CLAYMONT — Archmere Academy and the Knollwood Community Center are situated barely a mile apart in Claymont, but they could hardly be more different.
Archmere’s well-appointed campus sits on the former estate of business executive and philanthropist John Raskob. Knollwood is a hilltop neighborhood originally built for workers at Worth Steel, but over the years it had fallen into disrepair.
Evan Turek is a senior at Archmere Academy in Claymont. (The Dialog/Mike Lang)
Now, as Knollwood residents have dedicated themselves to improving the quality of life in the community, Evan Turek is there to help.
The Archmere senior spends a significant amount of his free time in Knollwood, volunteering at the community center with other members of Archmere’s Community Service Leadership Group, of which he is vice president. He was one of the first three Archmere students to volunteer in Knollwood. The students tutor and play games with the young children and act as role models.
“Last year, we helped out at a cigarette-free and drug-free carnival that they did,” Turek said.
Knollwood is only one of the ventures to which he is dedicated. Each Thursday, he goes with other Archmere students to one of the Ministry of Caring’s child daycare centers, and he also spends time with the elderly every two weeks, playing bingo or just talking with them. He especially enjoys teaching the children.
“Education is such an important aspect of developing each person,” he said. “I get to help them where their parents might not be able to help them, or they might not get the help that they need from the community. They might get looked over or something.”
Last summer he worked at Camp Dragonfly and Camp Dreamcatcher at the Westtown School in West Chester, Pa., not far from his home in Thornton, Pa. Dragonfly is for children with autism and mental and physical disabilities, while Dreamcatcher is for those with HIV/AIDS. He got involved with those after attending another camp at Westtown and becoming a leader.
This Christmas season, he also has spent time ringing the bell and collecting money for the Salvation Army.
Archmere, Turek says, planted the seed for his community service. His sister, Elise, graduated in 2009, and Turek said he helped at events at the school before he was a student. Archmere has a service requirement for its students that sparked Turek’s interest, but once he got a taste of it, he had no desire to stop.
“It really did start at Archmere. Our service teacher, Ms. (Denise) O’Meara, she’s very energetic and very into service. Her enthusiasm and enjoyment of it is very infectious,” he said.
Archmere really encourages its students to go above and beyond.
“We’ll be waiting for students to arrive to go do outreach, and there are freshmen who don’t need the hours. We have a lot of freshmen that do it. And there are juniors, they’ve already taken the class that requires hours, and they love it and they come back.”
“It’s great because that requirement helps people find, ‘I really like doing this and I want to keep doing this.’”
He wants other people to experience what he has, to love it like he does.
“I want other people to find the same joy that I have.”
O’Meara said Turek does his service for the right reasons.
“He doesn’t pander to get award recognition or seek only to pad his college resume, but truly understands his education and self-development to include action to improve the lives of others,” she said.
The youngsters he helps in Knollwood and elsewhere can’t wait to spend time with Turek, O’Meara added. Other students, through his example, “have caught his enthusiasm for helping to enrich these kids’ lives. It’s noteworthy that Evan’s dedication hasn’t faded into his senior year.”
He would like to continue this work when he enters college. His focus is on Colby College in Waterville, Maine, which he identified early as his desired destination.
“They’re very community-oriented,” Turek said.
“They have a requirement, but even if they didn’t, I’d still be doing it. They go out and do tutoring and pretty much everything we do here.”