Recent grad gets teen program moving

Kelly Pence said working with teens on a project for Animals as Natural Therapy ranks among her favorite experiences since starting last October at Bellingham Parks and Recreation Department as the teen volunteer coordinator.

Pence, 23, graduated from Southern Oregon University in Ashland with a bachelor’s in history and a minor in women’s studies. She found the parks job through AmeriCorps.

She excited about the programs she has coming up, but first hopes to see the end of the snow. She talked to The Herald last week during the second nasty snowstorm she’s experienced since moving here.

Question: How is it you never learned to drive in snow?

Answer: My parents have lived northwest of Portland for almost nine years right on the Columbia River, and we don’t get a lot of snow there. Before that we lived in Southern California. When it snows, I take the bus.

Q: Why did you join AmeriCorps rather than find a job closer to home?

A: AmeriCorps is a good transition opportunity between high school and college, or college and a real-world job. It’s not well paid, but you can get by. It’s not about the money; it’s about the experience you get. The biggest benefit is that after a year in AmeriCorps, you can get $4,725 toward additional education.

Q: Are you becoming acquainted with the area and making friends?

A: I didn’t know a single soul when I moved here, and lived with a co-worker for the first week. I’ve gone to parks as part of my job, and I’ve been driving around posting fliers and putting volunteer signs up, so I’ve learned how to get from here to there. I help co-workers staff events, and I’m trying to get involved with local Girl Scouts. Yesterday I auditioned and joined the Whatcom Chorale. I sing second soprano. While I’m here I’m going to try to get involved with Boys and Girls Clubs and hope it leads to something. My dream goal would be to work in and run an after-school program for kids, mainly teens.

Q: Why teens?

A: I believe teens get a bad rap from some segments of society. But they are really open to new ideas, and if they have a safe place to go that is positive and structured, they will make good choices.My job is to coordinate volunteer opportunities, mainly in Whatcom County but also in Skagit County. We accept sixth- through 12th-graders in our programs, including the LIT program.

Q: What is LIT?

A: Leaders in Training, an opportunity for teens to do a little more for their community. Cori Kauk, recreation coordinator, and I work closely with the LITs and help them into a program they will do well in. In the training, we talk about what makes a good leader and do team-building activities and games. Once teens have gone through the training program, we do a background check to clear them for work with younger kids. We have 38 active LITs now and room for 13 more. There’s training scheduled in February.

Q: What was so special about the program with Animals as Natural Therapy?

A: It seems really mundane. We cleaned riding boots, repainted the size numbers on, and rearranged and organized the boots in the tack shed. It was one of those November days when we had the ridiculous winds. Four or five girls and I were in the barn huddled around a propane heater talking and cleaning boots. It was really fun.

Q: Do the kids enjoy the program?

A: Some of the kids have been in the teen program for five or six years, and the volunteer program has been going on for about three. I’m looking forward to working on the program with Brigadoon Assistance Dogs (a nonprofit that trains dogs for people with disabilities). I’m also looking forward to “Walk on the Wild Side” at Northwest Wildlife Rehabilitation. We may have an opportunity to help build living quarters for animals that have been hurt.