The Teen Challenge, Fostering Community Through Volunteerism

A high pitched tone sounded from the pager, piercing the silence. Within seconds Allyson was heading for the door. The adrenaline surged through her as she anticipated with both excitement and fear what her first ambulance call would be like.

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Teens learn life-saving skills in an informal setting.

She had been a member of the Junior Corps since she was 15. Over the last two years, she had been trained rigorously in community first aid and CPR. She had found many opportunities to put her new knowledge to use including family outings, babysitting and even as a pitcher on the school softball team. Now she would have a chance to apply her skills in a different setting. She knew that she would have the support of the crew that had been mentoring her over the last few months. She felt proud as she stepped onto the ambulance with its lights flashing and knew that she was a part of something really important.

The Junior Corps of the Tarrytown Volunteer Ambulance Corps has always offered teens a sense of belonging and a way to make a difference. Here they learn the basics of community first aid and CPR. Their activities range from participation in first aid stations at Village events, and Corps training drills, to collecting toys for needy kids during the holidays, to helping a local soup kitchen deliver meals to the homebound. They are challenged to step up to leadership roles within the Junior Corps and to make a difference in their community.

Forty years ago, Tarrytown was the kind of community where everyone knew each other; it felt like a safe place. There was certainly turbulence in the world around us. There were troubled teens, but the outward manifestations seemed to have less impact on the overall tempo of the Village. That was the decade during which the Tarrytown Volunteer Ambulance Corps came into being. Here in the present we find ourselves in a different place. Tarrytown has long since joined the rest of the world, struggling with issues of our time. The media bombards us daily with stories about teens involved in motor vehicle accidents and underage drinking episodes.

Tarrytown Volunteer Ambulance Corps is no stranger to any of these problems. Ambulance calls concerning our teens are on the rise and may involve anything from motor vehicle accidents to physical assault to possible substance abuse.

Every generation has had to deal with a different set of challenges than their parents did and this one is no exception. Most adolescents, like most adults, want the respect and acceptance of their family and friends. Many will go to great lengths to achieve something that, ideally, should be "a given." The following quote from a teen website articulates what is often at the heart of the problem:

"…if you don’t have a really tight bond with someone you can share all your innermost secrets with, you can start to believe that you are the only one who thinks and feels the way you do…" — age 16, from The Diary Project.

Having witnessed how the course of life can change suddenly, the Ambulance Corps continues to respond by reaching out to the teens in the Village and beyond. Whether they’re having pizza at the monthly Junior Corps meeting or going on a field trip to a nearby theme park, these teens like spending time together. It’s a safe place. In the words of former Junior Corps member, Andrew Wilgermein, "Being in the Junior Corps taught me how to think on my feet in difficult situations and gave me the opportunity to give back to my community by helping others in need." The message here at the Junior Corps is about mutual respect, a sense of personal well-being and healthy self esteem. These are the real building blocks of a fulfilling life. It is our hope that these teens will rise to embrace the challenges they meet along the way and strive for all that is good.

Martha Dubinsky-Witkowski is a member of the Tarrytown Volunteer Ambulance Corps and a Junior Corps Advisor.

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About the Author: Martha Dubinsky-Witkowski