July 2021 -- Minnesota in general, and the Twin Cities in particular, consistently post some of the highest volunteer rates in the country. As a chief reason why, experts cite an unusual abundance of rewarding volunteering options to choose from. Thanks to Hometown Heroes like Blake School junior Maggie Seidel, even area high schoolers have ample opportunity to donate their time and talents to a worthy cause.
Seidel is founder of one of Blake School’s newest student clubs, the Crisis Nursery Youth Advisory Board (YAB). As the name suggests, the group is an official partner of the Greater Minneapolis Crisis Nursery (GMCN).
“I started volunteering for the Crisis Nursery in my freshman year,” Seidel explained. At the time, no formal mechanism existed for students to do this– it was essentially a cold call. “I was so surprised to discover there wasn’t an accessible route to volunteer and support this great organization.”
Seidel quickly grew to love “the Nursery’s” mission and the people it serves. “It’s basically a safe space for children ages 2-6 who are in unsafe and unstable circumstances. … Its overall goal is to mitigate the harmful effects of neglect and abuse.”
GMCN accomplishes this with a 24-hour help hotline, through counseling and education opportunities for caregivers, and – above all – by providing overnight residential care where parents can voluntarily place their children in times of personal crisis.
During her sessions at GMCN, Seidel offered a brief reprieve to staff by playing with kids and helping to develop new enrichment activities.
“Visiting and volunteering at the Nursery is such a powerful experience,” Seidel said. “You’re basically a stranger entering these kids’ safe space, probably at a tough point in their lives. It’s incredible, though; they greet you with such kindness and optimism.”
While still a freshman, Seidel joined Blake School’s student Community Service Board. Club members volunteer throughout the community and find easy pathways for their peers to do the same. Citing her own positive experiences, Seidel championed GMCN as the perfect candidate for a standing partnership with Blake School. In short order, the Crisis Nursery Youth Advisory Board took shape.
“Beginning in 2019, my sophomore year, the group met or volunteered weekly. We grew pretty quickly to 40-plus members,” Seidel explained.
Naturally, playtime with the children in residence is at the heart of students’ service trips to GMCN’s facility in the Nokomis Neighborhood of Minneapolis. However, the YAB’s helping hand extends much further. For example, Seidel and her cohorts also attend to regular upkeep duties like lawn mowing, plus one-off maintenance tasks when the need arises.
Unfortunately, just as the Youth Advisory Board seemed to be hitting its stride, the COVID-19 pandemic placed an indefinite freeze on in-person volunteering at GMCN. Instead of going dormant, though, the group did its best to adapt to the abrupt change in circumstances.
“We decided to research, design and film a series of early childhood education films for the Nursery,” Seidel explained. “They are geared toward different age groups and cover a variety of themes.” Topics include conventional ones, like counting and crafting, and some that may be less expected. An age-appropriate primer on breathing and other calming exercises ranks among Seidel’s favorites.
In addition to this virtual content, the YAB has arranged online fundraisers on behalf of the Nursery. Most recently, students coordinated a Zoom BINGO night to benefit GMCN’s annual Holiday Helper program. All proceeds went toward gift cards for families in need.
Over the past two years, Seidel has grown adept at all manner of virtual programs and interactions. In addition to her work with the Greater Minneapolis Crisis Nursery, she has participated in Model United Nations via videoconference, and even offers one-on-one tutoring to a young English language learner in Rwanda. Nevertheless, she looks forward eagerly to the resumption of in-person volunteering.
“The Nursery is a special place for me. Even if you leave tired, you never leave feeling depleted.”