Aspen Tallent, 15, participated in a number of projects through the Flint Hills Volunteer Center this summer.

When the world stopped this spring, Aspen Tallent didn’t let it stop her from helping her community.

Tallent started volunteering through the Flint Hills Volunteer Center, seeking a way to help even though she was stuck at home. The time made her realize how much the community meant to her.

“I wanted to continue to be involved in the community even if I couldn’t do it physically,” she said.

Tallent, 15, is entering her sophomore year at Manhattan High School. She’s the daughter of Suzetta and Christopher Tallent. She’s an active member of the marching band — she plays French horn — but volunteering was part of her life before COVID-19 hit.

Previously, Tallent volunteered in a 4th grade classroom at Woodrow Wilson Elementary after school and had volunteered at Manhattan Public Library last summer. She’d also gotten involved with several volunteering opportunities through the MHS marching band.

“It makes me feel good about myself if I get to help people even in small ways,” she said.

When the pandemic began and those in-person interactions shut down, Tallent said she quickly missed helping out others.

“When I wasn’t able to do that anymore, it was a little upsetting,” she said.

Shortly after, a friend recommended the Flint Hills Volunteer Center, and Tallent started exploring how she could make a difference through that organization. She joined the Connecting Students to Communities program. Projects were all done virtually at that time, but Tallent said it was a good way to stay connected.

Lori Bishop, executive director of the Flint Hills Volunteer Center, said the shutdown of most in-person operations did create some challenges for the center. She said she was especially concerned about keeping students engaged in volunteer work. She said youth volunteers normally work on a summer project they will work on for roughly 20 hours a week, but they had to make some changes this year.

“We became a little creative trying to think how we can keep them engaged,” Bishop said.

Tallent participated in a number of projects through the center this spring and summer, attending meetings online to get information and doing the work on her own time. She and other students made videos for kids in the Make-A-Wish program, made pet toys for the animal shelter and made gratitude cards for teachers at USD 383 who were handing out free lunches. Tallent said the cards was by far her favorite project because she knew so many of the teachers personally. She also enjoyed the creativity that came along with creating each card.

“It was cool I was doing something that was going to impact the people I’m closest to,” she said.

Bishop said she thinks volunteering at a young age gives kids a chance to learn about their communities.

“When we take them to a program, we want them to learn about that organization and what it means to volunteer for that organization,” Bishop said. “It gives perspective on what their community is all about.”

Tallent said she knows she might have less time for some of these things with the beginning of the school year, especially because she plans to continue volunteering within USD 383. However, she hopes she will still be able to find time to stay engaged with the Volunteer Center.

“It was a great opportunity to get involved and I would like to stay committed,” she said.

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