the city.
Jarmoszko's group, formed with a dozen members, has grown to more than 50. Gush said there is a rarely a day that goes by when a student doesn't ask about the Action Team.
Growing Action Team
"I never imagined it would grow this big or we would do this much," said Jarmoszko. "I just wanted to help people and never really expected for this group to get so much recognition from the community. I'm not only happy about that, but (also am) moreso about the fact that everyone feels welcome when they join the team. Anyone can walk up to us and say they want to volunteer and they will be welcomed into our family."
And it is about family to Cassandra Yerger, 16, who said she joined the Action Team to be mindful "that it's really important for people to work on their own lives, but more important to help others who can't do so. Once I found out what this group is all about, I got really into it and it's my favorite thing at school now."
Once a month, the Action Team spreads out to help clean up local parks and then spends two more weekends a month doing volunteer variety shows for area retirement homes. The group will be performing next at The Courtney, in Palmetto, Oct. 18, at 1:30 p.m. MLB has promised that "a MLB player will be at one of our next performances," said Gush, who added that he hoped it will be Robertson.
The public is invited to attend the Manatee Action Team's volunteer performances that feature dancing, singing and music.
Action Team member Jazmin Reyes said being involved with the team has changed her life.
"A lot of times if I wake up and am having a bad start to my day, I get to school and join up with my team and my whole world turns around," said Reyes. "Everyone is always happy and it just changes my entire day."
Jarmoszko will graduate this year and will leave the group she founded to her fellow Action Team members, captains and future members. When asked what her hopes are for the legacy she was leaving behind, the bright-eyed, smiling teenager beaming with excitement and fell into a brief moment of reflection before saying, "I really hope I was able to make a difference."
Gush said he has no doubt that his senior student leader has done just that, not only in the work the group will continue to do but in the spirit in how it accomplishes its goals.
"These are the most amazing kids I've ever known," said Gush. "They are so generous and so giving that they have actually changed me. I bought into their excitement right away and it's never wavered. Not only with the cleanups, but with the performances they do for the retirement homes. I just feel so proud of these kids."
Mark Young, Herald urban affairs reporter, can be reached at 941-745-7041 or follow him on Twitter @urbanmark2014.