Retired high school counselor and teacher Ellen Sommers knows the value of after-school programs, connecting with young people and investing in the next generation.
“I was taught as a child the importance of volunteering,” says Sommers, who volunteers about 16 hours per month for Bright Futures for Youth.
She started volunteering with Bright Futures for Youth at the Distance Learning Center, which opened in the early months of the COVID pandemic and provided students a safe and supervised place for remote learning at the Nevada County Fairgrounds.
The experience opened the door to more opportunities for Sommers – and the organization, which has expanded its efforts and programs the past three years.
“This is a well-run program … that serves a range of needs,” she says. “It’s a vehicle for greater things.”
Today, Sommers helps two girls with their homework, works in the organization’s commercial kitchen – serving meals to washing dishes – and serves as a driver when needed.
“The variety of activities is a fun component of volunteering,” says Sommers, who was an educator in Lake and Plumas counties before retiring and moving to Nevada County to be closer to family, including one of her two sons, in 2017.
Sommers brings the same dedication and energy she had as an educator for more than three decades to her volunteer work.
“Ellen is a natural with children, enjoying every interaction and is always willing to share her time and talent to benefit our youth,” says Cindy Hintz, Community Engagement Manager for Bright Futures for Youth. “As Bright Futures for Youth continues to expand at a quick pace, Ellen is always willing to adjust to current needs, whether that be the volunteer jobs in the kitchen or the shift to a new student to tutor.”
Sommers says she also benefits from the connection to young people and volunteering helps her avoid being “sent to nowhere land” as a retiree. Plus, she has an ulterior motive.
“I want to influence children that old people are nice, not crabby,” laughs Sommers, who earned a bachelor’s degree in Psychology from Sacramento State University and started working as a high school counselor long before smartphones and social media. “You can bridge that (generation) gap.”
The key to bridging that divide is being available, committed and honest. Just the same as decades ago.
“If you make a commitment to a kid, you better show up,” she says. “It’s a commitment that I take seriously.”
Well, serious mixed with many smiles and warmth.
“We enjoy her cheerful help at Bright Futures for Youth events,” Hintz says. “It has been a pleasure to witness Ellen’s relationship with Bright Futures grow over the years.”
Sommers encourages others to get involved and develop a relationship with Bright Futures for Youth – or other nonprofits in the community.
“I have the privilege of being retired and doing what I want to do,” says Sommers, who also volunteers at other local organizations. “Don’t feel intimidated – volunteer.”