While classes will let out in a little more than a month, there will be plenty of opportunities for area students to stay busy and productive during the summer months.

One such outlet is the Bethesda Home Junior Volunteer Program in Goessel, which encourages youths ages 10-14 to spend some of their time off helping the elderly.

According to Gayle Voth, director of life enrichment, the program was started at Bethesda Home five years ago after hearing of something similar being done at another area nursing home, seeing a benefit in it for all involved.

Now, Bethesda gets roughly 20 kids a year to volunteer through the program and help out with several of the activities Voth helps organize — with many signing up for multiple years.

"Usually, if they do it once, they do it a couple more times," Voth said. "Some typical things that they sign up for would be Bingo, coffee time, table games and gardening. We usually add gardening in for the summer months. The dietary department also has options for them to help out passing out trays at meal time."

Bingo was a favorite activity for Goessel sixth-grade student Adriana Duerksen, who also noted she was part of a kazoo band and helped make snickerdoodle cookies for the nursing home during her time in the volunteer program last year.

On top of volunteering to help with those activities, children can also participate with the residents (as with table games) and start to build a relationship — something that Voth sees as wholly beneficial to both parties.

"There are real benefits for both the youth and the residents. For the residents, I think, most of them really become energized when there are kids around and it kind of helps them feel like they have more of a purpose when it comes to interacting with children. It also allows for a little bit more individual attention because the kids interact with the elders and they can also work more one-on-one with them on various activities," Voth said. "I think the youth benefit because they can learn what volunteerism is all about, the whole notion of giving of yourself and giving of your time, talent and not expecting pay in return. I think it's beneficial for them to learn from the residents."

"I like helping people and I'm getting to learn all of their difficulties, so I'm getting to know them better," Duerksen said. "It's a very special opportunity because getting to know people better is good and it helps you with possibly getting a job there later."

Preparing students to enter the working world is another benefit Voth highlighted as well, as the program also helps build professional relationships — with future employment opportunities (in high school) offered at Bethesda — and develops communication skills among youth volunteers.

Bethesda is fairly flexible in working with its youth volunteers, as Voth said there are two sessions (to work around family vacations and other commitments) each summer and participants have a freedom in setting their schedules — with some coming an hour each week and others coming as many as three hours a week.

Through the years, the volunteer program has been a plus for Bethesda home (among other intergenerational efforts) and it continues to be well-received by area youth — so much so that Voth encourages any youth on the fence about participation to strongly consider it as a summer activity.

"With the youth, I've started doing reviews and evaluations that they fill out. They just, overwhelmingly, love it; they just enjoy it so much and they want to do it again," Voth said. "Even if a youth is sort of apprehensive and not sure that they are cut out for it, I think it's worth a try because the residents have varied personalities just like the kids do and it's easy to find someone that they will relate well to and it's easy to plug them into an activity that they can enjoy."

For more information on the program or to register, call Voth at 620-367-2291.