For four years, University of Central Florida students have helped children at Mending Hearts with their homework and entertained them with games and crafts.
The UCF students are offering nearly 20 children from low-income families more than tutoring and fun – they’re instilling in them hope for brighter futures.
“It’s important for the children to know that young adults care about whether they’re successful in life, and it gives them someone to look up to,” said Stephanie Richards, Mending Hearts’ executive director. “Our UCF volunteers are good role models. They’re dependable, and they love our kids.”
The UCF students’ weekly visits are part of a partnership between Volunteer UCF and Mending Hearts, a nonprofit organization that provides affordable housing to low-income families and people with disabilities in Sanford and in Holden Heights, a community south of downtown Orlando.
Mending Hearts assists families facing financial challenges caused by job losses, divorces, deaths or illnesses. The organization provides basic needs – everything from low-rent housing to furniture and personal hygiene products — that help families achieve financial stability and lead healthy, secure lives.
For many of Mending Hearts’ children, tasks such as addition and subtraction can be challenging. It is clear that their unstable home lives have disrupted their education, said Rachel Brill, a sophomore who volunteers with Mending Hearts every week and also serves as Volunteer UCF’s director of Youth and Education.
Brill is convinced the work she and her peers do will eventually end the children’s frustrations and empower them.
“We are the dawn of something new for them,” Brill said.
It’s a much-needed fresh start. According to Richards, without additional tutoring and encouragement from UCF students, the children likely would not pass their classes.
Many of the parents in the program are undereducated, Richards said, and those who could help their children are often too busy working to do so.
Richards, a single mom, created Mending Hearts in 2000 to help other families in need. The nonprofit runs on an annual budget of less than $100,000 and relies on partnerships such as the one with Volunteer UCF.
“The support of the community and volunteers is huge for us, because we wouldn’t be here without it,” Richards said.
Brill became active in Volunteer UCF after struggling to adjust to the pressures and lifestyle of college during her freshman year. Her experience with Alternative Spring Break, a volunteer initiative that engages spring breakers in community service throughout the country, inspired her to serve her community closer to home.
She has since dedicated herself to supporting the children and parents of Mending Hearts, and sees a future for herself in the Peace Corps.
“I want them to know that we’re here for them,” she said. “By volunteering consistently each week, I hope people see how genuine and meaningful our service is.”
Mending Hearts’ annual fundraiser, a Halloween-themed casino night, will be held on Saturday, Oct. 30, at the CoCo Key Hotel and Water Resort on International Drive. Go to http://mendinghearts.com for more information.
To learn more about Volunteer UCF’s community outreach, go to http://vucf.getinvolveducf.com.