Teens appreciate opportunity to give back

Infant Welfare Society Junior Board members find helping others to be very rewarding

Series: Battle of the boards | Story 8

Raising money to support an organization is one thing.

Seeing the looks of joy and appreciation on the faces of people the nonprofit helps is something altogether different.

"For me the most meaningful experience has been this event that we do - it's called 'See Santa,' " said Kelsey Condon, president of the Infant Welfare Society Junior Board.

The event is held at the Angel Harvey Center in Chicago. Junior board members accompany adult members of the Hinsdale Chapter of the Infant Welfare Society to hand out coats, hat and mittens before the kids visit with Santa and receive a small package of gifts.

"You can really tell how much joy it's bringing the kids and how grateful their parents are," Condon said.

Condon, a junior at Hinsdale Central, credits her mom, Laurie - one of the board's parent advisors and a longtime volunteer - with inspiring her love of helping others.

"It's just so rewarding and powerful to see the impact that you're having," Condon said.

Central junior Tristan Moncrief, operations officer for the junior board, said volunteering is an activity he has enjoyed since he was a kid.

"I always found it fun going to Feed My Starving Children or charity events like that," he said.

His mom, like Condon's, also serves as a liaison between the junior board and the adult chapter. He credits both his parents for instilling a sense of altruism.

"They always taught me that there are less fortunate people out there and you should always do what you can to help them," he said. "You feel great and they are doing better in life."

Jack Bilenko, another Central junior and the board's information officer, also pointed to his parents' example.

"One hundred percent for me is my parents," he said. "Since a young age, I've always done volunteer opportunities. Afterward you get this sense of gratification."

In addition to the good feeling that comes from helping others, these teens and their fellow executive board members are learning what it takes to run an organization.

"I think being president and having so much responsibility, it really highlighted to me the importance of communication," Condon said.

Moncrief said his time management has improved as a result of his work on the junior board, and Bilenko said he has honed his communication skills.

The teens also have become quite effective at soliciting donations, said Cindy Moncrief, Tristan's mom.

"One of the things we've found they are very successful at is asking for money," she said.

The new hats and mittens the junior board brings to the Angel Harvey Center are paid for with proceeds from its bell ringing campaign, a favorite activity of Bilenko's.

Junior board members also raised money through a gift wrapping station at Barnes and Noble.

"We kind of get some of the Christmas spirit in for kids all over, not only the ones we're helping getting donations for," Tristan Moncrief said.

The junior board's biggest responsibility typically is helping on the day of the Tablescapes fundraiser, held virtually this past March due to the coronavirus pandemic. Cindy Moncrief said she was pleased to have the teens participate in the Battle of the Boards food drive to benefit HCS Family Services.

Junior board members have dropped off grocery bags at their friends' and neighbors' houses and planned to pick them up earlier this week. Community members can drop off donations through Saturday. (See the ad on Page 19 for details.)

Condon and Bilenko witnessed the need firsthand when they volunteered at HCS this fall.

"It was very clear to me how many cars there were, how many people there were that really needed what they needed to get," Condon said. "I live by HCS and I've never seen it so busy."

As the school year wraps up, Condon said the board is trying to recruit new members to join in the fall. Any student in eighth grade through high school is invited to join. She encouraged teens to visit the junior board's Instagram account.

The work the junior board does is invaluable, Cindy Moncrief said.

"They've really become a crucial part of our organization," she said. "The amount of hours that they put in - we couldn't hire someone to do all that they've done. All that time they volunteer is more money we save that goes back to the people who really need it."

- Seven junior boards in Hinsdale are currently working in partnership with The Hinsdalean on a seven-week food drive to benefit HCS Family Services (see the ad on Page 19).

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Pamela Lannom is editor of The Hinsdalean