Darien resident Evan Hughes, 16, said making clients happy and seeing them smile are some of the reasons why he’s having a great summer as a volunteer at Person-to-Person’s summer youth group.

“I like seeing how people come in and out. They’re always smiling,” Evan said. “They are very uplifting. Being in a position where I can help as many people as I can here is amazing. That’s part of my job.”

The P2P Youth Group, which is run out of P2P’s Darien and Norwalk locations, began in 2001 and is made up of a team of students from local high schools and middle schools who run the food pantry, clothing center, and reception area at P2P throughout the summer.

Seventy teens volunteer in the youth group from May 31 to Aug. 25. They attend an orientation if they are new. They work in rotating shifts. College interns, who are also volunteers, oversee the youth group students.

Aileen Agudelo, 18, a summer intern and youth volunteer coordinator, oversees the youth volunteers.

“In clothing, when donations come in, we sort through them and separate them in sections for women, men, children,” said Aileen, of Greenwich, who attends Manhattanville College in Purchase, N.Y. “We fold or hang up the clothing and put it out for the different groups that come. It feels like a retail store. It’s nonstop.”

In the food pantry, there is a mini market. “Clients grocery shop, unload all the deliveries that come in from donations, go through them to check the expiration and if it’s good, we will put it out,” Aileen said.

In the reception area, the teens are trained to answer phones, make appointments for clothing, food or to meet with caseworkers, and help clients when they arrive.

“We appreciate any amount of help that they can give,” Aileen said.

In the food pantry, volunteers serve as clients’ personal shopper. They direct the clients to what they can get and help them load everything into their car.

“We have guidelines for what they can buy based on household size,” Aileen said.

Behanka Adonis, 15, of Stamford, works in the clothing area, where she “makes sure everyone gets the right pair of clothes,” she said.

She also works in the food pantry, where she “sorts through food, puts it away, and helps customers shop.”

“My favorite job is the food pantry because I love seeing clients happy when they get food,” Behanka said. Not everyone gets enough food in life so I think it’s important.”

“When I see them happy, it makes me feel happy too because I know someone out there is getting their resources in life and not suffering from hunger,” she added.

Darien resident Jasmine Shtufaj, 14, Darien, said being a youth group volunteer is “really fun because it’s nice to see faces that I know and meet new people.”

“I recognize clients and they know who I am, and say, ‘Oh, hi, nice to see you,” Jasmine said. “I made a lot of friends here and I saw a bunch of old friends that I can connect with over the summer.”

The program is growing, according to Rebecca Cosgrove, communications and marketing manager at P2P. “Not only do the kids return but they bring their friends,” she said.

P2P’s youth program gives “kids an opportunity to learn their ability to make a difference for other people,” Cosgrove said. “Kids don’t often know that. Here, they can see firsthand the impact that they can have on someone else’s life. A lot of them have said they feel inspired to continue to find ways to make a difference beyond here.”

The youth group experience also “exposes the teens to new perspectives and give them an opportunity to connect with people from diverse backgrounds that they wouldn’t otherwise,” according to Cosgrove.

Leadership component

There is a progressive leadership development component to the youth group program, according to Patty Salgado of Darien, a youth group assistant site manager.

The more the young people show they can lead, the more responsibilities they get, and opportunities to mentor the younger teens.

“We will email the high school leaders and let them know how many appointments are coming. They run the whole thing,” Salgado said.

Feeder program

The summer youth group often serves as a feeder into P2P’s year-round youth group, which is also youth-led. “The kids really take on a leadership role in service to the organization year-round,” Cosgrove said.

Evan has been a youth volunteer with P2P since June 2018. He makes “sure that all the younger kids are helping out and being as efficient as they can be,” he said. In the fall, he’ll be a youth group leader.

“We are grateful for the energy and enthusiasm our youth group volunteers bring to their work at P2P. We rely on the help of over 4,000 volunteers annually and these young people are central to our ability to fulfill our mission,” said P2P’s CEO Nancy Coughlin. “We couldn’t do it without them and we hope they are proud to be part of transforming the lives of 25,000 Fairfield County residents each year.”

About Person-to-Person

Person-to-Person, Inc. was established in 1968 to provide low-income individuals and families living in Lower Fairfield County with basic emergency services.

For more information on P2P’s Youth Group, visit p2phelps.org/volunteers.

sfox@darientimes.com