University City

She's 'a force to be reckoned with'

Charlotte's Crisis Assistance Ministry has received an infusion of youthful help thanks to a Charlotte teenager who is passionate about helping people in the community.

After participating in a middle school youth group service project through Mecklenburg Community Church, 16-year-old Morgan Zemaitis, now a rising junior at Mallard Creek High School, wanted to get more teenagers together to help families in the community.

In June and July, Zemaitis organized Saturday afternoon volunteer events where several dozen teenagers helped in the Crisis Assistance Free Store, which gives clothes and other items away to people in need.

"Morgan is kind of a force to be reckoned with," said Michelle Hamilton, Crisis Assistance Ministry chief development officer. "Her goal is to motivate more young people to get involved."

The volunteer day for teenagers will be monthly on the last Saturday of every month. Zemaitis said they keep the atmosphere fun with music and snacks, and teenagers enjoy the social atmosphere and can get community service hours for volunteering there.

"Every single person who attends, they really love it," Zemaitis said.

"They always want to come back and invite more friends."

Crisis Assistance Ministry, founded in 1975, helps low-income residents in Mecklenburg County who are facing financial emergencies and struggling with basic needs.

"Our Free Store helps move families to financial stability by alleviating some of the basic expenses in life," said Hamilton. If parents don't have to buy clothing for their children, some income is freed up to pay for other expenses, she said.

Hamilton said that the teenagers' help has a tangible result.

"One person sorting donations for an hour can process enough clothing to help a family of four for a year," said Hamilton. "It has a huge and real impact on families here."

Zemaitis created the Crisis Assistance Youth Advocacy Coalition to encourage teenagers to help in the community, and Hamilton said future projects could include furniture and clothing drives.

As church youth groups begin meeting again in the fall, Zemaitis said she hopes to speak to some about volunteering with the Youth Advocacy Coalition.

"I feel teenagers have a lot to offer and CAYAC can help bring teens together to make a difference in Charlotte for those facing crisis," said Zemaitis. "Getting involved with CAYAC is a great way for students to be social while making a social impact."

Hamilton called teenagers getting involved in volunteering "fantastic" and said that advocacy is a high priority for the agency. She likes that teens are learning about the issues that families in poverty face in Mecklenburg County.

"We hope this is something that is going to continue to grow," she said. "It's been a great effort."