Putting Others First
SCHOOLS, STUDENTS | May 28, 2020
Putting Others First

How CPS Students Across the City are Serving their Community While Learning from Home

Growing up, Kenwood Academy sophomore Kamren C. was inspired by the emphasis his close family members placed on giving back. A mission trip to Eswatini and South Africa cemented a focus on humanitarianism as one of his key traits, and, as he grew older, he started to take more initiative with various service projects. These days, he’s extremely passionate about African-American History inside the classroom and, even though he’s learning remotely, he’s still found time to volunteer with the Operation PUSH Coalition to provide food and masks for those in need. Alba Castaneda, Kamren’s counselor, says his willingness to serve is also reflected by how he treats other members of Kenwood’s student body. 

“Kamren is quite a personality. I always see him interacting in the hallways with teachers and students,” said Ms. Castaneda. “He’s not only extremely engaged in the community but also shows that engagement in our school building as well.” 

At Walter Payton College Prep, freshman Maya J. was inspired to give back for a similar reason as Kamren: her family members. After thinking about her own grandparents, she recruited her twin sister Riya and a few of her close friends to create Lifting Hearts with the Arts, a non-profit organization that connects local senior citizens with CPS students using a range of virtual activities from art to music to games. Lane Tech eighth-grade student June S. says the decision to spend her time serving on the organization’s leadership team was an easy one. 

“Joining this organization just felt like a good thing to do now that I have more free time,” said June. “A lot of things are cancelled, and I was immediately attracted to it because it seemed like a positive way to be spending my time.” 

Kamren volunteering with the Operation PUSH Coalition. 

The organization has grown over the past few months and now serves more than 100 residents weekly. Residents are matched with student volunteers and connect using video conferencing in either one-on-one or group settings. As the students have connected with their seniors using technology, they’ve found that they share many common interests. Riya even learned that one of her seniors had read one of the texts she was reading for her Latin class many years ago. Even though the organization’s current model is based on the limitations of the pandemic, the students are already brainstorming ways to keep it running when things return to normal. 

“When the pandemic is over, we’re really looking forward to meeting everyone in person and continuing to build these relationships with the residents,” said Maya. “We’ve learned that a lot of residents struggle with the technology, so after the pandemic is over, we’re thinking that teaching seniors how to use devices would be helpful too.”

Kamren is also thinking about the future. He recently completed an online entrepreneurship program and is now working on using social media to expand his brand—I Am Young Servant Leader—to help others connect with organizations and missions that they care about. 

“It’s important that you start off slow when you’re getting involved with a cause so that you can learn how to best protect others,” said Kamren. “During these times, you can think about what you have—that you would otherwise throw away—that can be given to someone who needs it.”