Growing up, Jessica Ammodore and Faith Loehle learned the meaning of friendship and the benefits of dedicating time to helping others.The friends, both 16, have been volunteering with autistic children, and raising funds for local programs, for the past decade through Girl Scout Troop 2534 in Manorville, their home troop. This year, in order to receive credit from the National Honor Society, to which they both already belong, the girls organized a car wash that brought in more than $1,100 in for the Eastport South Manor School District’s autism program.
“Kids in school should be more aware of the program and be willing to help,” Jessica, a junior at Eastport South Manor Junior-Senior High School, said during a recent interview. “So many kids will make fun of them or just ignore them.”
The girls began volunteering with special needs students while in elementary school, when they participated in a program during their lunch period. One of the girls in their troop also had a family member with autism.
“Seeing him struggle really made me appreciate what I have and made me want to give back,” said Faith, who transferred to St. Anthony’s High School in Melville this year.
St. Anthony’s does not have a special education program, so Faith said she wanted to continue to volunteer and support Eastport South Manor in that aspect.
The funds they raise will be distributed among all grade levels in the district, according to Maureen Avione, director of special education for Eastport South Manor.
“This is a community that really shows that they care about everybody, regardless of their abilities,” Ms. Avione said. “To have the support of our students shows how tolerant our community is and how generous they are is wonderful.”
She said the funds for elementary level autistic students will be used to purchase sensory toys and prizes for them. These toys, some of which will have lights or spin, will be used as rewards for good behavior.
In the higher grades, Ms. Avione said the funds could be used for science and technology projects. She explained that one of the projects she is hoping to start involves the hatching of trout in the classrooms so that the children can watch the fish grow.
“We’re not sure how we’re going to use the rest yet,” she said. “We’re being very cautious so that we ensure that we can make a direct impact on our students.”
As for Jessica and Faith, the two plan on volunteering and expanding their fundraising projects over the next year. They also plan on focusing their Girl Scout Gold Award projects—the highest achievable honor in the organization—on autism awareness.
“We do this out of our hearts because we care, not for the recognition,” Jessica said. “I never want to stop volunteering.”