CHRISTIANSBURG—It’s not always easy to get a peek beneath the studied, cool exterior of so many 14-year-old young men, but when Pulaski resident Zach Oliver recently received boxes of donated clothing and school supplies in addition to a shopping spree at the New River Valley Mall and a first-ever lunch at Red Robin, the usually stoic ninth-grader was overwhelmed with gratitude.
“This is just too much,” said Oliver of the items given to him by employees of Christiansburg-based nonprofit Community Housing Partners (CHP) as a reward for over 100 hours of service Oliver volunteered over the past two months to the Meadowview Apartments resident summer youth program. Owned and managed by CHP, Meadowview Apartments is a rental community for low-income families, which offers free on-site resident services programming lead by AmeriCorps State members.
Too old to be a participant in the summer program, Oliver offered to help AmeriCorps members Morgan Dean and Jess Johnson keep 10 children ages 5 to 12 years old engaged and entertained four days a week all summer long, and asked for nothing in return.
“CHP felt strongly that Zach’s influence was significant and his genuine goodwill was deserving of recognition,” explained CHP Regional Resident Services Coordinator Tiffany Slusher. “We were aware that he was preparing to start school soon, and like many of the residents in his community, was in great need of school supplies and clothes” and had “far from what he needed to achieve success in the classroom.”
“When we saw how much Zach gave to other children in his neighborhood, we knew we wanted to help him out for his service to the community,” added Dean.
So Slusher approached CHP employees and the New River Valley Mall about donating clothes, school supplies, and gift cards to Oliver that he could use in preparation for a new school year. The resulting contributions were a joyful surprise to the young man, who “finally got to feel like many of his high school classmates do—like he mattered enough to have someone care about him,” said Dean. “It took us a couple tries, but he finally understood that he deserved it.
“The donations helped Zach understand that from hard work comes well-deserved rewards. By the end of the day, he was talking about the next job he wanted to get—a job outside of Meadowview. We’ve created a working monster of the best possible kind, and helped to set an example for other kids that have witnessed this helpful young man’s experience.”